With 2023 drawing to a close, Mindbeat’s head of client and product development, Jessica Bellwood sources six techniques to improve mental fitness in 2024 from our network of coaches
For many, 2023 has been a challenging, uncertain year. Team leaders have had to manage employees worried about, amongst other things, the cost of living crisis and rising interest rates.
Looking after your talent has never been more important. But as anyone who has ever travelled by plane knows, in an emergency you must fit your oxygen mask before helping others to fit theirs.
For improved performance, this means looking after your own mental and physical wellbeing. Only then can you support others and consistently respond to challenges, in the face of ever-increasing pressure and rapid change.
Often, people only focus on the physical side – building in time for the gym or to go running. Mental fitness is equally important.
In practice, mental fitness means strengthening the part of the brain used in decision-making and social behaviour. Leaders should look for improvements in areas such as focus, time management, plus positive and critical-thinking skills.
In 2001, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz coined the term ‘corporate athlete’ in an article for the Harvard Business Review. They asserted that an ‘Ideal Performance State’ only occurs when physical, emotional and mental capacities work harmoniously together.
As many of us vow to return to exercise with the dawning of a new year, we should consider the brain a muscle that also requires regular workouts. It will help you to build capacity for key leadership traits such as endurance, flexibility, self-control and focus.
So what can you do to get mentally fit for 2024?
We asked Mindbeat’s network of coaches for six techniques to improve mental fitness.
1. Recognise what drives you to behave in habitual reactive ways.
In periods of stress, our heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure increase. At the same time, our intelligence dulls. We are easily distracted and our thoughts are muddled, which can lead to irrational and impulsive choices. This shows up when leaders get defensive or react in the heat of the moment. To overcome this, train yourself to pause, identify your mood state and choose to act differently.
2. Improve focus by not task-switching
Focus is simply, the amount of energy concentrated on a specific task or goal. When that concentration is interrupted, the energy dissipates. Research indicates that it may take over 20 minutes to regain focus on what we were previously working on. With each interruption, leaders have less time to complete the task, resulting in heightened feelings of time pressure and stress.
So try to limit distractions, the ability for people to interrupt you, and avoid ‘task-switching’.
It takes longer and uses up more energy to complete different tasks if you are constantly switching between different types of activities and mental states.
3. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is the ability to bring non-judgmental awareness to your thoughts and emotions, exercise attention and focus to overcome distractions, and bring an open, curious mindset to every situation.
A leader who can identify their behaviour and broaden their lens will be a more effective leader who can partner with others and create deeper connections.
4. Train your attention with meditation
Meditation, typically viewed as a spiritual practice, can serve as a highly effective means of training attention and promoting mental energy recovery. Practised regularly, it quietens the mind, brings your emotions back into check and rejuvenates your thought processes.
Meditation in the workplace can be something as simple as sitting quietly and breathing deeply, counting each exhalation and starting over when you reach ten.
5. Boost emotional wellbeing with visualisation
Visualisation is proven to produce positive energy and heightened performances amongst athletes and can do the same for workplace capabilities.
Take the time to contemplate what you want from a meeting or team review. Then visualise yourself achieving the outcome.
By exercising your mental muscles, you’re increasing cognitive strength, endurance and flexibility. As a result, you’ll decrease the likelihood of being distracted by negative thoughts under pressure and feel more relaxed and confident.
6. Build-in recovery time
A good work-life balance is vital for improving mental fitness. Despite their article for Harvard Business Review being more than 20 years old, Loehr and Schwartz’s opinions on how to become a corporate athlete still ring true today – namely that the real enemy of high performance isn’t stress. Rather, the problem is the absence of disciplined, intermittent recovery.
Chronic stress without recovery depletes energy reserves, leads to burnout and breakdown, and ultimately undermines performance.
So make time for loved ones and laughter, set parameters such as no working on the weekend or no work discussions after dinner, plan that dream holiday, and resolve to take on the new year a more balanced, energised leader.
Speak to Mindbeat about how our network of expert coaches can help your teams improve mental fitness to increase performance and work-life balance.