As we discussed in a previous post, Mental Fitness is all about focusing on the ‘inner game’ of your staff. It's about building up mental resilience and agility in each member of your team, so they are well equipped to face the challenges of an ever-changing workplace.

But for many leaders out there, nurturing this can seem like a strange job – how do you nurture something that isn't tangible?

Let's find out.

Mental Fitness shouldn’t be taboo

The first thing you should understand about Mental Fitness is that it's not a taboo topic. It's doesn’t refer to working with someone who may be struggling mentally or emotionally. Some leaders may have this fear that working on Mental Fitness is a sensitive subject, and worry they might expose themselves or their staff to judgement from others, but that is not the case.

The beauty of Mental Fitness is that it's focused on strengthening and enhancing people. It's about training people to think about their thoughts. It's about acknowledging and recognising their emotions and understanding how their ‘inner game’ is impacting how they work.  

For a deeper insight into what Mental Fitness and the ‘inner game’ are and why they're important check out our post: "Why Mental Fitness Matters in Business." 

Once we can understand the ‘inner game’ of our people, it can give us the ability to naturally give people feedback and have conversations about their inner world.

It all starts with a conversation

This doesn't mean having conversations about superficial thoughts, like what someone is thinking about having for lunch! It means having conversations with people about their insecurities, about how they feel taking on a project and their confidence with being in the driving seat. Whatever is going on internally with your team is as important for you to know as a leader as it is for them! Their mental fitness is either going to hold them back or propel them forward

A key secret to unlocking Mental Fitness is acknowledging that we have inner resources, and that these resources can be leveraged to become an asset. Indeed, they are a source of competitive advantage in life and in work. They certainly are not something to be ashamed of and absolutely should not be ignored. 

Instead, we should embrace them and create a safe space to talk about them in the workplace openly.

So how do you do this?

The human side of project management 

As a leader, It starts with you. It starts with being a role model, and not being afraid to raise what your concerns are when it comes to your competencies. The more you are comfortable addressing these things, the easier you will make it for your team to follow you. 

To make sure that it's an important part of the workplace, you can create a system where you can include the human element in your projects. Most companies plan a project based on SWOT analysis, (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) or something similar.

But there should always be a box on these plans that includes the human element too! Allow space in your project for the team to discuss whether they feel confident in this project. 

Address areas like: What are the emotional risk factors in this project? What are the potential limiting beliefs the team might have?

Let's add this into the process! Let's make sure we actually take those inner thoughts and doubts out of our heads of our teams and put them on a piece of paper.

By doing this, we will be able to point them out. They start to become something more tangible, and they become easier to work on.

The same goes for anyone who does a post evaluation of a project. We always stay at the very functional and practical level with this, but let's look at the human side too. If we were slow at decision making, perhaps we weren't confident at taking big risks. That might have caused us to spread ourselves thin and not focus on one thing.

Nurturing Mental Fitness starts with a conversation, and including these topics in our day-to-day language and processes. You can do this in a number of different ways. 

 

Make Mental Fitness part of your daily language

The first way is to put a voice to your thoughts, feelings and emotions around a particular project, initiative or business goal. Then you can encourage your team to speak on that level by baking it into the processes of project management.

But there are also things you can be doing on a day-to-day basis. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's taught us the importance of the human connection.

We've had conversations with clients where we've talked a lot about checking in with their team and making efforts to understand how they are feeling emotionally and mentally. For progressive leaders, they understand that this is something that needs to be done regularly. 

On the other hand, many other leaders come back to us and say: "But we did that last month!"

Nurturing Mental Fitness is not something you can do just once, and it's done. It's a lot like physical fitness – you've got to keep working at it and keep training to get real results. 

What we’ve found from working with hundreds of teams around the world is that they have become very transactional again. There's this feeling that we are all in the "same boat" and we don't need to talk about it because we already addressed it at the start.

Teams tend to have this mentality of banging out meeting after meeting back to back. There’s an attitude of getting it done and moving on to the next one as soon as possible.

But that’s where they go wrong. We are not all in the "same boat", and at every single interaction we have with people, we should be checking in at the emotional and mental level before we try and do any business. 

Now, I can already hear the leaders reading this release a collective "sigh" at all the extra work and time that's going to take. So to help, here are two simple tricks to use before you do anything:

  • Ask people to write on a post-it note a number of where they are at mentally on a scale of zero to ten. Make sure they know there is no judgement on the number, and they don't need to explain it. With this, you now have a really quick and easy read of the emotional texture in the room. If you have many twos and threes, maybe you need to run the meeting differently. But most importantly, you know who to follow up with later for a more meaningful conversation.
  • Ask people to give you two words to describe how they're feeling, and give them an example. In your example, use one positive and one negative word to give them permission to use a negative word too. For example: 
    • Excited and Exhausted
    • Engaged but Overwhelmed
    • Distracted but Curious

This will give you a quick read of the room, and they get a read of each other too. It's a quick way of checking in with people without having to do loads of one-on-one calls. 

 

Get out of your own way

There is a concern amongst many people that if you ask someone how they're doing, they think you are nosy, or they might get offended and cry – those are just your fears. Nurturing mental fitness isn't just about you, it's about them. 

We would much rather regret having checked in with someone, than not checking in and have them potentially slide down a slippery slope into depression, anxiety and burnout.

Your responsibility is not to fix people, you're not a therapist. Your responsibility is to tune into them and permit them to raise their hands if there is something wrong.

So, get out of your own way. No one will ever regret having been asked if they are okay. That's the biggest and most important thing that we can do for people in 2021 – normalise mental health and have conversations around our thoughts and our feelings.

Remember, it's okay not to be okay. We've all been through a roller coaster in 2020 and people are responding in a very natural, human way.

We just need to have more conversations and not be awkward or weird about it. We just need to be real and be human.

To find out more about how you can start the Mental Fitness conversation with your team, send us a message: team@symbiapartners.com

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