Its one of the fundamental laws of the universe that if you want to get 100% attendance at a meeting (especially one of mine), you bring doughnuts. Doesn’t matter if you snagged a couple dozen from the bargain bin with an “Sell by date from 1902” as long as the glaze glistens and the fat is fried, “If you bring them, they will come.” So I figured why not use this same gimmick to introduce the subject of this blog?
This definitely wasn’t necessary though as Amy Morin’s “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” needs no cheap parlor tricks by way of introduction. Sorry by the way, if you got excited about the promise of “13 Doughnuts,” but I’m actually gonna talk “The 13 Do Nots.” These particular fat pills are far more nutritious and don’t include a trip to hypoglycemia ten minutes after consuming (and as a result near total loss of productivity for the attendees of the all-too-important meeting).
Amy’s list hit my inbox in 2013, at just the right moment. It was @ the time I’d just been told that I actually had 98 brain tumors, instead of what was originally believed to be 44. That was difficult news to digest. I had just finished nine months and 4-5 rounds of gamma knife and things had been reported as stable to that point. To hear about this new number 98 seemed insanely-ridiculously-cosmically-ludicrous. 44 had been gonzo enough. But 98 brain tumors! That didn’t compute. It was like we were talking about funny money, “sure I’ll buy Park Place for a million dollars you bet Doc.” And the thought of having to deal with another 4-5 rounds of radiotherapy and more fear, uncertainty and doubt (aka F.U.D.) was unpleasant. I was reeling. We all were.
The news got me thinking more about the kinds of things I wanted my two boys to know. For one, what could I pass or hold out to them as important if I weren’t here to tell them myself? My hope was that the experience of losing their dad would not crush them permanently. Instead it would be, I hoped, something that would only serve to make them stronger men in the long run.
Its not that there weren’t solid examples, leaders and messages all around us. We are/were fortunate to have our church, family, friends, and even hockey organization that, I believe, serve to continually reinforce good messages in a variety of different ways, through a variety of means. But what’s that rule in marketing…you have to say the same message 7 different times in 7 different ways before anyone hears you?
I hoped the boys might be able to cultivate, out of a tragedy, the kind of mental toughness Amy talked about in a unique and succinct way. Even if they did not completely understand, at least they would be exposed to the words and concepts and could perhaps return or recall them later if needed. Two copies of the list were promptly printed and tacked to their respective doors. This meant of-course that not only were my boys passing by these messages on a daily basis, but so was I. For someone who needs continual, arguably remedial reminders about what and how I should be trying to deal with and live with life and more recently cancer, that was bonus material.
As time went by and boys got older, the rooms changed. The lists were eventually replaced by “Do not enter. Hockey Players Only,” caped crusaders, Pokemon stickers and fingerprints (apparently “door”, along with “sleeve”, “bare forearm”, “white shirt collar” and “upholstery”, is a synonym for “napkin” in boy parlance). Yet, here we are a couple years later and thankfully we (as in the Royal sense/me) are still topside.
Recently I was reminded of the list when Connor came dragging himself off the ice after his first two hockey games of the season. He had a great tryout but seemed to whither a bit when faced with strangers from a strange land (Denver). As we were talking about it, it made me think of the 13 Donuts, pardon me, Do Nots again.
So here they are. I inserted some comments in italics below related to the more recent conversations I had with the boys on the subject. I think all of it is relevant for the attitudes we should strive to cultivate whether dealing with hockey games, messy fingerprints, or life threatening illness.
1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves
Mentally strong people don’t sit around feeling sorry about their circumstances or how others have treated them. Instead, they take responsibility for their role in life and understand that life isn’t always easy or fair.
Dad /Connor/Derek Conversation (DCDC): Its not that we don’t find ourselves feeling sorry for ourselves, ever. You can’t stop yourself from doing that. It’s that when you recognize the dark cumulonimbus cloud overhead, you don’t waste time sitting under or in it anymore. Another way of saying this is that I may not be responsible for the thoughts that come into my head; but I am responsible for what I choose to do with them. So if you discover you are feeling sorry for yourself, find something more productive to think about and/or do.
2. They Don’t Give Away Their Power
They don’t allow others to control them, and they don’t give someone else power over them. They don’t say things like, “My boss makes me feel bad,” because they understand that they are in control over their own emotions and they have a choice in how they respond.
DCDC: It would seem ideal or the state of perfection would be to practice this perfectly, “sticks and stones” and all that. Although I think there is a qualification in order here. I have known brilliant engineers and other crazy folk that were borderline Asperger’s Syndrome; who, to a fault, seemed impervious to the opinions and words of others. We talked about importance of hearing what others have to say; but at the end of the day, using discernment about what parts you choose to believe and make your own.
3. They Don’t Shy Away from Change
Mentally strong people don’t try to avoid change. Instead, they welcome positive change and are willing to be flexible. They understand that change is inevitable and believe in their abilities to adapt.
4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control
You won’t hear a mentally strong person complaining over lost luggage or traffic jams. Instead, they focus on what they can control in their lives. They recognize that sometimes, the only thing they can control is their attitude.
DCDC: Easy one. If other team scores, if something happens out of your control, decide what kind of attitude you will have, how you will respond, keep working hard, head down or rather, in the case of hockey, head up and eyes on the puck.
5. They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone
Mentally strong people recognize that they don’t need to please everyone all the time. They’re not afraid to say no or speak up when necessary. They strive to be kind and fair, but can handle other people being upset if they didn’t make them happy.
DCDC: Really hard for the oldest son, perhaps too easy the younger one. People pleasing is embedded I think in the first vs second child genetic code.
6. They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks
They don’t take reckless or foolish risks, but don’t mind taking calculated risks. Mentally strong people spend time weighing the risks and benefits before making a big decision, and they’re fully informed of the potential downsides before they take action.
DCDC: Hockey, especially the pros, has gone bonkers over stats. I don’t know but there may be a stat for jumping up into a play aggressively vs. skating backwards and letting the play come to you. How many times does this kind of risk lead to a goal by the opposition vs. a goal for your team? Nevertheless, the key is discernment. The way, we discussed, you get to discernment however is by making mistakes and learning from them. The ultimate mistake is never making one.
7. They Don’t Dwell on the Past
Mentally strong people don’t waste time dwelling on the past and wishing things could be different. They acknowledge their past and can say what they’ve learned from it. However, they don’t constantly relive bad experiences or fantasize about the glory days. Instead, they live for the present and plan for the future.
8. They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over
They accept responsibility for their behavior and learn from their past mistakes. As a result, they don’t keep repeating those mistakes over and over. Instead, they move on and make better decisions in the future.
DCDC: definition of insanity…doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
9. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success
Mentally strong people can appreciate and celebrate other people’s success in life. They don’t grow jealous or feel cheated when others surpass them. Instead, they recognize that success comes with hard work, and they are willing to work hard for their own chance at success.
DCDC: one good way to do this is to congratulate and do something for the kid down the bench team scoring all the goals. Act like you are not jealous but happy for them and eventually you will be.
10. They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure
They don’t view failure as a reason to give up. Instead, they use failure as an opportunity to grow and improve. They are willing to keep trying until they get it right.
DCDC: Again hard for perfectionist Number #1 son. The measure of success or failure is not getting knocked down, as someone used to tell me, but how quickly you jump back up.
11. They Don’t Fear Alone Time
Mentally strong people can tolerate being alone and they don’t fear silence. They aren’t afraid to be alone with their thoughts and they can use downtime to be productive. They enjoy their own company and aren’t dependent on others for companionship and entertainment all the time but instead can be happy alone.
DCDC: Here my boys look at me with blank stares. Huh? But Dad, you’re home. As a dyed in the wool introvert I have been simultaneously grateful and resentful about that for 10 years. Is that wrong? 0-;
12. They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything
They don’t feel entitled to things in life. They weren’t born with a mentality that others would take care of them or that the world must give them something. Instead, they look for opportunities based on their own merits.
DCDC: We talked about the slippery slopes of victimization. Victims have a tendency of remaining victims long after the crime occurs.
13. They Don’t Expect Immediate Results
Whether they are working on improving their health or getting a new business off the ground, mentally strong people don’t expect immediate results. Instead, they apply their skills and time to the best of their ability and understand that real change takes time.
…We added a couple more Do Nots just for fun.
14. They don’t worry about whether they are not mentally strong yet.
Kind of like whenever I think I’m being humble, I’m no longer humble. “I mean gosh Leland you are such a humble guy!” Wow! Not-so-much. If you think you are mentally strong, that’s great, but be prepared for the next challenge life has in store for you. You might find there is room for improvement. My recent butt whipping and heavy whining at the hands of treatment related ulcers and gallstones is a great example of this. Better not to spend an inordinate amount of time either praising or pounding yourself over the question of mental fortitude and, as the commercial says, “Just Do It.”
15. They don’t forget to teach these principles to others
By teaching and modeling these principles to classmates or teammates there is no better way to improve your own understanding. Makes you realize where you can improve while reinforcing the things you should or are already doing on the way path to mental fortitude.
Finally, at least from my experience, I felt obligated to throw in a spiritual angle here. What I found is that in order to even come close to approximating a life described above I had to find and involve a power greater than myself. We talked about how strength can come from failure and admission of weakness. There are probably lots of people that don’t feel the need for this, but in my case discovering that “on my own I am nothing, the Father does the works” was the key that unlocked the door to living the kinds of principles espoused by the 13 Do Nots.
PS. It would be blatant plagiarism to reproduce and talk about 13 Don’ts, if Amy Morin had not been gratuitous enough to let me republish here. Thanks again Amy!
BTW you can pick up her book on Amazon, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success