Being Mentally Strong


This post is based on Amy Morin’s book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
Let me preface this by saying, I have not read her book (yet), but I have read her summary post about it about 900 times in the past year – and I have some thoughts regarding my own journey  struggle journey to becoming mentally strong.

When I first came across this list, it was almost a year ago, and I had just re-injured my elbow so severely, that I couldn’t imagine playing guitar again. More than that, my doctors, and teachers/coaches didn’t think I would ever play guitar again.  If you know me at all, you know that there isn’t a whole lot in life that I love more than being a musician. It’s pretty much the reason for my existence.  So not only was I dealing with that stuff – but after years of teaching, I was unhappy with what had been happening in my studio, and had decided to take a break. I was in an unhappy place. I had isolated myself from a community that I loved, and I didn’t see a way to come back to it.

Of the 13 things that mentally strong people don’t do according to Amy Morin, I can tell you that I was doing all of them. These things are:

  1. They don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves.
  2. They don’t give away their power.
  3. They don’t shy away from change.
  4. They don’t waste energy on things they can’t control.
  5. They don’t worry about pleasing everyone.
  6. They don’t fear taking calculated risks.
  7. They don’t dwell on the past.
  8. They don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
  9. They don’t resent other people’s success.
  10. They don’t give up after the first failure.
  11. They don’t fear alone time.
  12. They don’t feel the world owes them anything.
  13. They don’t expect immediate results.

When I first read these- my initial reaction was “Fuck you Amy Morin!”.  I didn’t think that any of my problems at the time had anything to do with me – or at least weren’t my fault. I wanted a quick fix, and I didn’t think I should have to do the work.  I was pretty much the most spoiled brat on the planet when it came to viewing my situation.  I viewed myself as a victim, in the worst way possible. While I have definitely grown this past year, and made some great strides in my guitar playing and the way I see the world (and myself in it), I am still struggling with some of these things.

Before I tell you all about the things I still need to work on (which are considerable) and why they are important, let me tell you what I have managed to accomplish this year, and how its working for me.

I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself.  Not only musically but in all other aspects of my life. I realized (not too long ago – and with the help of the therapist), that while I didn’t want or ask for these things to happen to me – if I didn’t start taking responsibility for the bad stuff, then I would always be in the same place. And that place is unhappy.  So I accepted the fact that I was hurt. Not only physically, but emotionally and mentally.  And I started doing the work. I put a schedule together and I followed it religiously. I unloaded toxic friends – and chose to spend time with people who were emotionally healthy and who would challenge me.  I have moments of negative thought. Especially when it comes relationships and my own emotional stability – but musically, I am getting back on track – and see a positive future.

They don’t worry about pleasing everyone.  I had been working on this one for a long long time. Musicians are in the business of wanting to please everyone. If we fail in this – there is no applause, no audience, no accolades, no ticket sales, no work. When your body fails you – the only person left to please is yourself. No one else matters – its all gone anyway. So you start over. Teachers don’t matter (in this scenario). Boyfriends/Girlfriends/Family don’t matter (in this scenario).  There is no longer an audience.  So all you have left is you.  And the road to pleasing you is a long one – so you may as well start now and go slow. Remember that you will be the toughest critic you will ever come across.

They don’t fear taking calculated risks.  This may be the greatest lesson I learnt this year.  When you lose what is most important in your life, there is nothing left to lose. So try something different. I honestly don’t know what is next for me. But when it comes along I know that I will be saying yes to it. Because there is nothing worse than waiting for your old life to return (hint – it will never be the same).

They don’t resent other people’s success. This comes with a caveat. I don’t resent other people’s success when they have worked hard for it. I know what it takes to have a career. And I applaud anyone who has worked hard to get on top. Or in the middle – or wherever they have ended up. I applaud you for it. I respect natural talent and ability. And I know that it takes work to hone those skills. Talented people don’t succeed unless they put in the hours and hustle. RESPECT!

They don’t give up after the first failure. Oh my God!  Do you have any idea how many times I have failed? Even before losing the ability to play guitar. I have bombed on stage, I have changed repertoire at the very last moment because I was uncomfortable with a passage (by the way don’t ever do this – no good can come of it), I have broken bones (important musician bones), I have fallen on my face more times than I can count, I have lost jobs, lost friends, and cried during lessons because I couldn’t achieve perfection. And yet its never stopped me from going after what I want (well in honestly, its stopped me twice-but those times were short lived, and I found myself back chasing my goals within the year). Find the motivation with in – and trust in yourself that you are doing what you should be doing. Dangle a carrot if you must.  For example – I survived 2017, so I am rewarding myself with a trip to Vienna in 2018.

They don’t fear alone time. To be fair, I have never feared alone time. I prefer being alone than to being around a group of people. This past year, I have needed more company than usual – but I am back to being my fantastic loner self once again. I think it comes from moving past your own insecurities.  When I am feeling unsure about what is happening in my life, I need people (or one person) to bounce ideas off of, and hold my hand a bit. But once a plan starts coming together, and I am feeling secure – I prefer being on my own.

They don’t feel like the world owes them anything. This one is hard for me to write about. I had a bit of a rough start in life. My earliest memory is a tragic one. Disturbingly tragic. And because of it – I do feel like I deserve a happily ever after.  And I have had some great chapters -especially during the last couple of years. There have been some really great people in my life that have made me feel cared for and cared about, and I have felt the same way about them.  I have worked extremely hard – and I think that should be rewarded. But life doesn’t always play out like you want it to. As moms’ all over the world have said, “Life isn’t fair”.  But life is what you make of it. And so take the opportunity to learn from the mishaps. I will never be a concert guitarist. And chances are, I will probably never give another recital (at least one that doesn’t come at the end of a student recital). And I am beginning to be ok with that. I do get the opportunity to instil a passion for music with a bunch of students every year – and I help them realize their musical goals. I have developed other interests and hobbies.  I am able to live my life on my terms, and that is a lot to be grateful for.

They don’t expect immediate results. Admittedly, I have struggled with this one this year. I have been playing guitar since I was six years old. I have given up dates, dances, parties, and just about any fun event you can imagine so I could stay home and practice. And I would do it again, given the chance. So after a lifetime of dedicated practice, I feel like I deserve to have a bit of an easier time of it. I did not expect to  have to start over at this stage in my life. And when I say start over – I mean I had to start from scratch. Six months ago, I could not alternate my fingers (which is a fairly basic skill for a classical guitarist). Improvement for me has not been steady this year – there have been setbacks – a lot of them. I sound terrible. And I will continue to sound terrible until I stop sounding that way. But some interesting things have happened this year. In October, I made a short recording that I shared with a few people – I stopped being ashamed of what I sounded like, and really appreciated (for the first time) that I could produce a sound that might actually be interpreted as music. In December, I played at my student recital. Two days ago, I managed to get through 80 minutes of practice without having to take a break. Those results are wins. I will never be a concert guitarist – and I will most likely never play in another recital that isn’t the concluding guest spot at a student recital – but I am better. And maybe will get good enough to one day join another guitar quartet or trio. It’s a goal I am working towards.

So 8 out of 13 isn’t too shabby.  I’m pretty impressed with how I have come around.

And here is the rest of my plan that I am currently working on for strong mental health:

  • Practice being assertive. Say no when I’m uncomfortable or when I disagree. Say yes when I want to do something even if people judge me for it. Call people out on their bad behaviour and when they are being hurtful (towards myself and others).
  • Be flexible. Think things through before setting my mind against it.
  • Control what you can. Worry causes wrinkles. I plan on looking like I am 25 forever.
  • Live in the present. Plan for the future. The past is over. It’s brought lessons. Learn from them. Try not to repeat those mistakes.
  • Keep practicing. Keep making mistakes. Keep making goals. Keep Hustling.

I’m finding that knowing myself (and what I am capable of) to be important for my mental health. So much has changed for me this past year, that I often question who I am. But nothing has helped as much as going back to old routines and regimes for a reminder that I am strong and can conquer whatever beast lies in my path. The goals may have changed, but the process hasn’t. I just have new reasons. A healthier Laura. I think its a pretty good reason.

Do you have a mental health plan – would you mind sharing it? I would be interested in collaborating with someone – we could keep each other accountable and in check. I definitely need help with that.

*I have purchased Amy Morin’s book, and will be reading it soon. I am hoping to turn my weaknesses into strengths.

**Photo Source – flickr RichardBH


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