Meet a Mindbeat coach: Anita Sauvage

22 December 2023

Mindbeat is privileged to offer a global network of expert coaches. In the second of a new series of interviews to introduce you to our much-loved coaching personalities, Mike Fletcher discusses mental fitness, emotional intelligence and men in kilts with Anita Sauvage, who lives in Bordeaux. 

It’s only when Mindbeat coach Anita Sauvage describes the notion of ‘the saboteurs’ as the ‘wee voices in your head that feed self-doubt and anxiety’ that I notice the Scottish influence in her otherwise elegant and distinctive French accent. 

We’d been discussing Shirzad Chamine, author of the New York Times best-seller, Positive Intelligence (otherwise known as PQ). Shirzad had opened the door to Anita specialising in mental fitness and positive intelligence coaching by inviting her to become one of the first 500 professionals to take his ‘Mental Fitness Programme for Coaches’ course in 2019. 

“I didn’t waiver and it was one of the best choices I ever made in terms of development,” she says. “His research into mental self-sabotage involved 500,000 participants from 50 countries. It gave me the tools and insight to deal with the subsequent lockdowns and improve my mental fitness so that I could emerge from the pandemic a stronger person.”

Anita became a Mindbeat coach in May 2021. She trains clients on how to recognise and intercept saboteurs and how to focus on mental fitness and improving positive emotional intelligence.

“I’ve been fascinated by emotional intelligence for over 20 years as it’s not part of our DNA, it’s something you have to learn,” she says. “My mother was extremely liberal and empathetic. If we didn’t want to do something or not go to school, that was our choice but she taught us to recognise and understand the consequences of our actions, which helps you to develop deeper emotional intelligence.”

Shirzad’s coaching method calls it ‘Strengthening the sage’ – keeping in touch with our true self, where a calm mind and positive emotions take the lead. The sage is strengthened by tapping into our powers of empathy, exploration, innovation, navigation and activation. 

Anita explains: “The first step is to notice the chemical reaction that occurs when we’re pushed into survival mode by heightened emotions such as stress and anxiety. You can’t control the chemical reaction but you can control your response. You need to pause, observe and reframe without listening to that wee voice sabotaging your thoughts. 

“By redirecting our attention to physical sensations, we can quiet the saboteurs and shift our focus to the right-sided part of the brain associated with positive emotions, serenity and clear-headed focus. Something as simple as stroking your hand, wiggling your toes, staring at an object’s detail, or closing your eyes and focusing on listening to a sound furthest away can reset the neural pathways and declutter your thoughts. Sensory actions induce calm and help us to strengthen emotional intelligence, allowing us to take back control. 

“This might appear simplistic, but a massive amount of research backs it,” she continues. “Each time you shift your attention for about 10 seconds, you have performed a ‘PQ rep,’ just like you’d do in the gym but strengthening the neural pathways of your ‘PQ brain’. With meditation, you need a quiet space and no interruptions. But, this can be practised without anyone else knowing. You could be sitting in a meeting or at your desk. These ‘muscles’ build up fast.”

Anita believes that professional transformation requires 20% insight – which we can get from reading a book, attending a workshop or a coaching session – and 80% mental muscle building.

She says: “The value of mental fitness is that it addresses the root cause of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. It creates a stronger level of self-awareness and empathy – the top two factors that need development to improve emotional intelligence in my view. But it also automatically boosts your self-regulation, your relationship management and your social awareness.

“It helps us to build sustainable new habits that have a lasting impact on our successes and happiness.”

Anita’s successes include beating cancer and reframing her outlook on the possibility that it could return one day in the future. By staying positive, she feels healthier. 

As for her day-to-day happiness? Well, that comes in the form of a certain Scottish gentleman she met when he came to France on a rugby tour. 

“He was wearing a kilt and I just couldn’t resist,” she laughs. 

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.