Mental Health: For The Vulnerable Or For The Strong?

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“I’ve lost my mojo, and I don’t know how to get it back.”

This comment was from the mouth of the CEO of a large Irish company.  Smart, ambitious and decent, on the surface this person would be seen by most as probably having it all.

Yet underneath, there was a problem.  And it was affecting everything.

There is growing attention in the media towards Mental Health, yet it is very heavily focused on those that are in severe pain or at risk.  There is no doubt that this is needed and important.  Yet I wonder should the focus be widened to include everyone?  Especially those who perhaps think they don’t need it.

Back to the CEO…

“My mindset drives this business.  A slight change in it affects my ideas, my communication and the impact I have on the people around me.  Ultimately, my mindset affects my mojo and it has a direct ripple effect to the bottom line.”

I was the first person this CEO had told this truth to and just by sharing it, there was a slight weight lifted from his shoulders.  The delay in sharing?

Maybe finding the right person but also I think because of the expectation we perhaps place on ourselves as people or leaders.

Through some work we got the mojo back to the right levels.  The key?  An insight into something in the CEO’s mind i.e. the way they were thinking.  And when they saw it, they could change it.

I think the poet John Milton had it right when he wrote in Paradise Lost “The mind is its own place, and in itself, Can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.”

The rise of mental support

When we watch a top sporting figure have a ‘melt-down’ (think Rory McIlroy at the Masters), isn’t that a similar situation to the CEO above? i.e. a top performer’s ability being compromised by their thinking/mind.

In sport, we just accept that all top people have sports psychologists/coaches around them.  Why should business be any different?  In many quarters, there is a stigma attached to getting support, but the most aware know that it gets results.

Ten years ago, the professions ‘Mind Coach’ or ‘Performance Coach’ didn’t really exist in business.  Yet today, it’s a growing profession.  Why?  Because it’s needed and when done right, it works.  Plus there is an argument to say that not only does it help top performers get better results, it’s also there as insurance.

Case in point is Lloyd’s bank in 2011.  António Horta-Osório took over as Chief Executive in March 2011 on a package worth £8.3 Million.  In November of that same year, he announced to the markets that he was taking sick leave on Doctor’s advice because of ‘extreme fatigue and stress due to overwork.’

As a result of this news, the market reacted badly, wiping £930 Million off the value of the company overnight!  I think in hindsight Lloyd’s board would probably see paying for support in maintaining Mr. Horta-Osório’s ‘mojo’ as a useful and very cost effective insurance!

Despite this being an extreme example of what can happen when a leader is compromised, it’s also a useful lesson for us all.  When our heads aren’t right, nothing is.

Yet how many of us consistently and pro-actively look after it?  Think about it.  If your friend admitted to hiring a Mind Coach, is your first thought ‘I’m surprised you didn’t have one already?’ or ‘Why? What’s wrong with you?’  Because believe me when I say that many strong leaders have such support and it’s a growing trend.

When you see the potential damage that can be done to business when a leader ‘loses their mojo’, maybe it’s time for a re-think on our views?

Learning From Our Sporting Heroes

Top sports people have figured out that top performance can only happen when you are physically and mentally at the right level.

When you see two of our country’s heroes, Brian O’Driscoll and Jonathan Sexton, speaking about the value of sports psychology, it definitely supports the view that even the best can get caught out.  Strike that – the best will get caught out.

And very often, when such a hero bounces back, it’s because of a ‘tweak’ to their mental game.   This often comes from talking with a trusted professional or advisor.

It helps when people like the two heroes above talk about their experience because it gives permission for everyone to get help.  Everyone needs help at some point.  But that doesn’t mean we ask for it.

The Next Frontier

I believe mental fitness is the next frontier in business and education and of more value than physical fitness – because you can never enjoy complete wellbeing and health, unless you have strong mental health.  And as anyone who has ever experienced the endorphin rush after a bout of exercise, your mind and body are intrinsically linked.

Science is showing us that in the same way that there are positive habits for our physical health, there are certain mental habits that improve our performance and results – in business, sport and life.

Mental Health & Fitness

From my experience, mental health is an essential for everyone.  And we shouldn’t have to wait for a personal crisis before learning of the key foundations we should all know.  The foundations of positive psychology should be taught in every school and business in the country.

When you think about what’s needed for the future of our country, creativity and innovation, aren’t we talking about two mental skills?  And what about the ability to maintain a clear mind?  Perhaps the most valuable skill of all in this busy 24/7 world.

I put forward that active mental health is for everyone.  In fact, like it’s physical counterpart, I propose that we should call it mental health and fitness.  Fitness because there are different levels of fitness but we should all enjoy a basic mental health.

Research being carried out globally, has shown conclusively that happy and highly productive people have specific mental habits.  And this is the reason they are happy and highly productive.  The more exciting news is that these mental habits can be taught to anyone, with an improvement in their results.

When you are mentally fit you are more upbeat, life has meaning, you enjoy clarity and real productivity in whatever you do.

Yet despite this, we were never taught the basics in school.  Some businesses are teaching elements to help productivity but it’s still only scratching the surface.

To cause a real shift in attitudes and behaviours, we need to encourage discussion in the board-room, the government and our schools about mental health and fitness – not as a reactive solution to a problem but as a pro-active agenda to build our country’s future.  Companies talk about creating great cultures.  But at the core of great cultures are great people.  And great people have great mental fitness.

We need to recognise that a mentally fit society is one that reaps rewards now, and is one that will reap significant rewards for future generations.   We need to look at educating everyone around how to be mentally fit.

Can you imagine an Ireland where we actively encouraged and helped everyone to enjoy mental fitness?

The results would be phenomenal.  Apart from having a healthier work-force we would also have a more productive one.  We would also have more creativity, more innovation and more adaptability – basically, the qualities we need to establish ourselves as THE go to country for industry.

Here’s two points to consider:

1. If you’re mind is off, so is everything else.

It’s true in sports and it’s true in business and life.  If you’re mood or mindset is not good, it affects everything.  Your creativity, clarity, communication, focus, relationships, peace of mind and overall effectiveness.

2. There is a pressing need to understand our minds better.

Mobile technology is pushing us more than ever into the information age.  With so much information coming at us, most people’s minds are overwhelmed.  The tool that manages that information is our mind.  Yet do we really know how to get the best from it?

The jobs of the future are all about intelligence and using our minds more creatively.  The future of business is about innovation, creative ideas and value added services.  All of these are really mental skills.  So isn’t the future of business mental?

A Big Opportunity

Ireland has a real opportunity when it comes to our future place in the business world.  We are known for our creativity, and talent in business and technology.  We just need to start encouraging more focus on the way we think and perhaps realise that mental health and fitness is not just for the weak or the strong – it has become THE essential skill for everyone.

But just like physical exercise, just because you know what to do doesn’t mean you actually do it.   As my client, the CEO said, “I know what I have to do now.  I just need to keep doing it.”

And perhaps that’s the biggest challenge of all.