Everyone possesses mental strength to a certain degree. But as a therapist, I have found that most people aren’t as mentally strong as they can be. This is usually because they fail to set themselves up for success.
If you want to build the mental strength it takes to reach your greatest potential, you need to create a lifestyle that assists in reaching your goals. And you must also eliminate the obstacles that are draining your mental strength and sabotaging your efforts. Here are six reasons you aren’t as mentally strong as you should be.
1. You aren’t setting limits on energy vampires
It’d be great if you could surround yourself with positive people only. But this is not realistic. Whether you’ve got a family member who criticizes you too often, or you’ve got a coworker who perpetually insists the sky is falling, energy vampires can drain your mental strength fast.
When you don’t want to cut them out of your life completely (perhaps you love your aunt or can’t change departments at work), you can still set limits. This may mean excusing yourself from an unproductive conversation, saying no to someone who asks to borrow something, or declining an invitation to an event you don’t want to attend.
Creating healthy boundaries ensures that your time and energy are going toward the things and people you value most. And it’ll help you stay mentally stronger as you work toward your goals.
2. You believe your brain more than you should
Your brain loves it when you stay in your comfort zone. It’ll try to convince you that you can’t succeed or that you’re not good enough to do anything different. But remember that your brain can lie to you. You’re stronger than you think.
If you want to grow stronger, you have to accept that you are more capable and competent than your brain sometimes gives you credit for. This means stepping outside of your comfort zone when there’s no guarantee of success. Just keep in mind that you’re better able to handle failure than you might realize. While failing feels bad, you’re resilient enough to handle the discomfort.
3. You avoid things that scare you
You might think the absence of fear is a sign of strength. But this is far from true. If you never feel scared, it’s likely that you aren’t pushing yourself to do challenging things.
Doing things that scare you a little — whether it’s anything from giving a volunteer presentation to launching a business — helps you grow stronger.
Just like you need to create tension on your biceps to grow bigger arms, you also need some tension in your life to develop bigger mental muscles. Challenge yourself to do more regardless of whether you succeed. You’ll learn valuable life lessons in the process.
4. You don’t pay attention to your emotions
Your emotions affect every decision you make. Research shows that people play it safe when feeling anxious. You’re more likely to take impulsive risks when angry or embarrassed. And during a negotiation, you’re likely to settle for less when you’re feeling sad, because you won’t want to risk being rejected.
Yet there’s a good chance you spend very little time thinking about your feelings. Consequently, you may not notice how your emotions are clouding your judgment.
Invest a few minutes into thinking about how you’re feeling. Just naming your emotions can help you gain insight into how your feelings affect the way you think and the action you’re likely to take. Labeling your feelings can also help take a bit of the sting out.
5. You’re too busy
A busy schedule can make you feel important. But a full calendar also leaves little room for reflection, personal development, and mental strength training.
Building mental muscle often requires more “being” and less “doing.” Practicing mindfulness, for example, requires a conscious effort. You won’t see immediate results. And you might even feel guilty for not being “productive.”
But everyone has room in their busy lives to grow bigger mental muscles — if mental fitness is a priority. Once it is, you’ll become more effective in every aspect of life.
6. You aren’t intentional about your media consumption
Everything from the news you watch, to the people you follow on social media, affects your mental fitness. But most of us are passive about what we consume on a daily basis. Endless scrolling and mindless channel flipping can drain you of mental strength for a few reasons.
Research consistently shows that news stories increase our anxiety. Allowing yourself to be bombarded by the news all day long can cause you to focus on catastrophic events.
Studies also show that our mood tends to plummet after spending just a few minutes on social media. We tend to compare ourselves to other people and assume they live better lives than we do.
Being more intentional about your media consumption can help you stay strong. In fact, you can even use media to help you build mental muscle. Follow inspirational people on social media, use apps that help you stick to healthier habits, and take online courses that help you develop a healthier mindset.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider.