That is probably the first question that Gary Speed’s family and friends will be asking as they digest the terrible news of his loss. And the sad thing is that they may well never know the answer.
On the face of it he had a life others dreamed of. A distinguished career as a professional footballer in the UK Premiership, numerous international caps for Wales, the respect of his peers, a beautiful family and more recently manager of the national Wales soccer team.
When someone’s mind gets to a place where it contemplates the worst case scenario seriously, it really is not rational and to someone who is balanced, it’s almost impossible to really understand.
When I was 22 I was suicidal. Don’t worry, this isn’t a ‘depressing’ article. In fact, I hope that if you’re someone ‘feeling the pressure’ right now, this read will help you.
Without getting into all of the gory details, let’s just say that I suffered a complete mental breakdown and was very lucky to have someone close to me intervene on a particular day and that intervention saved my life. After being reluctantly convinced to meet with a counsellor (because believe it or not despite having dark suicidal thoughts ‘I felt that there was nothing ‘wrong with me’’) I embarked on a program of mental recovery.
Fast forward to today, and my life is very different. I’m 40, married with 2 young kids , run my own business and enjoy a good healthy life. Life still has it’s challenges for sure but I handle them very differently to then, and it’s all because of what I learned at that time.
But I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I went through an unbelievably high-stress situation and managed to turn it around and survive. Many don’t.
I have no issue in saying that I went to a counsellor every week for 6 months and that was one of the main reasons I turned my life around. At the end of that period, he told me that he’d never seen anyone turn their situation around as quickly as I did and suggested that at some point in the future I write about some of the things I learned to improve my situation – to help someone else in a similar position.
Looking back, I realise now that that dark time of my life was ironically, one of the best things that ever happened to me. It made me re-assess my entire life and what I was about. It’s the reason I do what I do now – help business leaders to make more profit and enjoy more fulfilment.
Gary Speed’s death is another one is a list of well known people who have tragically died. It seems that more and more we hear about ‘successful‘ people, who ‘had it all’, yet for whatever reason some of these people decide to end their lives.
In my work as a business & performance consultant, I have met plenty of business people who have been reduced to nothing, and have still managed to turn it around and bounce back stronger than ever. They may not be as financially well off but they are still in the game. And they will most certainly be smarter business people for it.
So what’s the difference? I believe it’s all to do with what I call your ‘inner game’.
The ‘outer game’ of business is all about the skills of life and business.
The ‘inner game’ is all about what’s going on inside your head in terms of confidence, inner dialogue(self-talk) and the limitations you place on yourself.
Developing your skills in both the ‘outer and inner game’ is essential for lasting success in business.
Using golf as an analogy, the ‘outer game’ would focus on technique, swing, stance, short game, long game etc. Your ‘inner game’ is all about maintaining a calm, clear head under pressure, focusing on where you want the ball to go, and using your imagination to improve performance during a round and for each shot.
It’s All In Your Head
We all know the expression, ‘Ah, it’s only in your head’, meaning you’re imagining things. Well that’s the exact problem for people experiencing ‘high stress’. If something is playing in your head consistently it’s going to affect your reality on some level. For example, if you’re thinking ‘stressful thoughts’ all the time, it’s not that easy to be relaxed! So it’s really really important to watch what is in your head because that is ultimately going to indicate where you’re going – in business and life.
Now someone reading this may say, ‘Hang on. My business has been hammered in the past 12 months. I’m fighting for survival and my stress levels are off the scale!’
The thing is that stress is not avoidable and in many cases it can be a good thing in making you take action. But it’s when it gets to a ‘danger level’ that starts to affect your decisions, clarity of thinking, ability to see solutions and dampen your mood etc. then it becomes an issue.
Why is it that we can take two people with similar ability and experience, put them in a challenging situation and depending on their stress-coping skills, both will likely get a different outcome?
It’s because some people have developed mental habits (their inner game) that allows them to function at a high performance level regardless of the challenge and others have habits that make them crumble.
As a direct result of my personal experience, I realised the value of mental strength and the need to understand how to manage my mind and stress levels.
Someone said to me recently, ‘I’m just a stressed type of person’, as if they had no choice. What I discovered was that stress was caused by my ‘inner’ reaction to what was going on, which was a habit. And once you recognise that, you can install a new habit and so get a different response – i.e. cope better and reduce stress levels thereby improving your clarity of mind and ability to ‘see’ solutions.
Let’s be clear here. It doesn’t mean you’re always walking around in a ‘zen state of calm’, because life and business will always throw a few curve balls at you. But with a bit of awareness and practice, you can very quickly get very beneficial changes.
Higher Stress For Business People
Business owners & leaders have to shoulder their fair share of stress in ‘normal’ times. What many employees don’t realise is that it’s not easy to run or lead an effective business – it really does takes a lot of skill.
The buck stops with the owner or CEO and it’s a real talent to make a company work to the point that it turns a profit, consistently. (And that’s saying nothing about growing a business!)
The statistics back this point up. They tell us that if 100 businesses start today, in 10 years time only 4 will be left standing. So if you’re one of those reading this, congratulations. You’re in a rare club. That’s because setting up and running a business is not easy and most people aren’t cut out for it.
In these unprecedented times, the stress for business owners is much higher. I work with business owners and leaders every day and since September 2008, the top issue I see my clients dealing with is not cash-flow (although that’s a very close second), but rather coping with the demands and stress being placed on them, because of the fallout from the collapse of the financial system.
If you’re a business owner reading this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Running a business is a challenge even in the good times. Throw in all of the recent changes which have impacted on your cash-flow and ability to get credit and you have a nice bag of fun to entertain yourself with…
On the positive side, if you are able to cope with the changes and are in a sound cash-flow position, there are more opportunities to be had than ever. But not everyone can cope with the changes and they may now be dealing with serious challenges. And as a result serious stress.
The Cost Of Stress
Stress in Ireland is at an all time high. The World Health Organisation have labelled Stress as an epidemic. And is it any wonder, with all of the changes and uncertainty in the business and financial world?
In 2005, The Health & Safety Authority (HSA) estimated that stress costs the Irish economy over €400 million in lost productivity (imagine what it is now!)
Bottom line is that stress impacts on the bottom line and that’s to say nothing about the human cost of stress.
Worst Case Scenario
Some people can find themselves in for what for them is a high-stress, ‘no way out’ position. In extreme circumstances they can ‘reason’ to themselves that it’s better if they end their life. It usually catches everyone around them by complete surprise because the reality is that you never really know what’s going on inside someone’s head. On the surface a person can appear to be happy and have everything going for them. But it’s meaningless if what’s going inside their head is saying something different.
And stress can really ‘warp’ the logic in someone’s mind. A business owner I helped to turn around his situation told me that around the time we first met, he was thinking that it might be better off for his family if he wasn’t around any more and that ‘at least they’d get some insurance money to help sort some of the financials.’ When he was telling me this 6 months later, with his business in much better nick after many changes, he was shocked that he’d ended up in a place where he was thinking that. And this guy is someone who is a very jovial, fun character. Most friends of his will never know the stress he was under.
A friend recently told me a story about how herself and her husband had met with a colleague for lunch who seemed to have it all. Model looks, outgoing personality, a new business. And the day after they saw him, he killed himself. No rational explanation whatsoever and the terrible thing for those left behind, is that they will never know ‘why’.
So the thing is that while the rest of the world thinks someone seems fine, unless they tell you honestly, you never really know what’s going on in their head – and ultimately, that’s what really counts.
I really feel it when I hear of someone who has committed suicide. It seems such a tragic waste. And all the more so when they seem to be someone who has so much apparent success in their life. Yet I can understand totally how they managed to get themselves into such a state because I found myself there too. But the way out is there and the key to it lies in your mind.
The Future Is Mental
If you can develop the ability to keep a clear mind, even in the midst of serious changes and challenges then you will make it. It doesn’t mean you won’t have your moments but you will bounce back quicker. Clarity is power in business and life and having the mental strength to ‘stay calm and focused’ regardless of your external circumstances is an essential skill for this time.
As Rudyard Kipling said in the opening lines of his famous poem ‘If’, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”
If for any reason you find yourself in a highly stressed stated, here’s some food for thought about some things you can do. to help ease the strain. And if you’re okay but maybe know someone who you’re concerned about maybe you can ‘step in’ in some way using an idea below.
Here’s some of the things I learned in my situation:
1. There is an answer
No matter how bad you think your situation is, there is a solution. Let me say that again for emphasis – there is a solution. I have never encountered someone who couldn’t solve a problem they had. It may not always be easy or ‘rosey in the garden’, but there is a way out. Plenty of people before you have found themselves in similar circumstances and turned it around – if they can do it, so can you. If you can at least accept that possibility then doors will start opening for you in terms of possible solutions.
2. Your mind dictates reality
It is possible to be happy in a difficult situation and the quickest way to find a solution is to have a clear, relaxed mind. So if you find yourself in ‘troubled waters’, it’s advisable to check the facts to make sure it is what you ‘think’ it is. Our minds can create ‘Hollywood’ style disaster movies in our heads with little asking. But they may not be based on the truth.
In October 2008, I had a client who was panicking about all the things that were going wrong in his business. When we looked at the facts we realised that he was level with the previous year’s sales and profits and that the real problem was that he’d been watching too much of the news! He had become fixated on disaster happening. Remedy? Less focus on the news and more focus on cash collection and sales. It didn’t fix all of the issues but it did help to calm his mind.
If you can see the link between what’s in your head and how you feel, then you’ll realise that if you can change the pictures in your mind you will feel differently. You may well have the same challenge to face but now the difference is you’re facing it with a ‘calmer mind.’
3. Talking to someone is invaluable
When you feel that there’s no way out, find someone that will really ‘listen’ to you without giving judgement or strong opinions. There’s great power in someone allowing you the space to just get ‘stuff’ off your shoulders.
Ideally, it’d be great to talk to a professional who’s used to helping people under stress. But talking to a trusted friend who will really listen can help a lot also in terms of getting perspective.
Believe it or not, even though you may feel ‘embarrassed’ by where you think you’re at, more people than you know have gone through something similar. When you open up, you immediately put the balance of powerful change in your favour.
Just being able to get something off your chest will cause a big relief in your stress levels. There really is something to the saying ‘A problem shared is a problem halved.’ I’m always amazed at it’s simple power.
In my experience, this can be trickier for men than women, as men are conditioned to not ‘share their feelings’ but I’m not talking about getting all touchy feely. Just being able to really talk about your situation with someone you trust will help a lot.
Having said that if the mental stress continues, you’re best advised to meet with someone who is a professional at helping people.
4. What you eat and drink affects your mind as much as your body
It’s now been proven categorically that what we eat and drink has an instant effect on our minds as much as our bodies.
Modern farming methods have in many instances reduced the amount of vitamins and essential nutrients we need to function healthily. (Watch the documentary Food Inc.)
One of the key fuels for a healthy mind is good omega-3 oils which unfortunately have dramatically reduced in today’s foods. That’s one key supplement I’d suggest having daily as research confirms it’s multiple benefits on our brain’s health as well as our body’s.
I know many business owners like a couple of drinks to ‘de-stress’ daily. The only problem with that, is alcohol, when overdone, doesn’t help your mood at all. 1 drink to ‘unwind’ is probably a good thing if it helps you relax. More than that may not be helping you and if it’s a few drinks it can negatively affect your sleep. The next point is a much ‘healthier’ solution…
5. The not so secret stress buster and mindset enhancer
As the saying goes, ‘common sense is not all that common’. Most people know that this is a great stress buster but you usually find that they may know it but don’t do it.
What am I talking about? Exercise. Something as simple as going for a slow walk in the fresh air for an hour every day (preferably near nature) can have an amazing rejuvenation effect on you.
In my experience, the best for mental and physical health is intensive weight training. It’s a great de-stressor and because it improves muscle growth you tend to have a higher metabolism and so better energy to take on the daily challenges. Personally, I encourage all of my clients to take up some form of weight resistance regime along with whatever else they’re doing.
In my experience, most business owners ignore their health until it gets to the point where something has gone wrong. The thing is, I see being fit, healthy and strong physically as having a direct correlation to my mental fitness. And the better my physical and mental fitness the better my business performance is and also, the better I can handle challenges.
Whenever I hear of someone passing the way Gary Speed did I’m always reminded of the quote by John Milton “The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of hell and hell of heaven.”
How true. If you or someone you know are in that place of feeling ‘overwhelmed’, realise that if others can turn it around then you can too. There is a way out. There is a solution to the problems facing you.