Welcome to The Betty Rocker Show! Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? Whether you’re listening in May or not, having resources to support our mental health is just as important as having resources to support our physical health.
My guest today is a renowned psychotherapist and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, the biggest mental health website in the world. She’s the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast and an international bestselling author.
Her book, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” has been translated into more than 40 languages and is the first in a series of books that give practical advice to help you train your brain for happiness and success.
I’m so excited to introduce you to her, and talk through some of my favorite mental strength tips from a couple of my favorite books of hers (13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do is right at the top of my list!) so you can apply them to your own life. Have a listen, and let me know what stood out to you the most. Links to all of Amy’s work are just below!
I have been a huge fan of Amy Morin for several years and have collected her books. You can find her complete book collection here, including:
- 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do
- 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do WORKBOOK
- 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do
- 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do
- 13 Things Strong Kids Do
Betty Rocker (00:02):
Welcome to the Betty Rocker Show. The place to be to nourish your mind, love your body, and rock your life.
What’s up, rock stars? Coach Betty Rocker here. Thank you so much for joining me today. Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? Whether you’re listening in May or not, having resources to support our mental health is just as important as having resources to support our physical health. My guest today is a renowned psychotherapist and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, the biggest mental health website in the world. She’s the host of the Verywell Mind podcast and an international bestselling author. Her book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do has been translated into more than 40 languages and is the first in a series of books that give practical advice to help you train your brain for happiness and success. I have been a huge fan of Amy Morin for several years and have collected her books. I’m so excited to introduce you to her and talk through some of my favorite mental strength tips so you can apply them to your own life. Join me in welcoming her to the show. Welcome, Amy. So great to have you with us today.
Amy Morin (01:29):
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Betty Rocker (01:32):
Yes, and I have been such a fan of your work, and it’s really a thrill to get to interview you because your work is so relevant. I mean, it’s always been relevant. I don’t feel like it’s ever been more relevant to have these mental tools to work with. So thank you again for coming to talk about your work. It’s so, so needed.
Amy Morin (01:57):
Thank you. The world’s changed a lot since I first wrote my first book. It was nine years ago. Then my most recent book was the workbook to the 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. And when I wrote the workbook, I was really thinking, how has the world changed over the past nine years? I was like, we didn’t have cell phones like smartphones. Only 50% of people had smartphones 9 or 10 years ago.
Betty Rocker (02:22):
Amy Morin (02:25):
So the world has changed a lot. Obviously COVID hadn’t been invented and all of these other things that have come about and continue to emerge. So to talk about how do you build mental strength in today’s world is always an interesting question.
Betty Rocker (02:39):
And I feel never more relevant. I know that one thing that a lot of people around me have noted is the amount of crime that’s gone up, the amount of homelessness has gone up. I feel that we can trace a lot of that back to mental health concerns and desperation and people being unhappy and not having tools and infrastructure to cope with the way that they feel and the mental capacity to handle all that’s going on.
Amy Morin (03:13):
I think so too. A lot of the issues that we’re seeing came out of a good place. In the 70s, we decided we should close a lot of the giant mental health institutions because we don’t want to institutionalize people that maybe have something like schizophrenia. But then we figured out now jails have become the biggest house for people who are struggling with chronic and untreated mental illness. Then you look at things like the financial crisis right now and how many people are struggling to pay their bills, and they either are becoming homeless or in danger of it. How do you manage your mental health and how are kids managing this when they live in a home environment that’s disruptive and things are fragile as well? It’s definitely difficult.
Betty Rocker (03:57):
And you have four books now, correct?
Amy Morin (04:00):
Betty Rocker (04:01):
Five, okay. So there’s 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do. That’s my favorite book. You have 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do. Is it 13 Things Mentally Strong Kids?
Amy Morin (04:19):
This one is-
Betty Rocker (04:19):
I think that title’s different.
Amy Morin (04:21):
This one is 13 Things Strong Kids Do.
Betty Rocker (04:23):
Yeah, Strong Kids Do.
Amy Morin (04:25):
That’s the only one that’s do as opposed to not do.
Betty Rocker (04:27):
I like that framework for the kids. I knew there was a different framework. Then you came out with this incredible workbook that goes along with the 13 things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, and I absolutely love the workbook and have been going through the workshops. I feel very fortunate to have had a lot of therapy, had the opportunity to work on a lot of things that I struggled with personally in my life. Yet you’re never done with your work and having things to work through. Because things come up all the time and you still get triggered, right? I might be better at not reacting or quickly, I might be better at stopping to think about my response, but I still feel angry or hurt or I get mad and I need tips and practices. We all do to work through the challenges that we face day to day.
Amy Morin (05:27):
That’s just like when life is going smoothly. Sometimes it’s like, oh yeah, I’m doing well. But you never know the bump in the road of something that you didn’t heal yet, something that’s going to bother you, things that are going to come up for you. Things that maybe you didn’t even know were an issue and then you run into. It might be a person who for whatever reason rubs you in a certain way, brings out the worst in you, and you have to do some work on: Why does this happen? Why do I lose my temper? Why am I so irritated with this person? Or why do I always have to get the last word in with this person when I don’t do that in other situations?
Or maybe it’s a situation like you encounter a financial crisis or you lose your job or you’re in a different relationship. Whatever it is, but all of these different things can sometimes stir up things that we either didn’t know we hadn’t dealt with or just new things sometimes too. Maybe you’ve never encountered somebody with a specific personality before, and once you do you think, “Oh yeah, I’m not done working on myself yet.”
Betty Rocker (06:24):
So true. I want to get into some of these, some of my favorite things I’ve learned from your work. But before I do that, I’m actually just genuinely really interested and curious about how you got into this type of work in the first place.
Amy Morin (06:37):
Well, so I was going to be a doctor on my first day of college. I thought, oh, I’m going to be a pre-med student. It’s going to be great. Then we had to dissect cats on day two. Everybody was super excited about dissecting a cat except for me. So I called my sister who had a degree in psychology and said, “I’m switching my major to psychology.” She said, “Why don’t you go for social work? At least you then get a degree. A bachelor’s in psychology these days is too broad.” So switched my major to social work thinking I’ll change it later. I just wanted to not dissect a cat on day two. But I fell in love with social work. So I decided to get my master’s, and I just really wanted to work with people. I knew then it wasn’t the medical aspect.
I thought I want to work with people and their minds, so became a therapist and loved it. Just thought this is incredible to be able to talk to people and figure out how people operate. But I really thought I was going to take what I learned in college and apply it to other people’s lives. Because my life up until that point had been pretty good, but my mom passed away when I was 23. She had a brain aneurysm and it was really sudden and unexpected. She was fine. One minute I spoke to her on the phone just a few hours before she passed away and she was fine. So to lose her really did a number on me. How do you subtract one of the most important people from your life all of a sudden in such an unexpected way? And so, I was really then became more interested in mental strength from a personal perspective of, okay, I want to know what makes people tick and how come some people go through tough times and they come out better on the other side? Or how do some people just stay more hopeful and positive in life in general? And the more I studied people, the more I figured out it wasn’t always about what they did. It was sometimes about what they didn’t do. As a therapist, I had a revolving door of just case studies all day long. So while I hoped I was teaching them things, I was also learning from people. And so I thought, all right, people who don’t do certain bad habits tend to fare better in life.
Then, that was the three year anniversary of the day my mom died, my 26 year old husband died of a heart attack. Obviously when you’re 26 you’re not supposed to have a heart attack. He didn’t have any history of health problems. Much like my mom, he’d been fine one minute and was gone the next. So then to be a 26-year-old widow and have to figure out what do I do now, it was a really dark place. I’m a therapist, so I should know how to describe feelings, and I’m an author so you’d think I’d be good with words, but I don’t have any words for that phase of my life other than to say it was something I would never wish on anyone.
I just grieved for a long, long time. Yet I was still supposed to go to work and be a therapist. I didn’t have the luxury of taking years off to work on myself or anything like that. So I had to go to work and be a therapist and help other people deal with their problems, and really just focused on: How do you build mental strength? How do you maintain it? How do you go through the grief without going around when there’s something painful going on? It’s our tendency to say, “I’m going to distract myself. I’m going to do everything I can to cheer myself up. I’ll do anything to feel better.” But when we do that, we don’t go through it. So I real knew that I had to go through it, but at the same time, I had to go through it in a way where I wanted to grow from it.
It took years to feel like I was in a better place. I thought I’d never get remarried. I was just kind of like, well, that was cool. I got to be married once and I had love once in my life. But was fortunate enough, I find love again. Got a new house, a new job, started this fresh start in my life, and then my father-in-law got diagnosed with cancer. I was just like, “I just spent 10 years of my life grieving. I finally something good happens and here we go again.” I sat down and I wrote myself a letter of what mentally strong people don’t do. When I was done, I had a list of 13 things. I put it on the internet because it was really helpful to me. So I thought, “Ah, maybe it will help somebody else.”
So I put it on the internet thinking three people would read it, but 50 million people read the list. One of them happened to be a literary agent who called and said, “You should write a book.” I said, “There’s a story behind it.” Because nobody knew why I wrote the article. Everybody just, Fox News was calling in, Forbes Magazine was reprinting my stuff. They were like, “She’s a therapist. She knows all this stuff.” I was like, “Well, there’s a little more to this story. I actually wrote that letter because I needed it, not because I’m claiming that I have this all figured out. I’m in a really dark place myself.”
But decided to tell the story. And so, I had a book deal within the next month, and before I knew it, I wrote my first book and a year later that hit the shelves. And here it is now, 10 years since I wrote the article. I still get to speak about mental strength and talk to people similarly to the way I did in my therapy office. But now I get to do it on a big stage and get to talk to people like you on your podcast.
Betty Rocker (11:32):
Thank you and thank you so much for sharing the backstory with us. I deal and talk to people all the time dealing with grief and not knowing how to process it, not knowing what to do with it. I mean, what a beautiful thing to do to write yourself a letter in the first place, trying to help yourself, but also with the background that you had, to have the information to draw from to write that. I like what you’re so humbled, you saying, “No, I don’t have all the answers.” You framed the book that way like, “Here’s things we don’t do.” You’re not saying, “Here, I know everything that you need to do.” You’re saying, “Here’s the things I know not to do.” I feel like maybe one thing we know about if we feel like we know things, we know that the biggest thing we know is that we don’t know everything. I think this is a sign of wisdom is that you know that you don’t know at all.
Amy Morin (12:27):
Exactly. And when I was overwhelmed, the last thing I wanted was a list of 110 things to do. Because I thought if I just get out of bed and brush my teeth today, I’d be going to chalk it up as a win. But as long as I knew, “Hey Amy, just don’t do these things today and you’ll be okay,” somehow that felt better. So the same with the people that would come in my therapy office. You already have good habits. It only takes one counterproductive bad habit. If we can just get rid of that one or two things, maybe that will help you move forward in life. For me, that was a lot easier to focus on was just don’t do these certain things because nothing good comes out of certain unhealthy habits. And in the fitness realm, somebody could run on the treadmill, but if they’re eating a dozen jelly donuts right before they do, yeah, well, you might want to give up the jelly donuts. Otherwise, running on the treadmill isn’t going to be nearly as effective.
Betty Rocker (13:19):
That’s so true. And it’s one of my favorite things in the first book in The 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do is you have… it’s the second one on the list. It’s, don’t give away your power. And it’s probably one of the most popular, most talked about of the list in that book. I mean, they’re all amazing. But this one, I wondered if you would speak to it a little bit. Why did you add this to the list? What does it mean? And why is it so important in mental strength not to give away your power?
Amy Morin (13:58):
You’re right. This is definitely one of the ones people want to talk about most often because I think we do it the most and we don’t talk enough about this. So when I say, “Don’t give away your power.”, what I’m really referring to is don’t allow anybody else to have the power to ruin your day, to make you mad, to force you to do things you don’t want to do, to feel bad about yourself, all of these things that we often want to blame on other people.
But if we stop and think about it, I’m in control of how I think, feel and behave from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed. I get to choose who I’m going to surround myself with, I get to choose what kind of thoughts run through my head. I can respond to the negative thoughts I have in a healthy way, if I want to. I don’t have to believe what other people say about me.
But it’s so tempting to blame other people. You might say, “My boss makes me work late.” Your boss doesn’t make you. And while you might have consequences if you didn’t work late, like you didn’t get your work done, you might get in trouble for that, maybe even get fired. But just reframing your language to say, “I’m choosing to do this today.”
And we can do that with lots of stuff. I mean, even to this day, I’ll find myself being like, “Oh, I have to go to the grocery store.” Well, no, I don’t have to go. If I don’t go, maybe I’m not going to have the ingredient I want to make something. But the world’s still going to continue to rotate on its access, regardless. So sometimes just changing our language and recognizing the people that we blame, the people that we give that power to. Because sometimes we think, “Oh, my coworker wastes my time.”, Or, “My mother-in-law steals all my energy.” Or just get an email five minutes before we logged in about somebody who said, “I’m really tired of my family always following us on our vacation.” It’s like extended family, the in-laws tag on to vacation. “I don’t know what to do. They always ruin our trips.” Well, tell them not to go.
You have that option. But sometimes we forget that we have the power to say no. We can set boundaries with people and that we get to make a lot of our own choices all day every day. And that’s scary because it means I’m responsible. But on the other hand, it means I get to take responsibility for it. And if I want to create the best life I can, I have that power too.
Betty Rocker (16:11):
Yes. You mentioned blaming others, which is one of the things why we put others down. Don’t put others down to lift others up. This is in The 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do, and it’s one of my favorites in there. Why do we feel the need to put other people down in order to build ourselves up?
And I think you were touching on some themes that sound like, we’re talking a little bit about people pleasing as a tendency and not having a good template for setting good boundaries in our lives. These basic skills that if they’re not modeled to us very well as children, to have to learn them as adults can be really painful and difficult. Because we want to feel loved, we want to be liked. And so many of us are people pleasers.
I don’t know if you’d agree, but I feel like maybe more women are people pleasers, have a tendency to be people pleasers. Not to say everyone can’t be a people pleaser, but I feel like we’re sort of ingrained in our ways to be nice, to be good little girls, and to be pleasing in so many ways, our appearance are speech, all of these things. And it’s challenging to break those patterns, when they are causing us to give away our power.
Amy Morin (17:37):
Absolutely. And you’re definitely right about all of those things that you just said, that there’s societal pressures and norms and things that cause us to think, “If I speak up, I won’t be liked.” And sometimes it’s true. You might be penalized at work. If speak out at a meeting and you’re the one who says, “Actually, I’m not going to go for this.”, or, “That’s not okay that we’re doing it this way.”, there may be consequences to that. And women tend to face some of those consequences perhaps more than men do.
So just recognizing that though, and knowing, “Yeah, well, what’s the consequences of not speaking up?” Or, “What price am I paying, if I say yes to everything that’s asked of me? What does that mean I’m saying no to?” Because sometimes we think, “Oh, all right, I’m going to go do that favor for a friend.” Well, every time you do that, you’re saying no to something else. What could else could you have done with your evening? Or what else could you have done with your time? If it’s something you really didn’t want to do, just backing up and saying, “Well, what else am I saying no to?” And that you don’t have to. Just recognizing you don’t have to say yes to everything that’s asked of you. You don’t have to be liked by everyone.
And it’s really freeing. Once you get to that point where you think, “Ah, so-and-so doesn’t like me, and I’m okay with that.”, is huge. But for so long, I mean, I spent a lot of my life feeling like, “Oh, if somebody doesn’t like me, it must be something wrong with me.” Nope, that’s actually not the case. And it took a while to get to the point where I could be like, “Well, that’s okay. If that person doesn’t like me, might have something to do with me, my personality. Might not. Might have that I remind them of somebody else that they don’t like. Or it might just be something I said that they disagreed with or who knows. But it’s really none of my business and I don’t have to try to change my behavior in a way that causes them to like me, if they just don’t like me. And that’s okay.”
Betty Rocker (19:22):
Right. Being okay with them not liking us. And this kind of reminds me of, I just was thinking, why is it we so often default to this mode of, I’m not good enough, when we constantly see other people as the authority, or that they’re good enough or that’s just such a insidious kind of mental loop I see a lot of people get stuck in?
Amy Morin (19:44):
That is probably the number one thing that’s beneath almost every reason why people come into my therapy office, that they will say things-
Betty Rocker (19:53):
Amy Morin (19:54):
Yeah, we’ll ask a question sometimes, just like, “Well, what would that mean?” We did that about three times. So if somebody says, ” Well, I have to go to this thing on Saturday that I don’t want to go to, an event, because…” And so we’ll say, “Well, what would it mean if you didn’t?” “Well, it might mean I’m a bad friend.” “Well, what would that mean if you were a bad friend to this person?” “Well, then that would mean that I’m not very likable.” “Well, what would that mean?” “Well, it’d mean I’m not a good enough person.” Usually that’s what we uncover, after just asking that question a few times. What would it mean?
And it’s powerful to do that because we do, we think, “I’m not a good enough person. I’m not smart enough. I’m not, I don’t know, good enough at social media.” There’s a million things people come up with. I’m not attractive enough, I don’t have enough money, I’m not nice enough. And then when we walk around feeling like that, really deep down at our core, I mean, it affects the way we think about ourselves. When we mess up, it’s proof if I’m not good enough. And when somebody doesn’t like you, and that’s just more proof that clearly you’re not good enough. And it’s like we collect evidence that really reinforces that belief that obviously, I’m not good enough.
And when there’s evidence to the contrary, like your boss says you did a great job, or you do something really kind for somebody, it’s like we chalk it up to luck. Like, “Well, that one thing.” Or we think, “Well, somebody else helped with it, so the part I played was really no big deal.” We really downplay those things because we’re just stuck looking for evidence of clearly I’m not good enough.
Betty Rocker (21:21):
And we’re not able to acknowledge the things that we did. Just like you talked a little while ago about not being able to take responsibility for our own part in things when we’re blaming other people, we’re not acknowledging the things that we did. And there’s almost a responsibility there to acknowledge, to see ourselves for all the work that we’re putting in. And then this is the consequence of that, that you got praised for that. It’s not because there’s… that’s it. You earned this.
And yet there’s this… One of my favorite of the tenets in The 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do was, don’t insist on perfection. And this is one of the biggest problems that I see in my fitness and health brand. And this is so, so common because it seems like there’s this invisible checklist. I need to be a perfect mom. I need to be a perfect wife. I need to have a perfect body. I need to have a perfect job. I need all these and all these things I need to stack on top of each other. And they all need to be perfect at all times. And since they never will be, we’re always a failure at everything. We’re always feeling like we don’t measure up, we’re not worthy.
And this is at the heart of a lot of the deeper work that we try to do to heal that mentality with people who are striving to be healthy, just physically healthy. Mental health is a huge part of that. So, I’ll use words like [flawsome 00:23:02]. I have a concept called, all or something, instead of all or nothing. But you have written about this so beautifully, this perfection problem. Why do we feel that we need to be so perfect?
Amy Morin (23:18):
Again, I think it goes back to that idea of, “If I were just perfect enough, then I’d be good enough.”
Betty Rocker (23:23):
Good enough. Yeah.
Amy Morin (23:25):
Then we move the bar. So even when we set a goal, you achieve it, and it doesn’t bring the happiness or the relief that you think it’s going to. So whether it’s a weight loss goal or fitness goal, or maybe it’s a goal about education or money, when we reach that, then we hit like, “Well, it doesn’t bring me the satisfaction I thought it was going to.” So, we set another goal and move the bar a little bit like, “If I just did this a little more, I had a little bit more, then I’d finally feel good enough.”
And I see this happen all the time, that people keep moving the bar. And on the outside they look like really, really happy, successful people, because they’re achieving all of these things. But on the inside they’re kind of miserable because they’re thinking, “Yeah, but I’m doing all of this, but I still don’t feel like I’m good enough.”
And the other thing I see a lot of people do is self sabotage. And it sounds incredibly strange that we would do this, but we probably all have examples of when we’ve done this in our life. When you’re working on a goal and you’re not quite sure if you can get there or not, and there’s anxiety, there’s a tension, and there’s the questioning. And then there’s the fear too of like, “Well, if I do reach that goal, what happens? And what if I do my very best and it’s not good enough? Then it will just prove to me that in fact, I’m not good enough.” And people will say, “Well, there’s a big fear of failure.” But I think a lot of it is actually the fear of trying your best and not achieving it, because then what would that mean?
So I see people throw in the towel before they get there, and sometimes people don’t even know they’re doing it. And somebody who said, “I’m working on my fitness goal.”, maybe they have a whole week where they just eat junk food and they don’t exercise at all, right before they get to the finish line of a certain goal they were going to reach. And then they say, “Well, yeah, I’m not sure what happened.”, or, “I just lost motivation.” But really it was like this anxiety. And that’s the best way to get rid of it, is if you think, “There’s this uncertainty, if I’m going to be able to hang in there long enough, and the best way to get rid of the uncomfortable uncertainty is for me to just blow it. If I just go and do this other thing and blow it myself, then I don’t have to have that angst of and the tension that I might feel while I’m waiting to see if I can reach the goal.”
See that happens so often, and it’s often rooted in this idea that I have to be perfect. And if I’m not perfect, I’m not good enough. And then this idea of, “Well, I’m just going to blow it anyway because clearly I’m not good enough.” And it’s reinforcing a pattern of behavior emerges, and then people just see believing, “Well see, I couldn’t do it, so therefore I’m not good enough.” Very strange, but I bet if we all looked in our lives, we could find times when we’ve done this ourselves.
Betty Rocker (25:50):
I sure can. And I see it every day. Especially like we’re using fitness as an example, since that’s my business, I see people jump from program to program because they don’t actually give the time to the program they’re doing right because it doesn’t give a fast enough result. And expecting this fast result from things is another symptom of a bigger problem. And it’s something else that you talk about, of course, because you’ve identified it as one of the things that mentally strong people don’t do is they don’t expect this overnight, immediate result. But before I talk about that, one thing I wanted to ask is how do you help people dismantle this belief that they’re not worthy?
Amy Morin (26:34):
So we chip away at it sometimes in a few different directions. So one is practicing their self-talk and just taking a look at the way they think about themselves. And most people don’t talk to themselves nearly as kindly as they even think that they do. If you ask people, they might be like, “Oh, I’m kind of hard on myself sometimes.” But we’ll really dissect the way that they think. They might keep a journal for a week or a log about what they’re actually thinking, and we take a look at it and people are usually surprised to see how often they call themselves names, they put themselves down. And they’ll sit in my office and be like, “I’m verbally abusive to myself, and I had no idea that this voice in my head tells me constantly ‘I’m stupid,’ ‘I’m fat,’ ‘I’m ugly,’ ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I can’t possibly succeed,’ ‘Nobody likes you,’ whatever it is. But a lot of people will find that they have a tape running in their head that they didn’t even notice because it’s been there for so long that they didn’t realize how negative it is.
So sometimes we chip away at that and we practice some self-compassion. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. But if you do, when you catch yourself, because this habit’s going to be hard to change when you catch yourself thinking horrible things, you’re going to talk back to that voice and say, “Actually, you did okay today and you tried your hardest,” or, “That’s probably not true, this is just your anxiety telling you that you are going to mess everything up. Instead, you’re probably going to be okay.” Just ask yourself, “What would I say to my friend right now?” And you give yourself that same advice. So that’s one way we chip away at it. Other people, we kind of just take a look at all the evidence. All right, you feel like you’re not good enough. What’s the evidence that that’s true? We might have a list of 101 things they can come up with from the past month that says, “I’m not good enough.”
But then we take the flip side of it, and let’s look at the evidence that maybe you are good enough, come up with a long list there too, just to recognize that maybe your brain plays tricks on you. You don’t have to believe everything that you think. And for other people, it’s about changing the behavior first. So someone else might say, “Well, I’m not good enough so I don’t bother to try for a promotion,” or, “I don’t bother to try to take charge of my health because it’s not going to work anyway,” or, “I don’t bother going out because people aren’t going to like me.” So we say, “Let’s challenge that belief.” It’s a behavioral experiment. Let’s say you actually do go out and do one of those things. And what could a goal be? Maybe you’re going to go to this networking event, you’re going to introduce yourself to five people, and we’re going to chalk that up to success.
I don’t care if you get a lot of business from this event, let’s just say that’s your goal and you go out there and do it. We start with small steps and people start changing their behavior first and then they see, “Oh, maybe my brain does underestimate me or maybe it does lie to me sometimes,” and you can prove yourself wrong. But it takes small steps. And once you’ve held on to a belief for a long time, it doesn’t go away overnight either, you’re not going to wake up tomorrow and be like, “I feel great, I’m amazing.” It’s going to take some time. And there’ll be different points in your life where it creeps back up on you. So if you get rejected for something or you fail at something, there’s a good chance those beliefs might come back up. Or you hit a bout where you struggle with depression, a lot of these beliefs will start to get stirred up again. And they might not even be related to an external event, it might just be about what’s going on inside of you.
But once you learn to recognize that, “Okay, I’m headed back down into this spiral, how do I make sure that I don’t behave in a way that reinforces that belief?” And people have the confidence to say, “All right, I’m headed down that path again, but here’s what I’m going to do instead. I’m still going to go out, I’m still going to go do these things, I’m still going to try something new.” And it interrupts that cycle so they don’t feel like they’re headed down that same spiral.
Betty Rocker (30:10):
Those are really powerful tips, and I feel it’s so important to remind ourselves that our brain, whatever we’re thinking, the spiral that we’re in isn’t everything that we’re capable of thinking about. And sometimes we need a reminder for someone to say, “Hey, look, you’re so focused on this entire laundry list of things that you think are wrong with you or that you’ve done wrong. And we all make mistakes in life, and you’re so focused on those that you’ve failed to look at the list of the things that you’ve done well, the generosity that you’ve exhibited, all the things you’ve done so well. And it’s like, so which side, the good or the negative, are you going to feed mentally about yourself with your negative thoughts? And I mentioned mistakes a minute ago, and I feel like we repeat our mistakes over and over sometimes. And then as I just wonder, why do we repeat our mistakes so easily?
Amy Morin (31:23):
A couple of reasons. I think sometimes we just have a go-to. It might be something that we reach for when we’re angry, something we do when we’re anxious. And we don’t really recognize, “Why did I do that? What’s the emotion behind why I did it?” Maybe it’s because you’re bored, maybe it’s because you’re lonely. And recognizing that emotion and what’s a better way to take care of it can often keep us from doing that. So it might be that somebody has a goal when it comes to their food and they say, “I’m not going to eat certain foods. But then when I’m really stressed out, guess what I do? I go back to those old habits.” Or somebody who’s has a financial goal and he’s like, “Well, when I’m lonely, what do I do? I shop online.” So just recognizing what’s the emotion? What was the trigger that led to that? And then what can I do instead? Next time I feel that emotion, what am I going to do? And sometimes people will come up with a plan too. I’m going to plan ahead.
So there was a man I worked with who used to say, “Amy, every day after work, I want to go to the gym. And then once I actually get out of work, I’m like, ‘I’m tired. I’m going to go home today.’” So we came up with a list on his steering wheel of the top 10 reasons why he should go to the gym because when he pulled out of the parking lot, he could go and he could go home, or he could turn left and he could go to the gym. So before he started his car every day he would read this list of the 10 reasons why he should go to the gym and talk himself into it instead of allowing himself to talk himself out of it.
Or I had another woman I worked with who had an ex who wasn’t good for her, but when she saw his number on the phone, she would immediately answer it. And she was excited to hear from him, but deep down she knew it wasn’t good for her. So we taped a list of all the reasons why she shouldn’t answer the phone to the back of her phone.
Betty Rocker (33:02):
I love it.
Amy Morin (33:03):
And when the phone would would ring, she knew if it was him, before she could pick up, she at least had to read that list. And if she still felt like answering the phone at the end of that, then she’d give herself permission to do it. She’d flipped the phone over and she’d start to read some of the reasons why she shouldn’t talk to him. And she said, “Yeah, no. Then it was easy, I didn’t pick the phone up because I was able to be reminded.” But it still is emotions that often talk us into doing things we don’t want to do. Her excitement to answer the phone made her forget about all the bad things he’d done to her in the past, or the guy who gets out of work and thinks he’s tired talks himself into going home. But he learned how to talk himself into actually doing something that was healthier. So just getting a better handle on what our emotions are and how those emotions drive our decisions makes a huge difference.
Betty Rocker (33:49):
That is an amazing share. And it reminds me a little bit of how you started this conversation with me, telling me about the letter you wrote to yourself, which had 13 Things That Mentally Strong People Don’t Do as a way for you to cope with your grief. And what a powerful way that is to work with the innate intelligence of your own mind. So from both of these two people in the examples you just shared, each of them had the list in their own head. They had all the reasons and all of the examples themselves to help themselves, but they would fixate on the immediate sensation, the immediate feeling in the moment. For her, it was that strong overpowering association of the love they used, the couple used to share. For the man, it was his fatigue at the end of the day. And yet when they could look at the list of things that they themselves had thought about, the intention that they had set, they were able to follow through with their goal.
And I loved too how you had them put the list in a significant place where they could see it during the time when that action would happen. What a powerful tool that anyone could do. I mean, if you catch yourself, so one thing we see a lot in the fitness industry is people body checking. So they’re constantly looking in the mirror to see how does their body look? How does it compare to other people’s bodies? How does it compare to what their expectation is in their head of perfection? And this can be really damaging because of all that mental self-talk that we were talking about. And so I have the thought of why not write a list of all the reasons that you are good enough, what are the things about yourself that are so wonderful that you could maybe see when you look in the mirror? And if you can’t think of them, use what Amy said a few minutes ago; what would one of your friends tell you about yourself?
If you were talking to one of your friends and she was telling you all these horrible things about herself and saying how shitty she felt and how fat she was and all this, you don’t sit there and say, “Yeah, you’re right. You’re a shitty person, you’re fat, you’re horrible.” You say, “Oh my gosh, let me tell you what I see in you. Let me be that mirror to reflect back the greatness that I see in you, my dear friend.” So you have the opportunity to be that mirror to yourself to reflect back these positive things. And if you can’t, think about what your friend would tell you and write them down on a list, and put that on your mirror and look at it anytime you feel the need to look at yourself critically. It’s not that we have to not see things that we want to work on in ourselves, it’s not that we can’t have flaws. This is why I like Flawsome because I feel like it’s we’re human, we’re supposed to have things to work on, it’s normal.
But to be so fixated on them and to use that to undermine our happiness, this takes away the joy of life and will derail you from reaching goals, I think. And that’s what these books are so helpful for, they just really take you on that journey of developing mental strength and having a reference. When you’re feeling crappy to pick up a book like this and read something uplifting and read a mental framework shift, I think we all need that. It’s hard in the moment when you’re associating a strong emotion to pull yourself out of that alone without tools.
Amy Morin (37:13):
Absolutely. And sometimes people will say to me, “Why’d you make your book negative? It’s about what not to do.” And I’ll try to explain to them, “I don’t know. I find it freeing to say, ‘Okay, Amy, just don’t do these certain things today and you’ll be okay.’” And I don’t find it to be negative to say, “Let’s give up your worst habits.” And as a therapist, I was trained to really build on people’s strengths. When they come in, point out what they’re doing well, help them keep doing that. Yeah, absolutely, that’s a wonderful thing to do. But what if I don’t point out the one or two things you’re doing that outweighs all of the positive things you have? I felt like I was doing people a disservice if I didn’t say, “But by the way, even though you practice gratitude 23 hours a day, it’s that one hour that you spend indulging and feeling sorry for yourself that’s outdoing all the gratitude. Let’s figure out how to focus on that too so that you don’t do that. I want your good habits to be effective.”
Betty Rocker (38:02):
And as adults, I feel like we tend to stack up these to-do lists. We talked about this earlier. We tend to just start to build all of these to-do lists around our days, how much stuff we have to do. It’s very freeing to take some things off the list. So I like the framework. I noted that the kids book, like we were talking about earlier, when I was trying to remember how to say it correctly, because it breaks the format.
Amy Morin (38:27):
Betty Rocker (38:27):
Kids, on the other hand, need a different structure, correct? You framed that in the positive for a good reason.
Amy Morin (38:35):
Yeah. When it came to the kids book, my thoughts were, “I hope that if we teach kids these healthy habits now, like perseverance, then we don’t have to teach them not to give up after failure as an adult.” So if we teach these positive things now, they won’t develop the unhealthy habits that most of us did because we didn’t learn these things as kids. And also, I had a niece who was 10 at the time, and she said, “Oh, Auntie Ame, we get told what not to do all the time. Can you just write a book for kids about what to do?” And I thought you’re right, we should have a book about what to do for kids. So I was excited to be able to write that book because kids don’t learn this stuff. The reason I guess I wrote it in the first place was when I wrote my first book, the biggest question I had was from parents who said, “Now, how do I teach this to my kids?” So I wrote a parenting book to help parents figure out, how do you do this at home? But then parents were really asking, “Okay, now what else do I do to help reinforce this to my kids?”
And that’s why the kids’ book came after that was because I wanted parents to have the skills first, because then you can reinforce it. And then I wanted kids to be able to sit down and read something about stories about other kids and to know, “This is what worked for this kid, or this kid struggles with something like I do too. Here’s what can work.” And that was a really fun one to write too.
Betty Rocker (39:48):
Stories are so powerful and important for us to understand ourselves. I think you’re so right.
Amy Morin (39:52):
Betty Rocker (39:54):
I absolutely love… I think too, touching on the theme of how do we build healthy habits into kids? And because like you said, as adults, we’re having to unlearn a lot of unhealthy habits or break templates that were installed in our operating systems without anybody intending for that to happen. But that’s just how it happened. And here we go. Now we’re adults having malfunctions with our operating system. I used to say when I was doing a lot of therapy was I was trying to reprogram my brain. I was trying to get rid of some of the bugs in my operating system and trying to install some upgraded software basically because I wasn’t functioning in a healthy way all the time.
Amy Morin (40:44):
And that’s a good way to put it, because we don’t notice it. It’s our own brain. So it’s hard to notice what our mistakes are or how the habits that are holding us back. And parents will say, “I don’t know what to do. How do I teach my kids?” And a lot of the habits parents have, your kids learn by watching you. So in my therapy office, I worked with kids for a long time and kids would say things like, “Well, I don’t think my parents ever get angry.” Or, “What does your mom do when she’s sad?” They’re like, “I don’t know. I’ve never really seen her sad.” Or, “They really only get angry when I leave my toys out. But that’s it. Other than that, my parents don’t get mad.”
Because we just don’t talk about emotions at home. When parents make mistakes, we don’t want to go to the kids and apologize. Because a lot of parents are like, “I don’t want to look weak. I don’t want to tell them I’m messed up.” We all make mistakes. So just about role modeling the kids. What do you do when you make a mistake? How do you own up to it? It’s embarrassing. What do you say? Or you’ve messed up and royally in front of a whole bunch of people. How do you take responsibility for that? Or how do you talk to your kids? You don’t want to burden them with adult problems by telling them about your boss and other issues going on at work. But on the other hand, you want kids to know, sometimes life is tough and here’s what I do.
Whether you read a book or you exercise, whatever kinds of coping strategies you have for kids to know, “Oh, that’s why mom or dad does these things because they’re trying to deal with their sad emotions. Or when they’re angry, this is what they do and that’s how they deal with it”. And just putting a label on feelings. I don’t know about you, but at my house as a kid, we didn’t really talk that much about feelings, emotion words, that kind of stuff. They didn’t really come up in everyday conversation. And a lot of people don’t know even as adults, how do you label an emotion? How do you talk about it?
The more we do that for kids, the more that we at home can say things like, “It looks like you’re angry right now. Let’s figure out what to do.” Or, ” I’m feeling really kind of sad today, so I’m not going to do that.” Or whatever it is. But for kids to know that we all have emotions and we all have choices in how we manage those emotions can be a great first step into teaching kids how to grow up to be mentally stronger.
Betty Rocker (42:45):
That’s amazing. I think a lot about the role modeling that you mentioned. A lot of the women I take care of in my communities, one of the conversation points we have a lot is kids don’t pick up what you tell them to do, they pick up what you show them how to be. And this thing about the constant beating ourselves up mentally, sometimes that negative self-talk towards our own bodies and this constant shaming of our body for not being perfect, we learn that from watching someone else model it. And so we’re inadvertently modeling that to the kids that come after us.
And so really understanding that and knowing that this work is so important to do, not just for yourself, but for the kids who are looking up to you. And maybe it’s not just your own kids, but could be kids that you come into contact with, and other people as well. We have such an influence through our behavior and taking ownership of that is so important. I really love that whole framework that you have there.
Amy Morin (43:55):
Thank you. I love what you just said, that we can influence people around us. Because I hear so much where people are like, “Well, you can’t change anyone else.” You can’t force anybody else to change. But I guarantee you can have a huge influence on your family, whether it’s your partner, your neighbor, your friends, the people you spend time with, your emotions are contagious and the way that you treat them. And when you role model boundaries for other people, you can have a huge impact on how they interact with others. You can teach people so many things by the way that we behave. So I’m glad that you brought that up too.
Betty Rocker (44:28):
I think a lot of what I keep thinking about as we talk about this are families and loving partnerships. I think so much of this interpersonal struggle that people have comes from family relationships. Boundary setting is the hardest. You might find a way to practice it at work, but you struggle to practice it at home in the family setting. And it’s like the people who we love the most, we struggle the most with in people pleasing and boundary setting in all of these aspects of our interpersonal relationships. It takes a very mentally strong person to be able to break programming with the core, with the family. Wouldn’t you say?
Amy Morin (45:19):
Absolutely. The way that we grew up affects us in so many ways. And people that have known you for a long time will have certain expectations of you. I’ve told this story before. My sister’s a therapist now, she’s four years older than I am. And when I was a kid, I was super shy and she spoke for me. I just never talked. She always talked for me.
She came to visit me a few years ago and we were outside. And I live in South Florida where it’s really sunny. And so she was going to ask the wait staff if we could have an umbrella at our table. But she was asking for me because she forgets that as an adult, I can talk now. I kid you not. I’m not the same shy kid. But same with friends, family from back home expecting me to be the really shy kid that I was because they knew me back then. And so when they hear me now, they’re like, “You have a podcast?” “Do you really hear me?
Things like that because we get stuck in a lot of those roles. Or you might say, “Well, I’ve never set a boundary with my mother before.” And here I am 40 years old and I’m trying to tell her, “No, actually I’m not going to talk to you about that.” Or, “That’s not your business.” Or, “I’m going to hang the phone up if you talk to me like that.” Feels really bizarre. But sometimes those are our best opportunities to say, “This is where I need to start practicing these things.” And yeah, there might be repercussions for it, but it can also be one of the kindest and best things we can do is to set healthier boundaries with people and to try to outgrow some of those labels and expectations that people might have on us.
Betty Rocker (46:45):
And also hearkening back to what you said about how our actions and behaviors influence people around us. In sibling relationships, if one sibling has the courage to stand up and set a boundary, it gives the others an example that it’s at least an opportunity to show another way to do things.
Amy Morin (47:09):
Exactly. Because we see family dynamics get so bizarre and you have siblings. Granted somebody in the family’s probably struggling with a mental health issue, a substance abuse issue, extended family, and who’s talking to who, and people start taking sides and things can get really complicated. And knowing, all right, despite how complicated things are or how messy it is, it’s still up to me to say, “This is what I’m going to allow in my life and how I want to be treated.”
Betty Rocker (47:36):
So true. It’s always so personal. This is the thing, your mental health is so personal and that’s why it’s up to you to do the work to take care of it. And a lot of you listening, do the work to take care of your physical health. You go to the ends of your time, your energy to take care of your physical health. And part of one of the reasons I really wanted to interview Amy and share her with all of you is because your mental health is the most important health that you have.
Taking care of it, investing the time and taking care of it in those thoughts that you have and in the way you develop strength throughout your day-to-day life and through the encounters you have with other people, to me it’s been the most important aspect of my own growth and happiness. I really, really appreciate these books, this work. It’s so needed and valuable and I’m so grateful that you came to talk to us about it all today.
I want to share some of the places people can connect with you. But before I do that, I want to give you the last word. Is there anything that we didn’t touch on that you’d want to impart or share with people listening?
Amy Morin (49:00):
I guess I would just say you’re stronger than you think. Don’t believe your brain all the time. And to do things on purpose that allow you to see how cool you are, how powerful you are, whether it’s a fitness challenge and you just don’t listen to your brain. I tell my audience, I go running every day and I run as fast as I can and my brain will tell me, “Oh, you have to stop. You can’t keep this up.” I on purposely just keep running just to find ways to prove to myself that I don’t have to listen to my brain. I think when we all do those things, it teaches us that, “Yeah, I’m more stronger and more capable than my brain gives me credit for.”
Betty Rocker (49:34):
Also true. Thanks for sharing that. Now you mentioned earlier you have a podcast, The Verywell Mind Podcast. Did I say it right?
Amy Morin (49:42):
Betty Rocker (49:44):
That’s the podcast. So check out Amy’s podcast, The Verywell Mind Podcast. You can follow her on Instagram. Is it amymorinauthor on Instagram?
Amy Morin (49:53):
Betty Rocker (49:55):
And Facebook, of course, you can just book her up. Amy Morin. Any other places you want me to tell them that they can find you that I didn’t mention?
Amy Morin (50:04):
I guess my website’s, the other best website which is amymorinlcsw, as in licensed clinical social worker.com.
Betty Rocker (50:12):
And there you can find access to all of her incredible books, this awesome new workbook that she has for the original book. 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. I love that you have these books for parents and kids as well now. Just fantastic. This book for women. Read all the books that she has. They’re amazing. And I encourage you to also check out her videos that she shares on her Instagram page because you’re always giving tidbits and nuggets and things that help me stay connected to the things I learned in the books. They remind me to go look at the books when I need inspiration sometimes.
So again, Amy, thank you so much for your time today and for sharing all of these great tips with us and these stories, and we look forward to connecting with you again very soon.
Amy Morin (50:59):
Thank you so much for having me.
Betty Rocker (60:05)
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