Recently, I finished Amy Morin’s book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. Morin’s definition of “mentally strong” is NOT about your IQ or other intelligence factors. It is NOT about mental health versus mental illness. Rather it is about your resilience, attitudes, and healthy self-evaluation. In fact, there are now up to 8 types of intelligence, of which traditional measurements are just one. There are also emotional intelligence and social intelligence – the ability to gauge how a person to handle his or her emotions and social situations. Morin’s goal – help people become mentally strong and evaluate our habits and beliefs, especially those that might actually sabotage us.
What are the 13 things Morin identified?
- They don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves
- They don’t give away their power
- They don’t shy away from change
- They don’t focus on the things they can’t change
- They don’t worry about pleasing others
- They don’t fear taking calculated risks
- They don’t dwell on the past
- They don’t make the same mistakes over and over
- They don’t resent other people’s success
- They don’t give up after the first failure
- They don’t fear alone time
- They don’t feel the world owes them anything
- They don’t expect immediate results
Morin pointed out that we are excellent in some areas and can improve in other areas. For me, I am good at not resenting other people’s successes. If you are doing well, that’s great and I am truly happy for you. My friends Zach and Christine just had a baby and my current status is not impediment to rejoicing with them. Sure, I might use the cliched jokes about sleepless nights and going as a zombie this Halloween, but that’s not my weak point. Same for 12 and 13.
I’m sure that as you read through that list, you probably had the same thoughts: “I have no problems with #4, but I’m a people-pleaser. That describe me. Same with 6 and 7 – I’m always dwelling on the past.”
When I read chapter 4: They don’t focus on things they can’t change, I’m reminded of a small plaque my dad has with this rather famous quote:
There are many things we cannot change and have ZERO power over: the weather, LA traffic, and of course, other people. However, we exert so much energy worrying. Although there wasn’t a single Bible verse on Morin’s book, there is ample biblical basis.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that Christians are not to worry. In fact, to worry might be sin because it demonstrates a lack of faith in God. Worse, we place ourselves in the center of our universe as if we can orchestrate and direct everything. Let me ask this very simple but honest question: How are you doing at the center of the universe? Is your life as ordered and good as you think? If we are honest, we realize that despite our best efforts, life is as chaotic and disorderly as ever.
When we put ourselves in the center of the universe, we have a sensation that we don’t really belong there.– Erik Thoennes
In chapter 13 of Morin’s book, They don’t expect immediate results – this is perhaps one of the toughest things to accept in the 21st century. Who has NOT ever thought as they are re-heating food in the microwave, that it is 2 minutes too long? I want my Stouffer’s lasagna NOW even thought it is frozen solid. Or, if the DMW webpage takes 3, yes, 3 seconds longer to load, we put a scathing comment in the feedback survey. Lastly, who has NOT seen a commercial advertising nearly instant wait loss?
However, that is what we must do if we are to be resilient. Building on chapter 10 – They don’t give up after the first failure – Morin reminds of a virtue we forgot: grit – aka persistence. What if Edison gave up after the first attempt to build a light bulb? Or what if Heinz gave up on making ketchup AND the food industry safer? All these great inventors and businessmen saw beyond what failed, what didn’t work, so that they could find what does work.
In 2000, Christian author Eugene Peterson wrote A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. This book has been republished in 2020 – a 20th anniversary edition. Sadly, Peterson died in 2018. Peterson wrote this long before Facebook and social media which connected people instantly but destroyed the values of developing character and patience. Peterson used the songs of Ascent – Psalms 120-134 – to illustrate the slow, but upward climb to Jerusalem and how we as a Christians ought go slowly but steadily upwards to know the Lord Jesus and become more like our Savior.
As Christians, we all had plenty of opportunities to turn back or give in. We realize how imperfect we are, especially how unlike Christ we are. We blow it all the time: blow up at our spouse and blow our money on useless trinkets. If it isn’t ourselves, it’s the external challenges such as being in the mission field. I have been on several short-term missions trips and during each one, there was always a challenge: teammates getting sick, me getting bitten by a strange bug, religious persecution, etc. At every point, one of us could have said: “I’m done. I’m checking out early.” By God’s grace, no one did. We applied the rules: Don’t quit if we don’t see immediate results.
I do recommend this book because Morin also includes a small checklist of what is helpful and what is unhelpful in each chapter. These are little prompts to help the reader come up with concrete action plans. In chapter 9, she mentioned a client who has heavily indebted because he felt obligated to spend money he didn’t have to provide for his family – expensive vacations, an RV trailer, even though his wife and children would rather have him. The man realized he needed to get out of debt more and thus he worked with agencies to reduce his debt. That is much more useful than a generic plan of “I need to feel like I don’t have to keep up with the Joneses.”
Just as training to be physically strong takes time and dedication, so does being mentally strong.