One week ago, I did a seminar on „mental strength”. Mental strength is in my opinion a very important topic and besides I was curious to learn something new.
If you asked me before the seminar what my personal definition of mental strength is I would have said: “Mental strength means to have goals and to pursue them no matter what happens. It means to keep pushing forward even though it hurts. Your mental strength helps you through the good and even more through the hard times and enables you to grow beyond your comfort zone.” After the weekend, I would say that my view was quite limited and too focused on perseverance. But mental strength means much more.
Mental strength means to be able to shape your own thoughts.
An average person has roughly 60.000 thoughts a day. Considering that we sleep 7 hours a day that makes 3500 thoughts per hour. An incredible number! We are spending a lot of the time of our day on “talking to ourselves”, because that’s what thinking actually is. Even if you have the opinion that “positive thinking” is a bit an esoteric topic it should be clear with regard to that number it makes a difference what you think all day long.
Especially the quality of your thoughts makes the difference. Wolfgang Fasching, who was one of the coaches said in the seminar “the better the quality of your thoughts is, the better is the quality of your life”. And he is perfectly right! You can either be an obstacle to your goals by dragging yourself down with not helpful or even negative thoughts. Or you can do it the other way round – motivate yourself with helpful and positive thoughts to achieve your goals.
Mental strength means to be able to perform at your best when needed.
Performance can be captured by a simple formula: Performance = potential – disturbance. The disturbance can be either external or internal (doubts, demotivation, etc.). In both cases, you can set your mind in the right state if you have the tools available. You can calm yourself down if you are nervous, you can reduce emotional involvement if it affects your judgement or you can reframe a situation for yourself if necessary. And that’s just a few examples how you can influence yourself for the better.
Main question is now – what does that have to do with project management? I say – a lot! As a project manager and leader, you are constantly in difficult situations. You have external disturbances to master – people telling you that your costs are too high, users complaining about the poor quality, requirements which seem to be changing very day or stakeholders nagging about poor communication. And you have the internal disturbances – feeling the pressure because you are really running late and starting to worry, overcoming situations of demotivation or simply that you are doubting yourself because you have a bad day.
The list of possible disturbances is nearly endless and is part of everyday routine in project management. And that’s the reason why mental strength is important. You owe it yourself and your team to be in the best possible condition and manage your thoughts. And besides it makes life a lot easier. At least that’s what I have experienced in the past week when I applied the tools, tricks and tips I have learned. I have never been so aware of how many unhelpful thoughts I have. Noticing them is just the start. If you have noticed them you need to reshape them and that’s actually quite hard. Because you need to change ways of thinking which have accompanied you for a long time in your life. To make that happen you need not only to learn the tools, but also try what works out for you in real life conditions. And then you need to practice to have them available when needed. The mastery of real mental strength won’t fall into our laps, but I say the effects are really worth it. That’s the reason why I’ll keep on practicing!