5 Ways To Strengthen Your Mental Resilience Inside and Outside The Gym

Young woman training in crossfit center
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Our attitude toward a challenging situation often plays a bigger role in its outcome than we’d like to acknowledge. In the gym, it can be intimidating to start a new fitness routine or begin strength training if you’ve never lifted weights before. But just because you don’t currently have the strength to lift that dumbbell doesn’t mean you can’t. As I always say, you have to challenge yourself to change yourself, and part of that means becoming more mentally resilient—a skill that will serve you both in the gym and outside of it.


Resilience is the process of adapting to and navigating difficult life experiences, whether big or small. You can increase your resiliency with practice and become someone who can bounce back from setbacks at the gym or in your daily life. The thing people don’t realize is that it kind of is a snowball effect.  The more you practice mental resiliency, the more you accomplish in the gym and the two feed off of each other.  Here are ways to strengthen your mental resilience today:

1) Practice to Progress

Just like with strength training, any changes you want to make to your mental attitude take practice to see results. You might not become the most resilient person you meet after one day, but that’s okay: you should aim for progress over perfection. Resilience, by definition, insinuates that you must get back up after you fall; it takes practice and patience. You need to repeat positive behaviors in order for them to become positive habits.

Practice responding to difficult situations with a calmer, more positive attitude and over time, it will become more natural than the stressed, defeatist attitudes that can so easily be our default responses.

2) Find The Lesson

Whether the weight isn’t coming off as fast you want, or you don’t finish first in a race, look at your setbacks and ask yourself: what can I learn from this?

Sometimes it may just be to learn acceptance and non-attachment. How attached were you to the outcome you wanted? When you didn’t get what you wanted, did you complain and throw a fit, or did you accept it and move on? Finding meaning in life makes you stronger, allowing you to tackle more challenges within the gym and outside of it.

3) Set Realistic Goals

Just like with weight training, you don’t grab the biggest weights first or you’ll hurt yourself. If you want to become mentally strong or resilient, start small: set expectations and goals that are challenging but still reachable and appropriate to where you are in life. A positive goal can be as simple as waking up and choosing to write down three things you’re grateful for that day. This seemingly insignificant act can help you bounce back from day-to-day disappointments and remind you to keep your chin-up.  This doesn’t mean you’ll do everything perfectly from that point on, but unrealistic expectations will only set you up for disappointment.

Know yourself and have patience; see how setting small, positive goals can have an incremental impact and over time, transform you into a more resilient person.

4) Have A Go-To Mantra

When the going gets tough, it’s helpful to have an inspiring mantra to repeat: to remind yourself of your own strength. There’s the “challenge yourself to change yourself” standby, which is a great one to pull out when you’re struggling to lift that bar. The most difficult reps at the gym, along with the hardest experiences in life, are what force us to grow and change. The Buddhist phrase “no mud, no lotus” is another good one to remind yourself when you’re feeling like you want to give up. You can choose a mantra that has personal significance or even an image to visualize when you feel like you just can’t do one more rep. Life won’t always turn out the way you want it to; mistakes happen; messes will be made--but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful—or any less worth the fight.

5) Help Others

What’s one of the best ways to learn? By teaching. Lead by example. Show others you have faith in them and you see them as strong individuals; you may just start to see yourself as strong as well. Be there for your friends during their difficult times, and you will not only cultivate more empathy for others, but you’ll cultivate more empathy for yourself. Having compassion toward ourselves and others allows us to lean on a support system and inner confidence when things get hard. It allows us to bounce back, knowing that our setbacks and difficulties are only temporary, and that tomorrow we have the choice to persevere as the happy, strong person we are.

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