How to build mental toughness

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

~Viktor Frankl

Why write a post on resilience or mental toughness? Because life throws curveballs and hardballs without warning, and if we learn how to become more resilient, the better we can manage and handle other stresses that invariably will occur. Granted, some people are just genetically tougher, but according to Dr. Richard Friedman, you can train your brain to be more resilient and handle stress better.

For me, leukemia and stem cell transplant broke down some walls and built others from the ground up. The same is true for those going through other soul-depleting, mind-bending and body-crushing events; no one escapes tragedy, trauma or life-altering circumstances except criminals. I was resilient before leukemia and stem cell transplant, but now feel stronger than ever in those areas that I was lacking. Everyone has weaknesses or limitations and if they deny it, they are doing a disservice to themselves.

So, how can we build mental toughness to help us weather the tornados, hurricanes, twisters, and tsunamis that life throws at us?  Can we learn how to be more resilient? The answer is YES!!

I’ve compiled a few helpful suggestions from the experts and myself…I know they will help if you do the work:

View setbacks as temporary. During my illness and recovery from leukemia and stemit's-only-temporary_PTSD_get-help cell transplant, I viewed most setbacks as “temporary”. By saying this out loud, it helped me really incorporate the setback as temporary rather than an out-of-control situation. Many times, and to this day, there are times when my recovery seems 5 steps back and 1  step forward, but I tell myself, “It’s temporary.”

–You are in control of your attitude. Or retrain your attitude from a pessimistic to an optimistic outlook.

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who believed and showed that changing one’s attitude is critical in overcoming great challenges. He said,

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

View obstacles as learning experiences. This helps increase mental toughness or resilience and increases opportunities for growth.

Give back to your local community or national organization by volunteering and contributing to something larger than

Be grateful every day, no matter what your circumstances are. There will always be others who have more or fewer difficulties, but EVERYONE is going through something.

Trauma, personal tragedy, life-threatening illness can lead to symptoms similar to PTSD. To this day, leukemia and stem cell transplant have shattered my beliefs about myself, of others, and my future…I am in a state of ongoing personal transformation. 

Engage in creative work, mindfulness techniques, yoga, writing, hobbies to reduce anxiety and stress. Basically, any activity where your mind is completely absorbed and engaged.creative-work-build-resilience-and-mental-toughness

Talk therapy with trusted friends, counselor or support group. Tell your story…bottling up trauma can lead to a worsening of physical and psychological symptoms.

I had decided to enter the Kaiser Permanente Palliative Program for a number of reasons. First to ensure my wishes were known should my condition head south, and second to talk with a therapist to deal with the life-threatening situation and all of the associated emotions and lack of control…THIS was extremely helpful.

Determine what kind of life you wish to live…is it one of selfishness or love…love for yourself and the greater good? Set your goals but be open to all the opportunities you will attract.

Now, build your resilience and live your best life!



Richard Friedman MD

Viktor Frankl…

Building emotional strength and resilience



  1. Marti,

    I definitely needed this article to read. It serves as a reminder no matter our situation, we can choose to embrace it and live in the moment.

    Many Blessings,
    Nancy L.

    P.S. My daffodils have buds!

    Liked by 1 person

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