Performance and Mental Wellbeing

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

Can really a good mental health help us in our performance at work? Can we compare the corporate mental health with other sectors - like elite athletes, for example? There is something that we can learn from them?

First of all, what is mental health?

The World Health Organization defines Mental health …”as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.

The value of mental health in the workplace is crucial. Fulfilment and motivation are important components for mental health while negative and toxic working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems.

We all know the importance of physical fitness in keeping us healthy and energetic throughout our lives. But what about mental health?

It is worthy to be mentioned that good mental health in the workplace and good management go hand in hand; it is known that corporate places with high level of mental health (based on corporate policies, which recognise the Mental health first aider training as a MUST to all managers and leaders in order to provide them the skills, knowledge and confidence to support employees and team) are more productive and have less people’s turnover. In a work environment employers and managers in general, have a fundamental role in creating flourishing communities.

But what else? Appropriate corporate place a part, what can we do as individuals, in order to be more aware and in control of our mental fitness?

Use the science: know Positive Psychology

Achievement of goals require daily effort and preparation as equally as our mental health and wellbeing. A personal knowledge of concepts like positive psychology (which began as a reaction against mental illness, maladaptive behaviours and negative thinking and which encourage and emphasize instead on happiness, wellbeing, flourishing and positive thoughts) and a deep recognition of our thoughts and how they influence our performance at work are a great starting point of thinking with which attitude we should tackle our days and what we need as human, for our wellbeing overall.

Positive Psychology is defined as “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”. Martin Seligman (founder of PP) referred to "the good life" as "using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification".

The PERMA Model (a widely recognized and influential model in positive psychology) can help us to boost skills and knowledge on how we can influence our well being on a daily basis. PERMA is an acronym for the five facets of well-being according to Seligman:

Positive Emotions: part of well-being is enjoying yourself in the moment, i.e., experiencing positive emotions, Engagement: when we lose track of time and become completely absorbed in something we enjoy and excel at, (positive) Relationships: having deep, meaningful relationships with others is vital to our well-being, Meaning: when we dedicate ourselves to a cause or recognize something bigger than ourselves, we experience a sense of meaning that there is simply no replacement for and Accomplishment / Achievement: without a drive to accomplish and achieve, we are missing one of the puzzle pieces of authentic well-being (Seligman 2011).

Watch your thoughts: + or -?

As a coach, the common traits that I always find in my clients are self doubts, limiting beliefs and negative thoughts about ourself and our idea on how other perceive us. It is very important to say first of all, that these traits are common to ALL of us; what differs instead is the way on how we deal and manage them.

A belief is a thought that you have over and over and you start to believe it is true. They are built over time by influential people in our lives during our early years (normally 0-7 years old) or may came from past experiences or even social’s influence. Once we have a belief, we fail to remember that it can be changed and easily it becomes our reality.

We all have negative thoughts, pessimistic moments, and doubts. They are called Negative Automatic Thoughts, or NAT, which usually are unwanted and ineffective.

NAT can be challenged with PET (Positive Empowering Thoughts). By being more aware of ourselves we can start recognising where we are thinking negatively and learn to shift and challenge our thoughts. By looking for evidence we can developing a more trusted attitude in our ability to handle whatever life brings.

But what else? What else can we learn or think of in order to improve our mental wellness?

Well corporate people can compare themselves with elite athletes and see how high performance handle and manage their mental health, for example.

It is known that athletes spend ¾ of their time training and only ¼ competing. In the corporate world the main focus is on time management, deadlines, appointments, workflow, workplace relationships, financial penalties, and work/life imbalance.

Despite different working environments, both elite people (in corporate and sport), shared similarities for achievement of their performances.

1. Resilience and pressure

No matter how prepared you are, pressure and stress are part of each performance. Elite athletes (as elite corporate) view tough environments as a challenge and as an opportunity to grow. Learning resilience - which is the ability to mentally and emotionally cope with stress, pressure, crisis and hard times - will help you with setbacks which will turn them into opportunities for learning and development.

Pressure is that feeling that manifests physically, mentally and emotionally. The best way to handle pressure is by self-confidence and awareness that you have done your best.

Stepping back and thinking about the journey, the training and the hard work that you have done in order to achieve your goal will give you the certainty that you have done your best in order to tackle the situation accordingly and arrived prepared at your finish line.

2. Grit

The most successful people have grit, which means self-discipline, commitment and mindset on growth.

As written by Dr Angela Duckworth associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in her book Grit, “it is character and perseverance that set the successful apart”.

What we accomplish during our career depend more on our passion and perseverance than on our innate talent.

In the long run, grit matter more than talent, which is not just determination but also a sense of direction and knowing what you want and where you want to go.

If businesses and athletes want to be successful they should cultivate grit. They must have resilience in the face of adversity, and the tenacity and determination necessary to reach their goals. By working with a career coach you might build awareness on your realised and unrealised strengths, learned behaviours and weaknesses and working toward your goals. Just as elite athletes must be steady in their determination to improve, you must be prepared to work assiduously and persevere when you’re tempted to quit.

3. Change is inevitable, how do you deal with it?

For both executives and elite athletes, training and mental toughness are required.

No matter how hard athletes trained, there is always a margin of uncertainty during sport competitions. Athletes advance in chaotic situation.

The same apply to business and corporate environment.

The change due to the global pandemic that we all experienced this year is a clear example of how, despite training, commitment and hard work, we can’t control the market, the economy and overall what is happening in the world.

It is so important to recognise that what gave you early success, might not be the same process to follow for future success or increasing performance.

Learn to be flexible, manage setback, use your transferable skill differently and keep learning and studying are essentials to be learnt and cultivated.

4. SMART Goals and preparation

One of my mantra with clients who want to achieve goals is BABY STEPS. Although big goals are helpful, it is always useful and realistic to plan goals that are achievable and in our control.

Important is the difference between VISION (which is the destination that we visualises and wants to achieve, but for which the path is unknown) and GOALS (the milestones along the way helping you to achieve your vision).

Athletes know that they must set realistic performance goals and that they will require hard work. Equally, corporate people should have a plan of action and must be willing to go above and beyond. Having a S-pecific, M-easurable, A-chievable, R-ealistic and T-ime frame goal for each week is a proactive attitude to be prepared for life possibilities.

5. Last but not least, Sleep and rest!

We can’t empathize it enough but in order to bring the best version of ourself in any situation, sleeping and recovering require the same amount of attention that we bring to our performance.

This is well know between athletes with what is called 100% mindset (where they bring 100% intensity to every situation) but less in business, where instead time management is highly emphasized.

For both categories’ recovery, nutrition, sleep, relaxation (and positive attitude and recognition of our thoughts, as mentioned above) must not be of limited value.

We can in conclusion say that even in the corporate world mental wellbeing is not a temporary goal but a work in progress that requires efforts, attentions and dedication daily, both on the doing and on the being side.

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