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The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong by Amy Morin (Full Transcript)

Amy Morin

Full text of author Amy Morin’s talk: The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong at TEDxOcala conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong at Amy Morin at TEDxOcala


So, I have a Facebook friend whose life seems perfect. She lives in a gorgeous house. And she has a really rewarding career. And she and her family go on all these exciting adventures together on the weekends. And I swear that they must take a professional photographer along with them, because no matter where they go or what they do, the whole family just looks beautiful.

And she’s always posting about how blessed she is, and how grateful she is for the life that she has. And I get the feeling that she’s not just saying those things for the sake of Facebook, but she truly means it.

How many of you have a friend kind of like that? And how many of you kind of don’t like that person sometimes? We all do this, right? It’s hard not to do. But that way of thinking costs us something. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today — is what our bad habits cost us.

Maybe you’ve scrolled through your Facebook feed and you think, “So what if I roll my eyes? It’s just five seconds of my time. How could it be hurting me?”

Well, researchers have found that envying your friends on Facebook, actually leads to depression. That’s just one of the traps that our minds can set for us.

Have you ever complained about your boss? Or looked at your friends’ lives and thought, “Why do they have all the luck?” You can’t help thinking that way, right? That way of thinking seems small in the moment. In fact, it might even make you feel better in the moment. But that way of thinking is eating away at your mental strength.

There’s three kinds of destructive beliefs that make us less effective, and rob us of our mental strength. The first one is unhealthy beliefs about ourselves. We tend to feel sorry for ourselves. And while it’s OK to be sad when something bad happens, self-pity goes beyond that. It’s when you start to magnify your misfortune.

When you think things like, “Why do these things always have to happen to me? I shouldn’t have to deal with it.” That way of thinking keeps you stuck, keeps you focused on the problem, keeps you from finding a solution. And even when you can’t create a solution, you can always take steps to make your life or somebody else’s life better. But you can’t do that when you’re busy hosting your own pity party.

The second type of destructive belief that holds us back is unhealthy beliefs about others. We think that other people can control us, and we give away our power. But as adults who live in a free country, there’s very few things in life that you have to do. So when you say, “I have to work late,” you give away your power. Yeah, maybe there will be consequences if you don’t work late, but it’s still a choice.

Or when you say, “My mother-in-law drives me crazy,” you give away your power. Maybe she’s not the nicest person on earth, but it’s up to you how you respond to her, because you’re in control.

The third type of unhealthy belief that holds us back, is unhealthy beliefs about the world. We tend to think that the world owes us something. We think, “If I put in enough hard work, then I deserve success.” But expecting success to fall into your lap like some sort of cosmic reward, will only lead to disappointment. But I know it’s hard to give up our bad mental habits. It’s hard to get rid of those unhealthy beliefs that we’ve carried around with us for so long. But you can’t afford not to give them up. Because sooner or later, you’re going to hit a time in your life where you need all the mental strength that you can muster.

When I was 23 years old, I thought I had life all figured out. I graduated from grad school. I landed my first big job as a therapist. I got married. And I even bought a house. And I thought, “This is going to be great! I’ve got this incredible jump start on success.” What could go wrong?

That all changed for me one day when I got a phone call from my sister. She said that our mother was found unresponsive and she’d been taken to the hospital. My husband Lincoln and I jumped in the car and rushed to the hospital. We couldn’t imagine what could be wrong. My mother was only 51. She didn’t have any history of any kind of health problems.

When we got to the hospital, doctors explained she’d had a brain aneurysm. And within 24 hours, my mother, who used to wake up in the morning saying, “It’s a great day to be alive,” passed away. That news was devastating to me. My mother and I had been very close. As a therapist, I knew on an intellectual level how to go through grief. But knowing it, and doing it, can be two very different things. It took a long time before I felt like I was really healing.

And then on the three year anniversary of my mother’s death, some friends called, and invited Lincoln and me to a basketball game. Coincidentally, it was being played at the same auditorium where I’d last seen my mother, on the night before she’d passed away. I hadn’t been back there since. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go back. But Lincoln and I talked about it, and ultimately we said, “Maybe that would be a good way to honor her memory.”

So we went to the game. And we actually had a really good time with our friends. On the drive home that night, we talked about how great it was to finally be able to go back to that place, and remember my mother with a smile, rather than all those feelings of sadness.

But shortly after we got home that night, Lincoln said he didn’t feel well. A few minutes later, he collapsed. I had to call for an ambulance. His family met me at the emergency room. We waited for what seemed like forever, until finally a doctor came out. But rather than taking us out back to see Lincoln, he took us back to a private room, and sat us down, and explained to us that Lincoln, who was the most adventurous person I’d ever met, was gone. We didn’t know at the time, but he’d had a heart attack. He was only 26. He didn’t have any history of heart problems.

So now I found myself a 26-year-old widow, and I didn’t have my mom. I thought, “How am I going to get through this?” And to describe that as a painful period in my life feels like an understatement. And it was during that time that I realized when you’re really going through tough times, good habits aren’t enough. It only takes one or two small habits to really hold you back.

I worked as hard as I could, not just to create good habits in my life, but to get rid of those small habits, no matter how small they might seem. Throughout it all, I held out hope that someday life could get better. And eventually it did.

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