When it comes to banishing bad habits, Amy Morin aims to whip your mental strength into shape with her bestselling books, including 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. Following her own life tragedies and subsequent struggles, Amy, a psychotherapist, wrote down 13 things which she had experienced or witnessed in her practice in the hopes of giving herself and others the hope and courage to remain mentally strong.
This psychotherapist, author and mental strength trainer speaks to others around the world about the skills needed to strengthen your mind, and in some cases even save your life. Amy has released numerous books and online courses for those at all stages of their lives, including those for parents and teachers, in order to help them mold the mentally strong minds of children. With 13 Things Mentally Strong Parent’s Don’t Do to 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t do, Amy wants to help you gain control of your mind and win the mental marathon. From social media and self-confidence setbacks to bad breakups and bereavements, Amy’s tips for gaining a more positive perspective are meant to help guide you towards a life of success through mental strength.
In addition to her books which have been translated into over three dozen languages, Amy’s online courses are designed to teach you simple and effective ways to become a stronger and more skillful version of yourself. She is also a regular columnist for Forbes, Inc. and Psychology Today, as well as a parenting expert at VeryWell and lecturer at Northeastern University, where she explains her mental strength lessons which have already reached millions of people around the world. It’s time to kick those bad habits and get ready to live your best life with a mentally strong mind!
How did you come up with exactly 13 things to change people’s lives?
Everybody wants to know if there is magic in the number 13, and the answer is no, I didn’t mean to come up with the number 13, I was just in a low place in my life where I was feeling sorry for myself. My mother had passed away, my husband had passed away, my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I thought why me, why do I have to keep losing people, this isn’t fair, but as a therapist, I knew that feeling sorry for myself would hold me back and keep me stuck, so that’s why that’s number one on the list, because that will drain your mental strength. I thought what else do I need to get rid of, and I wrote the list. When I was done, I happened to have 13 things, but it was the things that I had noticed in my therapy office over the years that were the reasons why some people tended to get stuck in life, whether they had gone through a hard time or had a rough childhood, or they were still going through rough circumstances and they just weren’t able to take any productive action or feel better. I had also studied enough people to know why some people are more resilient, why some people bounce back and why some people get stuck.
Some people had never really fully grieved, or they had never been able to move forward. Then I also saw other people who had gone through tragedy and horrible circumstances and they were still energetic, hopeful, and really wanted to make a difference in the world. As I studied them, I realized that it wasn’t always about what people did, sometimes it was more about what they didn’t do. I thought about it in terms of comparing mental strength to physical strength. If you wanted to be physically strong, you’d want to go to the gym and work out, but if a trainer didn’t say, “By the way, if you really want to see results you should quit eating so much junk food, then running on the treadmill isn’t going to be that effective, and mental strength is the same. If people come into my therapy office and I keep telling them all the things they’re doing well, and I only tell them their good habits but I don’t point out the one or two counterproductive bad habits, then all their good habits are going to be fairly ineffective. I wanted to help people eliminate their worst habits so their good habits become more effective.
Is it now easier for you to see and understand the bad habits of your patients?
I’d see certain patterns, such as feeling sorry for oneself. I’d have a lot of people come in and say I’m here, I’m ready to change my life, I’m committed to therapy, but then every week they just wanted to come in and tell me all the bad things that happened to them in the past seven days. They didn’t want to take any action, do anything or take control of their lives. After a while I would start to recognize these patterns and see that the people who seem to be struggling the most appear to feel sorry for themselves, they give away their power, and that’s number two on the list, which is about not being in control of how you think, feel and behave. They would blame other people for their problems, say somebody makes them feel bad about themselves, and it was really just about learning how to change their language and say okay, I’m in control, I can be in control of how I think, feel, and behave. As I was going through my own struggles in my personal life, I also had everyday case studies in my office and I would pay attention and study people, because I was interested in mental strength on a personal level at that point and I just wanted to identify these patterns that I’m seeing repeatedly which helped me to curate this list.
Have you noticed certain patterns amongst different demographics or those in different life stages?
I’ll often get asked whether younger people are more entitled, but I think that all age groups still struggle with the same things depending on where they are in life, whether they’re married, single, divorced, have kids or are in college themselves. I see a lot of the exact same threads because mental strength applies to everybody, but I think we all have certain struggles at different times of our lives. Something that you struggled with in college might not be an issue when you’re retired, or vice versa, but bad habits can reoccur when you’re going through a difficult course in life.
Do you think people’s mental strength is directly related to validation from others?
The common belief I was seeing, which is something that we all struggle with at some point in our lives, is the self-doubting fear that leads to the belief that I’m not good enough, other people are better than me, I don’t belong here, or I’ll never succeed. That feeling of not being good enough is going to lead to bad habits like giving away power or giving up after the first failure. It’s because we think we are not able to succeed, or I’m not getting the approval that I want, I change my mind.
Do people in toxic relationships give away their power too much and develop these bad habits?
Mental strength is a personal journey to grow stronger, you have to make that commitment, it’s dedication, but the people around us definitely affect us. When we get caught up in a unhealthy relationship, it can easily lead to bad habits, it’s going to chip away at some of the beliefs that maybe you held about yourself or other people, and sometimes you have to change your environment – maybe that means setting boundaries or maybe ending the relationship, but that’s definitely a big issue.
You go one step further than the typical 12 steps – was what was the significance of adding that last step geared towards helping people master their mental strength?
Number 13 on the list is that you can’t expect immediate results, because I was seeing that lot in my therapy office. People would come in and expect that therapy was going to be the magic cure, that after two weeks of therapy their 30 years of depression would go away. We see this all the time when it comes to personal change and self-improvement. By three days in we think if I’m not seeing the results that I want, then it’s not working. It’s so tempting to throw in the towel or think I’m not good enough, I can’t succeed because it’s not happening fast enough, and in our world where we have technology and things that happen so fast, we forget that change and personal development takes a lot longer. You have to be patient and go at a slower pace and realize that you’re not going to see results in three days, and that just because you aren’t seeing results doesn’t mean it isn’t working.
How do you think your book relates to the Law of Attraction and the power of manifestation?
A lot of people will say if you just think it, you’ll become it, and although they strongly believed they could attract good things, they wouldn’t take any action and it was actually keeping them stuck. It starts with changing your mindset, but then you need to do something differently. A lot of people seem to really struggle with that, and say well how do I take action, if I think positively won’t I change my life? That can be the first step, but it’s not the last step.
So many people I’ve seen felt that simply putting something on a vision board was going to somehow magically make it happen, and yes our thoughts often do become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you walk into a job interview thinking this is going to be horrible, I’m not going to do well, that’s probably going to show in your body language. It’s probably going to become evident to the people that you’re talking to versus when you walk in and feel confidence and look people in the eye and feel good about myself, because your behavior is different. Your thoughts don’t magically change the world.
After losing so many people who were so close to you in such a short period of time, did you feel like the universe was trying to send you a message?
I have a strong faith, and so I feel like when you’re given something, then there’s always an opportunity to learn something, and had I not gone through those things, I would have never written this list, and had the list not gone viral, I wouldn’t have written the book. There were so many things that had to happen for me to get to this place. Certainly, I wish I didn’t have gone through those hard times to get to where I am now, but because of it I just always believed that if I can get through this, how do I turn it into something positive? It’s up to me to say what can I do, can I help other people, is there something I’m learning about myself, is there a message I can spread, and now I’m thrilled I get to do this on a global level and get to talk to people all over the world about mental strength. Through my faith I feel like there was a plan for my life, and everything happened in a way to get to the place where I am now.
How has your advice transformed your own life or gotten you to a better mental strength stage?
When I first wrote the list of the 13 things it wasn’t even meant to be a public article, it was a letter to myself. I knew my father-in-law had maybe up to a couple of months left and I just found myself reading this list over and over again. There are so many things in my life I can’t control, but one thing I can do is to get rid of these bad habits. I would read over the list and I thought if this is helpful to me, maybe it could help somebody else, and so I only published it online on a whim and never imagined it would go viral, but within a couple of days, millions of people had read it. There was no context to the article, it was basically just the list, so nobody knew that I had written it because I had struggled myself, and Forbes picked it up within a couple of days. Ten million people read it on Forbes alone, and before I knew it, Fox News was calling and wanted to do an on camera interview. Again, everybody just assumed here’s this therapist and she has this knowledge, but I didn’t tell anybody my backstory yet. I was on national television talking about the list, but it was four days after my father-in-law had passed away and I wasn’t ready to open the floodgates on national TV and share the rest of the story. It was a weird time in my life because as I was going through the worst of times, but it was also really exciting because I was getting all this national media attention. Fortunately, a literary agent called and said you should write a book, and eventually I told her the story behind why I wrote the article, normally I don’t share my own story because I’m a therapist, I listen to other’s problems.
It was really through the process of writing the book that made me more aware of how often I still engage in these bad habits. It really taught me a lot about the different ways they show up in your life and when you go through a particular struggle you still do this number seven on the list. I began to speak at companies and I would hear from a range of different people, and when the book was translated into other languages I would hear from people all over the world. This gave me feedback and insight to the kinds of struggles people were dealing with and how the list applied to their lives. This made me hyper aware of when I’m doing these things in my own life.
How do you think social media is affecting people’s mental strength in regards to their confidence and bad habits?
It has been found that certain things such as envying people on Facebook is directly linked to depression. I don’t think that social media is horrible, I use it all the time, but we can either use it to build people up, or it can be used to tear people down. We are seeing so many ways where people do feel worse. The more time they spend on social media, the more they start to compare themselves to other people. Studies will show that Instagram is the worst one for your mental health because you’re just looking at pictures, and we create a story and think that person’s life is better than mine, they’re more attractive, they have more money, they’re happier than I am, and when we do that it affects our mental health greatly. I always encourage people to be aware of how much time they’re spending on social media, what they’re doing while on it, and just be more aware of how it affects you. If you are going to use it, just think about how you can use it to spread more positivity and build people up. If there’s somebody that you follow and you tend to feel worse, it’s okay to unfollow them.
People tend to think that if somebody else got ten times as many likes as they did, then it means that that person is better than they are and think that it’s the one tangible way we can quantify our own popularity. As an adult you think am I the cool kid or not, and you start to look at social media and think I’m not as good, and so I think a lot of those bad habits I talk about in terms of mental strength play out on social media all the time – we give away our power, or we look at it and then feel sorry for ourselves, and it’s not real life compared to when you interact with people face to face. People tend to forget that.
Do you think that our bad habits are formed during childhood or are shaped by some of our first social interactions?
We figure out who am I, who are other people, how do I fit in the world. At seven years old you start to look at how do I fit in at school, how do my teachers treat me, how do my parents treat me. It’s important for parents to start young with these mental strength lessons, that was why I wrote the second book, the parenting book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, because I was getting this question after the first book came out. I had so many parents reach out to me and ask how to teach this to my kids, or they’d say if I learned this 20 years earlier my life would have been completely different. I wanted to teach this to kids, but I wasn’t going to write a book and have a 7-year-old read it and change their life. However, if I can teach parents how to be a mental strength coach when their children grow up, they will already have those skills. There are so many opportunities every day to help teach your kids to become mentally strong through the ways in which you interact with them.
What do you think of all the #MeToo movement? Do you think there can also be a negative aspect to the movement or dangerous misinterpretations which can counteract some of your lessons?
I think anything can be twisted and distorted and used in another way, and we see that playing out time and time again in many different ways. That’s why I wrote the women’s book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do, in order to start talking about how you can become a mentally strong woman in today’s world. I see many people who are still victim blaming versus other people who are trying to get attention for certain things for the wrong reasons. Now that we’ve raised more awareness and we’re talking about it, that’s great, and the next question is what action will you take, how are we going to change things in the future.
What is the easiest way for people to integrate some of these steps into their everyday lives?
I think the easiest and simplest mental strength exercise you can do is practice gratitude. It only takes a couple of minutes a day, it doesn’t cost anything, and studies have linked gratitude to everything from better social relationships to a 20 percent boost in happiness to living longer. Grateful people tend to live a lot longer than other people, and so when you wake up in the morning just come up with a few reasons why you’re grateful and happy to be alive rather than just looking at your phone. You can think of three wonderful things you have going on in life before your feet hit the floor, and it can start your attitude out on the right foot.
What are some of the biggest mental strength misconceptions?
People confuse mental strength and mental health. You could be struggling with a mental health issue like depression or anxiety and still be mentally strong. That mental strength is about the choices that you make. Somebody dealing with a physical illness such as diabetes or high blood pressure can still go to the gym and lift weights and choose to become physically strong. It’s about the choices that you make. Even if you’re battling depression or anxiety, you can still be mentally strong because you’re making choices to improve your everyday life.
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