4 Simple Strategies to Build Your Mental Strength
Did you know that coconuts can travel several thousand miles, float up to 110 days, land on an island, and still be able to germinate? Palm trees have withstood the test of time, going back to the Eocene period. What’s even more fascinating about palm trees? They can endure strong hurricanes! Can we learn from palm trees and tap into this strength? Definitely. We usually like figuring out complicated answers, but it only takes looking outside at Mother Nature to see how she deals with adversity. You’ll learn how to apply 4 simple strategies to build your mental strength.
The definition of mental strength is generally vague. There is so much information about how you can be stronger mentally, physically, and emotionally that first you need to define what mental strength is to you. Turn the abstract into concrete. Once you define this, you can put it to the test in real life. You’ll know what problems you would like to tackle, and in which situations you’d like to stand your ground. Certainly, you’d want to be mentally strong so that you have the courage to pursue your dreams and the grit to persevere when it gets difficult. A lack of mental strength could hold you back from achieving your goals. Let’s look into the mechanics as to why palm trees still stand after the strongest winds in the world.
Consider the elements of Cocos Nucifera:
Palm trees have a different trunk structure than other trees. For instance, pine trees add a ring every year to the outer layer of their trunk. This helps the tree support the compressive weight from its branches. In dense forests, trees favor growing branches to capture more limited light in the canopy. On the other hand, the trunk of palm trees are made up of vascular bundles. The bundles look like woody straws that allow the palm trees to flex under shear strength, as opposed to the rings which are meant to support vast amounts of weight vertically. These bundles help conduct water, nutrients, and provide reinforcing strength that allow the palm tree to bend in the winds up to 50 degrees!
To face challenges at work, and to stand up for your values and yourself, develop a palm-like structure. Be flexible. Nurture yourself with nutrients, sleep, exercise, and social circles like the bundles that feed the palm tree. Health comes first. However, to succeed in school, at work, with customers, suppliers, and shareholders, you will be tested. To be flexible in human terms, means to be able to widen your view, to come up with more options to go about solving the problem, to find alternative solutions, and to set yourself to “gain from disorder.” You want to grow stronger by adding more bundles of the cylindrical wood. When facing challenges, be a palm tree, not an oak tree so that you stay standing after your biggest challenges.
Hurricanes can have sustained wind speeds ranging from 119 km/h (74 mph) to 251 km/h (156 mph). How exactly can palm trees withstand this force? It’s partly due to their root system, but it’s mostly because of their leaves. Palm trees don’t have branches. Because their leaves can flex with minimal resistance, this allows the strong winds to go right through them! For other trees, their branches act like a parachute that creates a lot of wind resistance, which could cause them to fall.
This is key when confronting problems. Although emotions help us take action, it’s best to be less impulsive and take a step back to figure out what the best course of action is. Be like the leaves that expand towards the sun to capture all the energy, but flex upon hurricane winds. Use your emotions positively, but remember to zoom out to gain perspective in difficult situations. Granted, sometimes you don’t have that time. But you can always look back and make sure to learn how to prevent it from happening again or meeting the problem differently next time. Strategy is about persisting long-term—like how the palm leaves return to their position after the hurricane. You build mental strength when you make it a habit to recognize (and remember) that to achieve big goals and to solve difficult problems, you have many tries. It’s seldom a one time shot.
In How do Palm trees survive hurricanes? Melissa Breyer says: “…most palm trees have a large number of short roots spread across the upper levels of the soil, which work to secure a large amount of soil around the root ball. As long as the soil is relatively dry to start off with, this works to create a super large, heavy anchor. As opposed to having just a few very strong roots, this wider network creates a bottom-heavy base that helps keep the tree in place.” At the same time, the soil is held in place by the palm tree, and it avoids being eroded. When you’re grounded, you take the systemic view and become more mentally tough like the roots of the palm tree.
Palm trees depend on the soil, like you depend on your relationships, social support, and belonging. Being grounded is fundamental to a stronger and healthier mind. Before you do any growing you must grow strong roots. How do you grow human roots? Connection. We’re social animals that take it for granted. With the boom of social networks we have the illusion of being connected. To be social, you need to make time to see others, be able to appreciate other points of view, and find out how you could be helpful to whoever you meet. To exercise connection means to be able to meet someone else in the middle. It also means you stand your ground if someone wants to force you into their own terms.
According to biologist Mike Foale, “Coconut fruit in the wild are light, buoyant, and highly water resistant. It is claimed that they evolved to disperse significant distances via Marine currents”. The coconut meat and water is highly nutritious. It carries all the nutrients the seeds need to grow into palm trees. Fruit is about value; it’s what you can offer. Mental strength is mostly about not being held back. When you have something to offer, you can anchor yourself in that value. Foster a positive attitude, be available, and mind less about how perfectly you can execute. Coconuts can go on to float long distances in the ocean. They can even potentially land on some island and make whole new forests several hundreds of miles away! When you focus on adding value, you will eventually find a payoff.
Be unreasonable—add value by spending your time implementing and tweaking rather than finding reasons why something won’t work. When you focus on how you can help, how you and others can be a team, and be a part of the solution, it’s easy to tap into your confidence. You can think of a million reasons why anybody is not a good fit or why something won’t work. But it only takes one fruitful reason to move forward!
Mental strength is a result of effective management of emotions so that emotions don’t hold you back from achieving what you want. Controlling your emotions sounds like emotions are there to derail you, but they are there to help you. These 4 simple strategies to build your mental strength remind you to be flexible in the face of a challenge. You’ll effectively stand your ground when you move forward regardless of the setbacks. Be more flexible like the palm leaves and less like majestic but fragile branches. Flexing doesn’t mean you don’t take action, it means you make sure you will be there tomorrow. Give yourself certainty by anchoring in what fruit you have. Build real social networks. Then you realize you’re more than equipped to face any hurricane in your life!
Juan F. Diaz
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