10 Things Tough Minds Don’t Do

Success isn’t simply a matter of rearranging files and appointments. It’s about mental strength. From letting go of control to taking smart risks, here are 10 things tough minds have mastered.

10 Things Tough Minds Don’t Do
[Image via Unsplash | Danka Peter]

Many of us spend a lot of time trying to boost productivity by clearing off our desks, walking while we work, working out at lunch and deploying a host of other hacks to make the most of our days.


Those are all great strategies, but what may bring us the ultimate success–in work and life–isn’t simply a matter of rearranging files and appointments. It’s about mental strength. As Angela Duckworth, winner of this year’s MacArthur Genius Grant, discovered, self control and grit–the tenacity to set a goal and see it through, are excellent predictors of success.

Amy Morin took that a bit further. The psychotherapist recently wrote in Lifehack that sticktoitiveness was among the behaviors that the mentally strong exhibited. But she also noted what they didn’t do that allowed them to stay tough and focused. Taken together (and adding a couple of our own) they provide a compelling checklist for anyone looking to push past the obstacles that may be holding back growth.

1. Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry For Themselves

Belle Beth Cooper introduced us to the term sunk cost. It’s refers to any time, effort or money spent that can’t be gotten back. The reason most of us can’t get past them is because our brains are wired to feel loss far more strongly than gain. A tough mind doesn’t get stuck in the sunk-cost fallacy and has the strength to make a rational decision without getting mired in the emotional muck of regret.


2. Don’t Try To Control Everything

Trying to control things takes up a lot of energy. Instead, by accepting the situation and letting go of outcomes, a strong mind can adapt and thrive–even when the going gets tough.

3. Don’t Fear Failure

We’ve heard many an entrepreneur’s tale to fail fast and get on to the next thing. To really deal with failure, a tough mind needs to wrap itself around what went wrong and figure out how to do better next time.

Acknowledging mistakes is also important for moving on. In doing so, you not only sidestep the psychological pitfalls of cover-up, rationalization, and guilt; you may also find that you enhance your own brand through your honesty, candor, and humility.

4. Don’t Fear a Smart Risk

Acknowledging that you may reach greater success if you think out of the box also comes with the risk of making more visible mistakes. Those with more mental strength can silence the saboteur inside their heads and weigh the risk rationally to make an informed decision. On the plus side, taking a calculated approach to risk cuts the recovery time even if you make a mistake.


5. Don’t Discount Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, that is, the ability to tune in and control your own emotions and be aware of those in others, is an excellent indicator of success. Resilient minds are able to navigate through the currents of emotion in any situation and don’t get pulled into the undertow of office or family drama.

6. Don’t Shy Away From Transparency

At collaboration software startup Asana, they create a road map for blocks of time called “episodes.” At the end of each they pull together a document that summarizes their hits and dissect their misses to share with the team, investors, and entire rest of the world. A tough mind can handle the sheer transparency because it understands that the exercise is about learning and not blame.

7. Don’t Fear Being Alone with Themselves

It takes a tough mind not to get stuck in the unproductive fight/flight/freeze state exacerbated by procrastinating until the last minute and doing ‘good enough’ work. Those who can rise above take the time to be alone with themselves and learn to listen to the silence, even for just five minutes a day.


8. Don’t Think Success Happens Overnight

Even “rock star” executives can’t make a sustainable splash in a short period of time. A tenacious mind understands that it takes time to listen to customers and constituents, and teasing out a solution can take months–or years. To succeed in the long run, there has to be a balance between the passion for instant gratification and practicality.

9. Don’t Have the Disease to Please

Not every email or request needs to answered immediately. A resilient thinker will chew on the best way to deal a problem or concern and substitute “I think” wherever others are tempted to say “I feel.” Tough minds don’t obsess about hidden meanings. They simply address the issue by removing any fraught emotion. 

10. Don’t Get Jealous and Hyper-Competitive

“The old adage ‘competition brings out the best in people’ deserves a proper burial,” says professor Paul Baard of Fordham University. Instead, a tough mind will naturally gravitate to motivation that ranges from extrinsic (“What can I earn or win in doing this task?”) to intrinsic (“What can I enjoy by doing this?”).


Hat tip: Lifehack


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a staff editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.


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