Getting Back In (Mental) Shape

I know you keep reading about self-care and being kind to yourself and others so give this one a miss if you’re sick of the topic, last you need is more of the same or these things stop reading true and important. However, I think it’s that time in the crisis when insidiously, it can all overwhelm us and break us in ways we may not even be able to recognise as we carry on pretending we’re fine.


From a theoretical standpoint, here’s why I believe it matters: there are only two coordinates that can make a difference when it comes to work and here’s a spoiler - none of them is the mythical “organisation” or the even more mythical “culture”. 


The two actionable components are “the team” and “you”. While as we know, the smartest way to affect the team is by focusing on its Psychological Safety, if the team is made up of individuals who are unwell it’s much harder to do, if not altogether impossible. 


This is where an individual sense of wellbeing is important. Also because you know, we’re all humans and we intrinsically are good and want good things for one another but, callously and from a business perspective, because having people who are whole, stable and able to apply themselves to the work, makes for better results. This is thankfully not an either/or from a moral perspective but a win-win to focus on. 


Through the prism of this simple a corollary, it has always bedazzled me why enterprise won’t recognise the importance of healthy and well individuals enough to make the mere existence of a “personal practice” whatever it contained, part of their various performance measurements. I.e. If I ruled the world and owned MegaNonEvilCorp, I would ask everyone to tell me what they’re doing for their body AND -more importantly- their mind, not so that I monitor them but so that I enable and reward them and keep them accountable for good habits. And of course, I wouldn’t offer an opinion as to what it should contain or offer a list of approved actions, I would only want to see preoccupation towards their own wellbeing, or if you wish, adulting about self-care. 


Of course, this shouldn’t start in the workplace, but much earlier and working on creating a personal practice should be a key part of education as early as possible. We can argue that in some places it is, but it’s only of late that kids have seen some afterthought introduction of wellbeing topics but they are so timid they rarely go above asking them to think why they are awesome or do some drawing and oftentimes they are thought of as an indulged pastime that takes away from serious “study” time. And don’t even get me started on how it is now absent in the “homeschooling saga” where I just read that studies show parents can do 1/3 of their kids’ Maths but struggle with the other 3/4!;)


Similarly, at work, mindfulness practice is, if ever even mentioned, seen as a half cooky half fluffy topic not fit for serious employees who should be all about the numbers, and the results, or the code, and the strategy deck, and never about the emotions or the “inner life”. 


Not focusing on the individual’s mental wellbeing in a maintenance mode (there has been some focus on the acute states when it comes to mental health but not enough) and not taking this seriously, is as much part of what I call “the human debt” as anything, as it’s a result of how workplaces haven’t treated us as individuals who are prised and respected. It stands to reason that when we care about someone whether that someone is ourselves or others, we want them to be well, to be mentally and emotionally stable and well adjusted and therefore able to be their best. It doesn’t stand to reason at work where we have so far been expected to hang that human-coat at the door and “do the robot”.


"Mens sana in corpora sano” is certainly not a modern adage or news to anyone but somehow, even when we listen to its ancient wisdom, we take that as translating to the necessity to go to the gym (or in our collective pandemic case, the park) alone, completely shunning the work needed for the first part.


For too long we’ve known that having a solid "why", doing meditation, breathing and practising gratitude are shortcuts to measurable wellbeing and not because of some touchy-feely survey but because of hard facts of neuroscience and yet we’ve glossed over that and did nothing to insist the humans who work for us focus on them. 


This is not about prescriptively asking everyone to close their eyes and breathe at the beginning of a Zoom call to a certain count -yes, that’s a thing, next time you think your check-in is cringe, spare a thought for teams out there who have to do that- but about making sure every individual teammate brings a whole human to the team by taking the time and the energy to invest in whatever it is they have incorporated in their “personal practice”.


Look it’s all very simple really: every team has to have psychological safety to be elite, for that, every team leader has to have EQ and a “people practice” and in it, they have to have an eye that every team member has a “personal practice” whether that is weight lifting, running, breathing and meditating or belly dancing, colouring and ancient Egyptian mantras. 


This isn’t a luxury response but a hygiene one. We live through times that would warrant individual therapy for each and every inhabitant of this crisis and we can ill afford that, so most of us will have to pull ourselves by the boots and find the resourcefulness to keep breathing and carry on, but it is unquestionably easier to do for those of us who were already having a practice of caring about themselves and habits formed to do the mental and physical exercise. 


As a piece of practical advice: if your team is advanced enough not to react with too many eye rolls and snickers -which you as an EQed leader can test by either knowing enough about your teammates or throwing probing questions about their attitudes to mindfulness- consider arranging a “Brain and Brawl Flex” type session a “What I do” daily bit to go around the room sharing what everyone does for their body and their mind these days. (For those of you using our team solution, there are questions regarding this in the “Stay Connected” pack which are there to remind your team that they should focus on these so you’re in luck but you STILL have to do the rounds, don’t think you’re exempt!)


There’s a lot of talk of turning this horrible happening into a colossal, global-level breather and a chance to rebuild on better foundations work-wise. Those foundations have to erase as much of our “human debt” as we possibly can and therefore, “people practices” of leaders everywhere have to ensure there are as many “personal practices” as there are employees in a team if we want the latter to be healthy and productive. 


Stay sane a.k.a keep exercising not only your body but your mind, breathe, and stay psychologically safe

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