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5 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do

02/18/2015 01:02 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT
Sheryl Griffin via Getty Images

As I conducted research for my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, I searched high and low for people who exemplified mental strength. I found a variety of athletes, entrepreneurs, war heroes, and every day people from all corners of the earth who demonstrated incredible courage, integrity, and perseverance.

But not all of these examples could fit into my book. I had to pare my list down so that only the most extraordinary heroes would serve as illustrations of mental strength. In the end, two Canadians made the cut -- Terry Fox and Lawrence Lemieux.

They both appear in my book not just for what they did -- but more importantly -- for what they didn't do. They avoided the common pitfalls that could have prevented them from becoming true Canadian heroes. Whether your self-improvement goals include losing weight, or you're aiming to reach superhero status, you'll also need to avoid these five things that mentally strong people don't do:

1. Don't Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Yourself

Terry Fox could have easily felt sorry for himself. After all, he was a young man with his entire life ahead of him when he was diagnosed with cancer. He underwent several different treatments, including the amputation of his leg. Despite his illness, Fox chose not to waste any time indulging in self-pity. Instead, he laced up his sneakers and decided to run a marathon every single day to raise money for cancer research.

Although Fox couldn't solve the problem -- he couldn't cure his cancer -- he could focus on a solution. He knew that raising money for cancer research would improve treatments and save lives. So rather than waste time and energy thinking about how unfair his situation was, Fox concentrated on what he could do to help others. He ran for an astonishing 143 days, and he only stopped when his health deteriorated too much to continue.

2. Don't Focus on Things You Can't Control

Once Fox became ill, he knew that many things in his life were out of his control. He couldn't control the effectiveness of his treatment nor could he control how fast the cancer spread. And although he could take steps to care for his health, he couldn't control his prognosis.

But, one thing he could control was how he spent his time. Rather than spend the rest of his life worrying about his health, he chose to commit to fundraising. His efforts certainly paid off -- over $650 million has been raised in his name and the fundraising continues long after his death.

3. Don't Feel Like the World Owes You Anything

Lawrence Lemieux, a sailor who gave up his chances of winning an Olympic medal to save his competitors from drowning, didn't feel like the world owed him anything. He'd spent years training for that Olympic race and he was clearly a top contender. Yet, he gave it all up in a split second decision to save his competitors' lives.

While other athletes may have demanded a redo of the race or may have claimed they deserved a medal, Lemieux certainly didn't. He didn't complain about the high seas or try to blame anyone else for making him lose the race. Instead, he finished the race in 20-second place and showed incredible sportsmanship.

4. Don't Resent Other People's Success

Lemieux never showed a hint of resentment toward the winners of the race. He also didn't show any bitterness to the team he'd saved. Instead, he congratulated the winners. He was even awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for his sportsmanship, an honor that had only been given four other times.

Lemieux knew that he didn't have to win a gold medal to be successful. His self-worth didn't depend on being the best or proving his abilities to others. Instead, he was strong enough to tolerate losing and courageous enough to behave according to his values.

5. Don't Expect Immediate Results

Mentally strong people like Terry Fox and Lawrence Lemieux didn't expect success to happen overnight. After all, you don't get to be an Olympic athlete or a multi-million dollar fundraiser unless you're committed to the long haul.

Both of these heroes knew they had to make progress toward their goal every day. And they had to keep working hard, even on the days where they weren't seeing the results they wanted. But ultimately, it was their mental strength that allowed them to "stay the course" and view life as "a marathon and not a sprint."

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