Book Review: 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin

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Developing mental strength isn’t about having to be the best of everything. It also isn’t about earning the most money or achieving the biggest accomplishments. Instead, developing mental strength means knowing that you’ll be okay no matter what happens. – Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

In 2015, psychotherapist and Northeastern University lecturer Amy Morin did a TedxOcala talk called The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong. The talk was a success, garnering over 11.7 million views on YouTube in the last four years. On a personal note, it also happens to be one of the most impactful Ted Talks I’ve ever listened to. To think I almost skipped her speech the first time I heard it! But there was something about Amy Morin’s voice that compelled me to stop and pay attention.

Perhaps it was the curious, tremulous quality of her voice that piqued my interest. After all, the vulnerability her voice betrayed seemed to contrast starkly with the talk’s subject matter. (Of course, this was before I learned that showing vulnerability is a sign of mental strength.) But as her speech went on, and she began talking about her own experiences of grief—having tragically and unexpectedly lost three of her loved ones in a span of a few years—I realized that this was a person who had lived through what she was teaching.

Her work as a psychotherapist may have given her theoretical knowledge on how to deal with grief, but she had more than just her expertise to back her recommendations, she had experience. During the talk, Morin shared a condensed list of the hard lessons she learned during those difficult years. In her book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, she expands the list and expounds on each lesson.

Now, for copyright reasons, I’m not going to go through the entire list of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. If you want the full list, you can view it here on the author’s website. But as a backgrounder for the review, Amy Morin’s list does include the following items:

  1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves;
  2. They Don’t Shy Away from Change;
  3. They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone;
  4. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success; and
  5. They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything.

Now, if you read a lot of self-help books, you may have already encountered some of the ideas discussed in 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. You may even think, “Well, that’s all just common sense.” But as the old saying goes, “Common sense isn’t always common practice,” and what’s great about Morin’s book is that it gives its readers a chance to bridge that gap between knowledge (common or otherwise) and practice.

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Written in simple and accessible prose, 13 Things is a very easy and helpful read. It’s packed to the brim with relatable anecdotes from both the everyman, (usually the author’s patients), and key figures in history. Morin uses their stories to underscore the importance of each lesson and to illustrate how we can apply these learnings in our own lives.

Another thing I really like about 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do is how each chapter is structured to maximize the reader’s takeaway and to improve recall of the book’s key points. This is particularly important because as Morin stresses at the start of the book, developing mental strength requires practice. You don’t just read a book and become instantly better. The process of betterment is an ongoing one that requires consistent recalibration and reflection. And the fact that each chapter includes a checklist of “symptoms,” a list of benefits, and separate sections on What’s Helpful and What’s Not Helpful, makes it easier and quicker to review the most important ideas in the text.

Yes, but does it work?

I suppose that’s the big question isn’t it? Is the book effective? Does it work? Well, in my experience, I started reading the book at a time when I really needed some guidance. I had been feeling the blues for a while and was experiencing serious self-doubt over whether or not I could make something out of my life. I was teeming with insecurities, resentments, and self-loathing. So, you can say that the timing was right. Like any other self-help book out there, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do is only as effective as you want it to be. As Lao Tzu puts it, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

And I sincerely believe that Amy Morin’s book has a lot to teach us. That is, if we’re willing and ready to listen. So, though not terribly “original” in terms of ideas, 13 Things does deliver as an efficient and potentially practicable self-help book. At the very least, it provides readers with the tools they need to apply change in their lives. All in all, this is a pretty solid self-help book. I’d say right in the region of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.”

Rating: A-

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