What does a Navy Seal platoon commander tell his men to help them stay strong? And what do Army Rangers say to their team that helps them  endure difficult training? The answer might surprise you because it is not what you might think. It has to do with mental toughness that we all want to develop and involves something called the facial feedback hypothesis. Simply put, this involves smiling–using a physical response to amplify or even create an emotion. Making yourself smile is a physical response. Smiling makes you happier. It also can increase feelings of safety and effort. And your physical facial expression influences your mood and thoughts.

Think about it –when you get exhausted, you frown and that makes you even more tired. You become demotivated. But when you smile, it impacts your emotions in that it tricks your mind into thinking you can do it. This increases endurance. And the cheer up attitude lends to grit. Attitude gets you through difficulty and creates mental strength. Laughing and having fun through a touch task or difficult road works to promote endurance.

Now, you aren’t laughing inappropriately during difficulty but maintaining a sense of humor, a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook. Often, faith can help a person do this. It’s being grounded in reality but believing you can tolerate distress and make it through challenges.

This idea of facial feedback can influence even things like going to a party. Let’s say you dread having to make small talk and interact with strangers at a party. If you force yourself to smile, you will actually enjoy the party more. A behavior that accompanies an emotion, exerts an influence on your experience. So your smile is telling your brain something positive.

To be mentally strong, be positive. Laugh! Smile. If it works for the military, it can work for you. Humor and positive attitude are coping mechanism found to help both veterans and even surgical patients. Smiling helps to tolerate stress. It’s not the only thing that creates mental toughness, but it is one thing you have control over to begin to build resiliency in your life. So give it a try! Smile!


More from Beliefnet and our partners