All people face daily challenges. Life happens. But being African American poses a unique set of challenges. How we respond often determines our success in life. Yet the extra challenges of being black are insidious. Omnipresent and constantly evolving these challenges seem insurmountable. They are not. One key characteristic is the essential tool for the unique African American experience. Mental Strength. These skills are universal:
- Mental Strength
Being mentally strong is the most important element of African American success.
Mental strength is different from mental toughness. Too often we confuse the two. Mental toughness is the ability to overcome self-limiting thoughts or physical constraints. And mental toughness is task specific. Mental toughness is preparing to max out limits through hyper focus. Think training for football. Training for the Olympics. Military training. Mental toughness has no time limits and seeks to overcome perceived limits. Mental toughness can help any African American be a great athlete or soldier. But being mentally tough does not guarantee life success. How many broke ex athletes are there?
The 4 C’s of Mental Toughness
There are four traits of mental toughness
- Challenge – You see challenges, change, adversity and variety as opportunities rather than threats.
- Confidence – Confidence is your self-belief and influence and describes to what extent you believe you have the ability to perform productively and proficiently and the ability to influence others.
- Control – You believe you can control situations that others struggle to conquer
- Commitment – You have a commitment to your success and ability to overcome challenges
But, being mentally tough can be hazardous to your health. Think about the stereotypical white cop and black man interaction. Recognizing his advantage, white cop escalates the situation. Armed with mental toughness, black man sees a challenge. His confidence, desire for control and commitment add fuel to a combustible situation.
Instead, African Americans need mental strength.
Mental strength has three main components:
- Regulating your thoughts – Regulating your thoughts involves learning how to train your brain to think in a helpful manner. That may mean ignoring self-doubt or replacing self-criticism with self-compassion.
- Managing your emotions – Being aware of your emotions allows you to understand how those feelings influence the way you think and behave. It may involve embracing emotions–even when they are uncomfortable–or it may be about acting contrary to your emotions, when those feelings don’t serve you well.
- Behaving productively – Choosing to take action that will improve your life, even when you struggle with motivation or delayed gratification, is key to becoming mentally strong.
Mentally strong individuals can successfully navigate the microaggressions of daily life. These microaggressions are attacks upon your sensibility. Mental strength provides the tools to conquer the cop encounter and other less dangerous situations. Recognizing the white cop’s need to feel superior, helps black men respond properly. The ability to control an emotional response to another man’s macroaggression is the difference between life and death. Choosing to respond wisely to the illegal, insulting and temporary feeling of insignificance is crucial.
Related: How to Become Mentally Strong
Mentally tough men often die on the street. Mentally strong men live and can create new laws and policies. Body cameras can stop these deadly encounters. But creating the policy is done by strong not tough men.