I have had varying degrees of mental strength in my life, though it is stronger now than it has ever been. We often value feats of physical strength but feats of mental strength to me are just as valuable. Below are the dominant activities I have explored in my life and the mental strengths they have given me:
Music: Mental Strength: Attention to detail and remaining focused under pressure.
Yoga: Being one with physical pains and calming myself with breathing. Meditation.
Dance: Presentation speaks louder than words. Always have good posture to improve your mood. Listening and being aware of body language
Long Distance Running: Talk positively to yourself. Your internal monologues can give and take away energy / mental strength.
Mentally tough. As in the activities I listed above spill over into other areas of my life. For example, I used to sometimes feel bad If I was out with friends and didn’t have a whole lot to say in conversation. Or I would have social anxiety. Listening to my breath (a skill learned in yoga) helps me mentally stay focused throughout such a situation. So does sitting with good posture and moving with intention. It gives me an outlet to stay strong in situations where I need a pillar to lean on and gives me confidence when I feel confidence sifting away. There’s a quote I heard somewhere that the most important thing you can do in your day is make your bed every morning as it sets the tone for the day and gives you mental strength that you are already accomplishing your goals and beginning the day on a positive note. I’m looking for what gives people mental strength in this kind of a way.
Having to get up early in the morning to get to work has that effect. I may just wanna laze in bed another hour, but I can’t, and it’s good for discipline to have to get up.
Deadlines in general tend to compel discipline, although some of us artificially rely on them, even to the point of deliberately postponing work until late in the cycle, and using deadline-induced adrenaline as a workplace stimulant.
I do medium-distance walking, and use the internal monologue as a tool for creativity, but not for strength. It’s a way of opening up the internal vision.
I spend a lot of time (way too much!) posting here on the SDMB, and one of the things that builds a lot of personal mental and moral strength is keeping my temper. A damn lot of times, I’ve wanted to snark and sneer and pester and taunt… (Or, in the Pit, just call rude names outright.) It’s good discipline to try real hard not to give in to this impulse.
Posting here on the Straight Dope has helped me a lot. I always use “Preview” to try and make sure my post communicates exactly what I want it to communicate. I often use what I optimistically characterize as “humour” to make a point or draw attention to some aspect of something. Sometimes, I’ll post something I find funny (if I think so, maybe somebody else in the world will as well) but I’ll be fearful of people’s reactions. I then won’t come back to the thread until a day or two have passed. I’ll then go directly to the bottom of the thread and gradually work my way back up to where I posted. That way I can kind of see which way the wind lies.
I used to work with people who put on trainings in the “human potential” movement. They’d be in front of and interacting with groups of 100 - 200 all day on weekends. I once heard one of their trainers interacting with one of them and he asked “Has the cloud begun to lift any for you yet?” He was talking about a metaphorical representation of fear of speaking, fear of strangers, just fear, and being able push through it and connect with and empathize with people. I think of that sometimes, posting here, in a virtual sort of way.
I’ve often wondered if the mental strength you need to compete at endurance has much spill over into everyday life. Ran when I was younger, but now ride bikes - I’m not sure that it does, at least for me.
Some of the mental efforts needed in bike races feel absolutely heroic, you dig so deep to never, ever give up, no matter how much it hurts. I remember cross-country running being the same. Seems like we’d all be walking round like Obi-Wan Kenobi in our daily lives if this mental strength translated.
It might do for some, be interested to hear what others think.
I don’t think the actual strength continues forever from such an event. In my life though I find my attitude is generally one of preserverence because I know that I can accomplish difficult tasks. As well good tolerance of physical and mental pain helps me handle future pain. Kind of like developing a thicker skin.
It’s not an activity, but coming to terms with my tic disorder has really helped me to be a stronger person.
I have never been unafraid to be myself. I’ve always kind of been the one weirdo in the group, even when I try not to be. But for years I tortured myself by worrying about how people perceive my intelligence. The motivation to show the world that I’m capable and smart has always pushed me to work very hard.
I noticed my motor tics when I entered my 20s. For years afterwards they were very subtle, so I just convinced myself that they were just one more quirk among others that weren’t worth thinking about. I’d mention my “movements” to family members and they would tell me I was just imagining things. But when I hit my 30s, things changed. I stopped being able to control the tics and suddenly they were quite noticeable. And not only that, they started taking over my thoughts in a maddening way. What was once a humorous quirk became a source of self-hatred and embarrassment and psyche discomfort. My lifelong alienation got a whole lot worse.
I think the reason why it was all so horrible for me was because nothing says “mental defective” like a tic. Especially a verbal tic. My whole life I struggled to convince people that I was smart, not stupid, despite what my garbled speech and awkward movements might communicate. And just when I thought I had done that (acquiring a Ph.D and everything), I was back to square one. I’d be at the grocery store, having difficulty walking (obsessional slowness is something I deal with once in a blue moon), and people would ask me if I was ooooookayyyyy. Or they’d give me the thumbs up, like I was a Special Olympian. And it was just so terrible for me, not being able to be the super intelligent, strong, confident black woman I thought I was supposed to be.
I guess I’ve just gotten used to the new normal? Now my disorder doesn’t faze me that much. Instead of feeling bad because random strangers might think I’m insane in the membrane, I just try to put my energies on staying excellent in front of the people that matter to me. I don’t care if I have a tic while I’m giving a presentation as long as I give the best presentation I can possibly deliver. I’m not a great off-the-cuff speaker, so I try to focus on making every sentence I write flawless (though I fail all the time on the Straightdope :).)
But I’m not self-conscious about stupid shit anymore. I think being clinically disinhibited has made me more disinhibited in general. I guess it’s kind of like, I know I look kooky. And my thoughts are kooky, too. I can either accept the kookiness as a part of who I am and try to use it to my advantage, or continue to struggle and fight for a normalcy that I never had to begin with. I’ve chosen to go with the former.
I’m not sure what it means either. I do lots of word puzzles, and for stuff like Monday - Wednesday Times puzzles limit myself to filling in the puzzle in order of the across clues to make it more difficult. Cryptic puzzles also help in mental flexibility.
But writing for a critical audience is even better, since you can’t just splat the words out on the screen. Not if you want to avoid lots of red pen comments. And programming helps also. Having stuff come out wrong is annoying.
As I get older, I’m making a conscious effort to keep my brain limber and agile. I don’t know that it will help me as I age, but I am willing to give it a go, just in case it proves helpful. I do logic and word puzzles, along with sudoku, every day. I do a lot of researching and writing, both for the blog and for my company policy manuals. I indulge in argument (not heated, just informed discussion) at least once daily. And I read voluminously and from many genres.
On the physical side, I try to eat well, get as much sleep as I can with my busy lifestyle, and exercise when my RA permits.
If you have the aptitude for it, computer programming is a great mental exercise. There’s lots of logic involved, and you’re never really done. You have to test your programs to make sure they work, which itself is a challenge. Then you have to have the emotional guts to say “good enough” and move on to something else, otherwise you can get stuck with never completing anything.
Martial Arts got me going in the right direction many years ago. My sensei was “right off the boat” from Japan and drilled it into our heads that karate was first for your mind and second for your physical well being. It help me to get through some difficult times.
Since then, simply becoming debt free has made my life even better.
Caffeine, mostly. I guess that’s not really an activity.
Finely calibrated apathy. Not caring about bullshit allows me to focus on important things.
Semi-obliviousness to my own intellectual limitations. I pretty much assume I can do something until proven otherwise. Can’t be too blind, obviously, but just enough that I’m not filled with self-doubt when I try something new.
Curious where you picked up this idea. I almost feel like verbal tics are one of those quirky signals of hyperintelligence. Watch some of John Carmack’s (genius game developer) talks [hrm] for an example [hrm], especially from several years ago (he’s gotten it a little under control in later years).
Same here. Trying to make strong, clear arguments in GD has made me a better writer, and has carried over into my work: over the past decade or so, my bosses have consistently singled out my writing skills as something they particularly valued.