If you never use these 9 phrases, you're mentally stronger than most

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For the last three decades, I've been asking and answering questions about mental strength. What is mental strength, exactly? What makes some people mentally stronger than others? What does mental strength look and sound like?

Mentally strong people have the ability to productively regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, even in the face of setbacks. It can be hard.

In the course of my research, I've found that there are some phrases the mentally strongest people always use, and others they don't, because they're able to self-regulate

Here are nine phrases the mentally strongest people avoid using — and what they say instead. 

1. 'I am how I am'

Your mental strength is not a fixed asset. Just as you can go to the gym to build your physical muscles, you can build your mental muscles. In my research, I've identified six core mental strength muscles

  • Fortitude
  • Confidence
  • Boldness
  • Decision-making
  • Goal-focus
  • Messaging (the ability to stay positive-minded and engaged despite negativity around you)

In my new book "The Mentally Strong Leader," you'll find an extensive self-assessment to help you determine which area is best to focus on, and which of the 50+ habit-building tools you can use to level up. You can start with a mini version of the assessment

What to say instead: "I have a baseline of mental strength I can build from."

DON'T MISS: The ultimate guide to becoming a master communicator and public speaker

2. 'Why me?'

Saying this in the face of unfavorable circumstances creates a manufactured helplessness. It's a form of victim mentality that fuels the idea that you're powerless. But you're not.

Mentally strong people take responsibility and action. 

What to say instead: "Why not me?" As in, "Who is going to change this unfavorable situation for the better? Why not me?"

Thinking this can spark action rather than self-pity.

3. 'This is your fault'

Mentally strong people don't feel the need to point their finger or pass blame onto others, even when things go wrong. Instead of judging, they jump in to help. 

It's likely that if you do say this sentence, you'll be met with defensiveness. Your goal should be to lower defenses and help move things forward.

What to say instead: "Things didn't go as we'd hoped. What should we do next?"

4. 'I don't care what anyone thinks'

Mentally strong people don't operate in an echo-chamber, isolating themselves from outside perspectives. They believe they can benefit from others' input. 

That doesn't mean they have to change direction like the wind, bending to whoever last whispered in their ear. It means they have enough self-confidence to gather input, handle disagreement, and move forward with an informed idea.

What to say instead: "I have a strong point of view but am willing to listen."

5. 'Failure isn't an option'

It might not be, but putting it this way can have unintended consequences. It can prevent people from thinking big and taking warranted risks, or push them to bury information and mistakes. 

What to say instead: "If this doesn't pan out, what's our plan B?"

6. 'That's your problem, not mine'

Mentally strong people don't shirk responsibility, and they show empathy when those around them are struggling. 

They look for ways to help, even if it's just to listen and let the other person know that they're seen and heard. 

What to say instead: "How can I help?" or "I'm here to listen."

7. 'But what if … ?'

Race car drivers will tell you if you stare at the track wall, instead of looking ahead, you'll steer right into it. 

Similarly, if you focus on all the ways things can go wrong in a high-pressure situation, you'll end up driving your metaphorical car right into those negative outcomes.

What to say instead: "What will …." As in, "What will now happen is that I will …"

This keeps you focused on what you need to do next, taking proactive steps toward a positive outcome. 

8. 'You failed'

If you're telling someone this, odds are they already know they made a mistake and don't feel great about it. So what are you accomplishing by calling them out? 

Mentally strong people don't tear people down with demotivating and demoralizing language. They build others up with productive, beneficial language.

What to say instead: "You're not there yet," or, "What did you learn from this that you could apply moving forward?"

9. 'I'll get started later, when I feel like it'

Realistically, the moment when you "feel like" getting something done may never arrive. Or your motivation could show up so late that it affects the quality of the results as you race to meet a deadline. 

Mentally strong people stay focused on their goals and take steps toward achieving them, opting to get started sooner rather than later. 

What to say instead: "Let me at least get this started, right now."

Knowing you've only half-finished a task tends to pester you, which is called the Zeigarnik effect. That can help remind and motivate you to finish what you've set out to do. 

Scott Mautz is a popular speaker, trainer, and LinkedIn Learning instructor. He's a former senior executive of Procter & Gamble, where he ran several of the company's largest multi-billion-dollar businesses. He is the author of "The Mentally Strong Leader: Build the Habits to Productively Regulate Your Emotions, Thoughts, and Behaviors." Follow him on LinkedIn.

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