13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do

I have to admit, lists rankle me, especially when they are lists of shoulds.*

But Amy Morin wrote a list of should nots. The book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, pulled me in, just like Where Have I Been All My Life, life coach Cheryl Rice's biography, last week. Love those book tours.**

The good news is that the list of don't isn't as focused on avoidance as it  leads on. That's good, because avoidance isn't generally therapeutic. In fact, it can be anti-therapeutic. Just don't  ___ (fill in the blank), never works, not for very long. Humans are far too willful, prone to habit and addiction. Therapy is a process, an examination of the whys and the wherefores of pain--the opposite of avoiding problems.

We even suggest that patients lean into problems. Don't avoid. "Bring it up in a safe place" (before leaning in in vivo). Enough focus and we get sick of feeling sick, leave it for awhile.

Remember what the late Morrie Schwartz suggested to his biographer in a different kind of book, Tuesdays With Morrie?  Morrie's path: embrace the pain, feel it, pass through it. This is mindfulness and it works for some, but it isn't a be all, end all. Yet I find myself referring patients to that book lately, especially when therapy is about a materialistic obsession with success.

So you see why  just don't is too simple. In therapy, we do. Or we intentionally postpone tackling a problem, give it a time and date for re-examination. Timing is everything.

This book, these 13 Things, does manage to focus on doing, thankfully. The "tips"embedded in each chapter are rational-cognitive-behavioral strategies, in list form.*** Alternative behaviors (huge on her suggestion list) add to self. Morin's formula: monitor behavior, regulate emotion, and think about thoughts are basic CBT steps, a steal (totally kosher) from the well-known Beck A-B-C's, affect, behavior, and cognition.

A glimpse inside the mentally strong, the first chapter:

They Don't Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves.

If anyone has the right to feel sorry for herself, our author qualifies, having lost her mom, her husband, and her beloved father-in-law in a few short years. Any loss can throw us into another universe, center us on ourselves. And self-pity, if you're a 12-step aficionado, is stinking thinking. Amy uses herself, just once, as proof that we can rise above it, our pain, use our strengths to take the negative and make something good out of it. In her case, a book, and a good one.

We could and maybe should stop here, but the idea for this particular book tour is that the reviewer choose one of the 13 and personalize it. The chapters apply to most of us, so this isn't all that hard. Look at the first eight.

Mentally strong people . . .

Don't Give Away Their Power
Don't Shy Away From Change
Don't Focus on Things They Can't Control
Don't Worry About Pleasing Everyone.
Don't Fear Taking Calculated Risks
Don't Dwell on the Past
Don't Make The Same Mistakes Over and Over
Don't Resent Other People's Successes

I stopped at the last, because I remember telling friends that I never envied what others have, wasn't quite sure of the meaning of the word jealousy, not until my daughter and son-in-law moved to California. He would attend graduate school, ostensibly, but had family, close family, in L.A. The likelihood of their return to the cold Midwest seemed dismal at the time.

The negative feeling, however, whatever one calls it, jealousy or envy, set in after the grandchildren started coming along. His parents had them. FD and I did not.

Me, to the fellow on the left at the zoo: We have to stop meeting like this.

Then in February, when the temps are below zero in Chicago and I'm visiting a little guy at his other grandmother's pool: We have snow in Chicago. Isn't that better?
And to those children scampering ahead on a hike in the mountains: Wait up!

I tried to keep it in, and truly, my son-in-law's parents are wonderful, and if anyone is going to be good for those kids, they are. To manage my negative feelings, all a person like me has to do is share with others (long dinners with friends, my preference), remember that things do change (there are universities in Chicago), find conferences in Los Angeles (and stay a few weeks, why not), and stay creative, be a grandparent that grandchildren want to talk to, want to visit. Be your best possible self.

It isn't easy, as we say, to rise above it.


*I tried to like BuzzFeed, ended up writing that list, Ten Things to Do Other Than Text While Driving. Went nowhere.

** Next post, seriously, we won't review anything and it won't be about me.

***For those who like to write up reminders and tuck them into their wallets, just a mantra is a good idea, something like, Do I really want to stop at the bar on my way home? (Watch another show on Netflix?) Maybe it is time I worked on myself, or helped somebody, somehow.


Your situation with your grandkids reminds me of my own parents and in-laws and their ability to spend time with my son. Jealousy has definitely come into play through the years, but luckily we've been able to work things out in most cases. It sounds like you've done the same, and made the most of the time you DO have with your grandkids.

Thanks for taking the time to read and review this book for the tour!
You could move if you really wanted to.
therapydoc said…
LOL, Grace. At the top of the blog there's this thing about the references in these blogs, even some of the details about me, fiction.
Caleb Hart said…
I've been trying to read books and get my life back together. I'm worried that I might need professional help. Is it bad if I think I can handle things by myself? I'm just not sure how to talk to a therapist so it's always made me nervous to contact one. http://www.cancerlifeline.org/services/therapist-referral-program
therapydoc said…
Hi Caleb, Sorry it took me so long to reply and publish your comment, I am behind in lots of things, always playing catch up. Anyway, I think that therapists tend to know how to handle the anxiety of the person coming for help and it is our specialty, making people comfortable. You have nothing to lose by going once and trying it out, just a few minutes, maybe an hour of your time, and it will probably feel good. The therapist will lead your way. Social workers are especially good at this, by the way. Good luck!
Unknown said…
I came across your site when I searched for counseling and therapy and the result that caught my eye was your title to your blog. reading over this article, I have noticed that the vast majority could say that we are not completely mentally strong. Some of us have different strengths and weaknesses. I have been learning a lot that I need to not dwell so much on the past. I could say that is one of the things that I have that is holding me back from being mentally strong. What book did you pull this from? I would like to read a little more about it. http://www.thunderbaypsychology.com/en/services.html

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