Amy Morin: Author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do
When I first read 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, I was enlightened to find out how much we self-sabotage ourselves by our way of thinking. I quickly identified with a few of the “things” and knew I wanted to challenge myself to be mentally stronger. This book gave me awareness into the bad habits we’re conditioned with over time. So much of our twenties is about finding ourselves, unconditioning, and breaking away from things we have learned from our upbringing, school, television, and other experiences that have shaped our subconscious. Our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors and how we choose to channel them is what sets us up for success. I was so glad to share 13 Things as one of my favorite books of 2016 because it really changed how I assess my emotions in logical situations. This read truly inspired me to be more mindful.
I had the honor of speaking with Author of the international best-selling book, Amy Morin. Morin is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and lecturer at Northeastern University. She has been featured as a Ted Talk speaker, has been dubbed a Forbes “Thought Leadership Star”, and has been featured in Time, Fast Company, Business Insider, Elle, Success, Cosmopolitan, Oprah.com, Health, The Washington Post, and numerous other publications. Since the release of her book in 2014, it has been translated into 25 languages and continues to share insight around the world about the strategies that build resilience. Morin and I discuss the concepts behind mental strength, how to get out of an unproductive headspace, and what’s next for her after the wildly successful book.
Parchia: Your article first appeared on Lifehack.com, where it initially crashed the site due to the online traffic your blog post was receiving. Shortly after, Forbes contacted you about distributing it on their website, and the rest is history! You’ve once called yourself an “accidental author”, how did you decide that turning this article into a book was a good idea, and what challenges did you face in lengthening such a personal experience for distribution?
Amy Morin: Within a week of my article going viral, a literary agent called and asked if I was interested in writing a book about the 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. I had never really thought about writing a book before. But I decided to go ahead and put together a book proposal to see what would happen.
Within a few weeks, we had offers from multiple publishers. It was a surreal experience. I had written that article as a letter to myself when I was going through a time. I never imagined it’d attract so much attention.
Turning a 600-word article into a book did present some challenges. I had to find studies and anecdotes to reinforce my message. And I had to make sure the book didn’t simply repeat the article. I wanted people who read the article to feel like the book gave them solutions to overcome those bad habits.
As a therapist, I am used to hearing people’s stories, not telling my own. So it was also a challenge to talk about myself. The original introduction only included a few sentences about the loss of my mother and my husband and my editor very kindly said, “How about some more details here?”
There can be a stigma when it comes to seeing a therapist; that you must have a lot of problems or have gone through a traumatic experience if you see one. Can you speak on this feeling of shame we sometimes associate with therapy, and how we can shift the perception of this practice?
In some social circles, it seems like having a “shrink” is sort of the cool thing to do. But in other areas, there is definitely a stigma attached to mental health issues.
I think it’s important to think about physical health the same way we think about mental health. When someone has a mental health issue, they’re referred to as “mentally ill.” But we don’t do that with physical health issues. If someone has diabetes or a broken leg we don’t say that person is “physically ill.”
It’d be great if we focused more on prevention and intervention. But insurance companies don’t pay for mental health check-ups the same way they pay for annual physicals. If we were more proactive, we may be able to prevent a lot of problems.
I think it’s important to keep talking about the importance of building mental strength. Just like you might see a trainer at the gym to help you get physically stronger, seeing a therapist can give you the strength you need to become mentally stronger.
“Ask yourself, are my thoughts solving a problem or just causing me to feel bad?”
Let’s talk mental strength. You describe mental strength as regulating our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, but it’s human nature for us to have unhealthy thoughts at times. As twenty something’s we often have feelings of anxiousness or concerns about our future, that leads to worrying about things we can’t control. What are some mental exercises we can use when we’re faced with these thoughts to get out of an unproductive headspace?
A little anxiety is fine. In fact, a little anxiety can be the key to doing better. A student without any wouldn’t study for tests. Or an employee without any anxiety wouldn’t care if he showed up for work on time. So it’s important to recognize how your anxiety can be helpful in your life.
Ask yourself, are my thoughts solving a problem or just causing me to feel bad? Worrying that involves problem-solving is productive. So if you’re worried about how you’re going to afford to get your car fixed, you might start thinking of ways to earn some extra money or you might find alternate transportation for a while.
But, if you’re just predicting catastrophic outcomes and replaying things in your head, your thoughts aren’t productive. When you notice yourself ruminating, get up and do something. Go for a walk, call a friend to talk about something else, or clean the house. Get your mind off it so you don’t drag yourself down.
Learning mindfulness can help too. It’s all about being in the moment. When you learn how to be in the here-and-now, you’ll quiet your mind.
During a podcast interview with Dr. Henry Cloud’s Leadership University, you said: “It takes mental strength to step away from your goal when it isn’t working”. Attaching ourselves to our goals and ideas can be exciting, wanting every project to be our next big break or to show us the money. How can we use mental strength to let go, or to step away for a moment when our idea is not coming together as we planned?
In my therapy office, I often hear people say, “Well I’ve invested 10 years into this job, I can’t leave now.” Sometimes, it’s because they don’t want to acknowledge they need to change course because they’re afraid doing so would mean they’ve wasted 10 years.
There are so many internet memes the claim you should never quit or never give up. But giving up on one goal will help you have room for new goals. And goals should change and evolve over time.
Life is too short to waste it doing things that aren’t helpful. But pride often keeps people from quitting, even when they’re fighting a losing battle.
Remind yourself, it’s OK to do something different. The only thing worse than wasting one year on a project that is going nowhere, is wasting two years.
“It’s important to recognize you’re running your own race. Work toward your definition of success.”
In 13 Things you say that “When [we’re] insecure, someone else’s success will seem to magnify our shortcomings” (166). Being a millennial in the social media age, it’s easy to compare yourself to others, sometimes classifying it as healthy or friendly competition. Do you feel such a thing truly exists? Should we aim to be inspired rather than compete?
Friendly competition definitely exists. Studies show people who compete in weight loss challenges often do better than groups or simply support one another. But friendly competition only works when you’ve all agreed you are competing on a specific goal.
Unfortunately, many people assume they’re competing against everyone for everything. It’s a race to buy the biggest house or to travel to the most places or to appear the happiest. But you can’t compete against everyone for everything.
But social media seems to amplify the idea that everyone is in a race to perfection. It leads to envy and resentment when people start keeping score. And studies show envying your friends on Facebook leads to depression.
It’s important to recognize you’re running your own race. Work toward your definition of success and acknowledge that other people are working on their definition of success. Then, you can celebrate alongside them when they accomplish something great.
You just finished writing your second book, 13 Things Mentally Strong PARENTS Don’t Do. Being a well-respected therapist and author, do you feel any pressure in knowing that your readers aim to follow your counsel, especially now speaking to Parents in particular?
I wasn’t sure I was going to write another book. But, readers of my first book kept asking, “How do we teach kids how to be mentally strong?” So I felt like it was important to create a guide for parents. The earlier we can teach people about mental strength, the better. I’m thrilled so many parents and educators are interested in learning how to teach kids to build mental muscle.
Writing a parenting book seemed to be a good fit for me too. My career began as a child therapist and over the years, I’d worked in schools, group homes, and outpatient settings exclusively with kids and their parents. And I’d been a foster parent for years, so I’d seen first-hand what happens when kids learn how to become mentally strong. And I’ve written parenting articles for Verywell (an About.com company) for about four years.
I know it’s an important book that could impact a lot of lives. And I don’t take that lightly. But I it offers solid research, concrete exercises, and clear strategies that can help parents become mental strength coaches for their kids.
I’m a believer that lifelong learning is essential for growth, not only in our work but as people. In closing, are there any books, articles, documentaries, or any other learning tools that you can recommend to our readers to inspire them along their journey?
I am a fan of anything that helps people find meaning and purpose. One book that can help do that is How Will You Measure Your Life? By Clayton Christensen.
I also think it’s important to get out of debt and get your spending under control so you can live the life you want. There’s a free budgeting tool call Every Dollar that makes it really easy to track your expenses.
Images courtesy of Amy Morin.
RELATED: My Top 5 Reads of 2016