How to be mentally strong: What a Military Coup taught me about mental toughness.

how to be mentally strong
Scary! This dude looks a lot like me, minus the earrings!

Anyway, Why Mental Toughness and why learn how to be mentally strong?

Tough times are life’s inevitable events. We face health, financial, economic and emotional crisis almost daily.

How do we cope with the mental strain?  How do we handle self-doubt and anxiety? Our world, especially the news are filled with negative thinking.

This environment with emotional strain will affect our behaviours and it will turn into a vicious cycle.

Having the right mental agility is what gets us through hardships while paying close attention to our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Mental toughness lets us rise above the chaos.

To be Mentally strong is the capacity to concentrate on one thing; while ignoring all other distractions.

It’s the discipline of perspective, not to make things bigger than they are; to not allow the past or the future to grab your attention away from what’s in front of us.

Mental toughness takes on many forms?: resilience, calmness, persistence or focus!

The best example I came across is from Thomas Edison. His factory burned down in 1914, destroying everything. His response is a classic.

“Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start fresh again.”

The cure to a military coup.

I work in Mali, a West African country. In 2012 there was a military coup in Mali, and some brutal attacks were reported in the capital.

The soldiers were unhappy about the management of the North and overthrew the government taking the matter into their hands.


Everyone was on high alert..

On-site women and children were immediately evacuated. Some men of other nationalities organised private planes to fly them out as soon as possible. It was pretty serious.

The same day the families left we were called in for a meeting.


There were mixed feelings and a lot of questions on our minds. I was expecting either the mine to close or we will have to drive out of the country or something.

The meeting kicked off with a quick briefing on the current situation, and then we switched to the important part…

“Where are we going to “braai” tonight?” (Braai=Barbeque for all my foreign friends)

Yes, that’s right, with the women and children gone, the most urgent matter was,  we had to decide where we will start with the first braai and who will be next in line. What followed was a marathon of “braai”nights.

South Africans might be crazy at times but we get a lot of ideas around a fire. It was two long weeks that followed with barely any sleep.

We seem to have a high tolerance towards chaos and have the mental ability to handle fear.

It made me question, what cultivates mental toughness?

This is what I found.

how to be mentally strong

Ideas on how to be mentally strong during life’s toughest challenges.

“Fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind” – Dale Carnegie

 Hit it with the Truth, it is what it is.

You don’t have to agree with it but if you are unable to control it or influence it, it is what it is, so move on and make a decision.

You can lose your cool for the idiot driving like a hooligan, but it will not get you home any sooner.

Manage your expectations and realise what is within your control, focus on what you can control and forget the rest.  

 Make a call. 

Make a decision and say No next time.

Take the stairs even if you are out of breath or say no to that dessert.

It’s a decision, to just be. Have the principle mindset that you refuse to compromise.

“Courage is the mastery to fear, not absence of fear.” Mark Twain

What do you want?

Be crystal clear on what you want and go for it no matter what. Don’t stop until you’ve achieved it.

Set the goals, make the plan and get going. Action will trump any fear.

 No limits.

Push yourself harder than you think possible. The brain will stop you when you reach 40% of your capacity, it’s a way of protecting you.

It means you can still push yourself past that. You will find new depth and grow in the process.

Remember with the first thought of stopping you used only 40% of your potential.

 Mix with like-minded people and tackle the challenge together.

You are the average of the people you spend the most time with so make sure you spend it with quality!

 “A man can be beaten in two ways: if he gives up or he dies.”– Richard Machowic


Overcome the fear, because what is fear really?


Don’t give fear too much priority and attention. Have courage and be brave. You will be okay if you keep your mental state intact. Fear is just a thought, a whiff of air.

When you’re down and out, go for your best effort, challenge your mind.


Progress Little by little. How do you eat an elephant?


Take a big task and break it up into actionable objectives. Then focus on the small tasks and get them done.

Show up, do the work and take small steps every day. It won’t look like progress, but you are gaining momentum and building on small victories.

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: The fear of failure.” Paulo Coelho

Rely on a system.


I depend on this a lot, especially when the going gets tough, and the motivation is non-existent. I know that my preparation was solid and that I need to follow the plan and process I set.

Trust in your system and follow it consistently every day.

 “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson


Failure and Mistakes

Most people let their struggle define them. Don’t see failure as an indication
of who you are.

Failure is just a lesson learned. Make it easier. See your efforts as experiments and you are the mad scientist.  

That way you will see failure for what it is, a learning event to tweak and improve to get it better on the next try.

Embrace change it’s the only constant.

It’s one of the few things that you can be sure of so why be against it? Prepare yourself and accept that change will come.

Focus on being more flexible and that you have the abilities to handle anything that comes your way.

Have strong relationships.

Have strong positive people in your network to support you. Remove toxic people from your life.  

You can’t please everyone all the time.

Have your network setup where you are not afraid to speak up and speak your mind.

Don’t dwell in the past.

Wishing things could have been different is not something mentally strong people waste time doing. Live today and plan for tomorrow.

Take Calculated Risks

If you are clear on where you are going and what you want, it’s easy to determine most of the variables to take the appropriate amount of risk.

Always do the calculations or thinking before decisions. “Life is Math-101, solve for x.”

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectation?, we fall to the level of our training.”-  Archilochus

Train for fear.

This one is a bit out there. What Archilochus is referring to is to deliberately practice our fears.

If you fear to have no food, go a day without food. If you fear to have no money, give away a month’s spending money to charity. Have a fear of criticism? Wear something ridiculous in public. 

You will train yourself that the consequences are not that bad and it will help you one day to handle a similar situation much better.

Look after your health.

Everything else depends on it. Make sure you have the maximum amount of energy. EAT healthy, Exercise regularly and get enough Sleep.

In closing.

Mental toughness will not take away your fear nor should it.

To be mentally strong will help you stick it out when the going gets tough and get you to the other side rejoicing in victory and happiness.

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Experimental Googler fascinated with investments and business. I enjoy golf, travel and random experiments.

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