The four stages of becoming mentally strong

There are four stages of competence that we go through as we learn to become mentally strong.

Keep reading or listen to the latest episode of the podcast below to find helpful tips and gain useful insights to support your path to becoming mentally stronger.

Stage One – Unconscious Incompetence

This is the phase where you don’t know what you don’t know. To begin with, we’re so caught up in our patterns of thought and behaviour that we don’t even know we’re caught up in them. 

In this stage we tend to repeat the same unhelpful thought patterns again and again in a loop and we are often totally unaware of the detrimental effects they are having on us. How this shows up in life is that we might constantly be getting caught up in thoughts, being reactive in our behaviour and find ourselves struggling with emotions. 

We may keep getting caught in worries, negative thoughts, self-loathing, strong emotions, or restlessness for example.

We also tend to spend alot of time caught up in ‘autopilot mode’ – just going through the motions in our lives and acting out of habit, rather than being intentional about our actions and words.

Stage Two – Conscious Incompetence

As we practice cultivating mental strength a little more, we start to become aware of our thoughts, emotions and behavioural patterns and how they are affecting us.  

This is often the trickiest phase of competence, because it can be uncomfortable to become more aware of the unhelpful patterns we have and the suffering they cause, but we have not yet developed our mental strength enough to be able to set ourselves free from them. 

This is where many people want to quit. 

Two things really help during this phase. 

One is understanding that it’s not personal. What your crazy mind is doing, all our crazy minds do. It’s just part of the shared human condition that our minds get us caught up like this. And it’s just a normal stage on the path of becoming mentally strong. 

The other key thing is learning self-compassion. 

Instead of beating yourself up for not being able to master everything right away, see if you can have the attitude towards yourself that you would have towards a child learning to ride a bike. 

Instead of screaming at them when they fall off the bike, you’d give gentle encouragement for them to simply try again and reassure them that it’s normal to fall a few times before you fly. 

Rest assured that your perseverance at this stage will soon have you break through to Stage Three.

Stage Three – Conscious Competence

As mental strength becomes familiar and we get the hang of it, difficult thoughts and feelings still arise but we are no longer so identified with them, which means we are less caught up in and reactive to them.    

We have learned to be the observer of our thoughts, to allow them to arise and pass without always disturbing our inner state. 

We still get caught up sometimes, but a lot of the time we don’t. We have opened up enough inner space to make more conscious choices and respond with awareness instead of reacting out of habit.

Stage Four – Unconscious Competence 

At some point along the way after a prolonged period of consistently practising mental strength skills, it just becomes ‘second nature’ to be resilient, present, wise and non-reactive, and empowered. 

To some degree, mental strength becomes effortless, or without too much effort, in the same way that driving a car becomes effortless after a lot of practice.

There are two keys to help you on your mental strength path

  1. Be patient but be persistent
  2. Have faith

We cannot force habits to change but we can set up the right conditions for them to happen

We cannot force our wounds to heal or choose when insights and breakthroughs that will help us will come. But what we can do is have faith that, if we have patience, and keep practising, change will happen. 

A lot of us tend to live our lives pushing for a certain outcome and trying to get our results quickly. But when it comes to training our minds, this kind of clinging for a certain outcome can actually be counterproductive.

It’s not a quick fix, it’s about growing deep and lasting change

The more we try to force or cling to the idea of change, the less present, calm and at ease we are in each moment. It’s a bit of a paradox but the more patient we are with ourselves, the more we set up the right conditions for positive change to unfold. 

So, instead of trying to force change and strive towards a future result, see if you can bring the qualities of acceptance, patience and trust into your practice.  

Let go of pushing and be patient. 

Know that, every time you practice mental strength skills, you are setting up the right conditions for positive change to unfold… and then let go of any expectations of how long that should take, or even if change will happen.

Have faith. Rational, grounded faith 

Also have faith. Not in any magical belief kind of way, but just the simple and clear understanding that almost anyone can learn to ride a bike if they keep trying, almost anyone can drive a car if they just keep practising. It’s the same with mental strength. Keep practising and the results will come.

Don’t believe any thoughts that tell you you’re broken, your mind is too crazy or busy, or you’ll never be able to progress. 

Just let those thoughts arise and pass and stay connected to the truth that, with time, practice and patience, mental strength can absolutely become second nature – your effortless way of being and living. 

So don’t be discouraged if you don’t get instant results. Have faith and confidence that your investment of time and practice will pay off. 

And those are the four stages of becoming mentally strong. 


I hope this is helpful. Wishing you strength and ease in the days and weeks ahead.

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