Today, you as leaders, whether you are an intrapreneur or an entrepreneur, are facing incredible challenges both personally and professionally. To meet those challenges, you must be mentally fit. You must train your brain to tackle life’s challenges in the healthiest and most positive ways. So how do you do it? How do you as a leader navigate all the demands and responsibilities of your role and maintain your own mental fitness?
This article will start to share some ways that you can increase your levels of empathy and decrease burnout. We will look at some fundamental skills to increase your mental fitness muscles so you can lead from a growth rather than a fixed mindset.
You may want to do so because you are a leader and want to build up your tool belt.
You may be a leader who is struggling with being present and grounded to support your teams.
You may be a leader who is wrestling with overwhelm, burnout and fatigue.
You may be a leader who wants to build your mental fitness capacity to manage stress and overwhelm in a healthier and more positive way.
You may be working towards a leadership role and want to best position yourself for promotion.
Whatever your reasons for reading this article, I am certainly glad that you are here.
Oprah said, “Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.”
So, let’s start with what is mental fitness. According to Shirzad Chamine, CEO of Positive Intelligence, he says, “Mental fitness is your capacity to respond to life’s challenges with a positive rather than a negative mindset”.
Let’s use the analogy of physical fitness and as we know physical fitness is on a continuum.
Monday, April 17th was the 127th running of the Boston Marathon. I know that because when I moved to Boston to go to school many moons ago, I used to watch it. And then in 2006, I ran my first Boston marathon and in 2012 I ran my 3rd. and the last Boston marathon.
The reason I use the analogy of a marathon is that they are long. They are all 26.2 miles in length. And there are not many people that I know who can get up on any given day and just run 26.2 miles without some significant training. I am sure there are a few but they are unicorns.
The same is true for mental fitness. To respond to life’s challenges, large or small, with a healthy mindset, we must train our brains and our bodies. So, when we are met with those “marathon events” in our lives, we can handle them with better ease and flow. And manage the smaller ones too.
Mental fitness is on a continuum and is more the equivalent of the training of going to the gym and having a personal trainer.
When you start to focus on and strengthen your mental fitness skills you will see the positive impact that comes from it.
· You can achieve peak performance,
· You will achieve greater peace of mind and a sense of wellness and
· You will improve the relationships you have both personally and professionally.
According to the U.S. Council for Mental Well-Being, “the statistics may shock us into realizing how our mental health and mental fitness levels are the foundation of our human functioning.
The following statistics are for the U.S., but international trends are similar:
1 in 5 adults (52.9 million adults) experienced mental illness in 2020.
40.3 million people aged 12 or over had a substance use disorder in 2020.
32.1% of adults with mental illness also experienced a substance use disorder in 2020.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.
1 in 3 young adults (aged 18-25) experienced mental illness in 2020.
1 in 6 adolescents (aged 12-17) experienced a major depressive episode in 2020.”
As I mentioned, as leaders, you have an incredibly tough job these days. The workforce priorities today have really shifted. It was noted in an SHRM article, that “one of the focal points for managers is to be mindful of, pay attention to, and support their employee's financial and emotional well-being.”
What is interesting is that I have worked in the behavioral health arena all my professional life and we were always keyed into these areas, such as everyone’s emotional health and wellbeing and healthy boundaries for example. Now it seems as though “mainstream” businesses and organizations are recognizing the importance of mental health and mental fitness.
And we know that the pandemic was a major catalyst.
So, what does that mean for leaders and what does that look like? Today, according to a WTW survey “two out of three U.S. employers (67%) plan to make employee mental health and emotional wellbeing programs and solutions one of their top three health priorities over the next three years.”
Accessible mental health services and well-being programs are certainly important offerings that an employer must consider but how do the levels of stress, overwhelm, and burnout impact you as a leader? If your job is to concentrate on your team’s well-being, who is looking out for you?
How does your self-care become a priority?
I bet the short answer is that it doesn’t.
I am curious, how well does your organization prioritize your emotional wellness? If you are an entrepreneur, how well do you prioritize your own self-care? Give yourself a rating.
On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the least and 10 being the most, how well do you prioritize your self-care daily?
I, personally, have instituted prioritizing self-care each day. And it is the small things that I inject each day throughout the day. For example, I can clear my head and reinvigorate myself just by being outside and being in nature, whether it is walking, hiking, or just sitting outside in my backyard and listening to the birds. Breathing, smelling, and feeling all the sensations when I am outside can energize or calm me down.
I have a client who is a remote worker. She shared with me that she sits at her desk all day, rarely has lunch, often doesn’t get up to walk her dog, and virtually takes little to no breaks throughout the day.
She also says that she is highly stressed, overwhelmed, and on the verge of burnout.
Microsoft Human Factor Labs used EEG caps to measure the beta wave activity, associated with levels of stress in the brain of meeting participants.
“They had a group in the study who all attended four consecutive meetings throughout the day.
One group was given breaks between the meetings and the other group was deprived of breaks after each meeting.
The study results showed that for those given breaks, the average beta wave activity remained largely steady over time and their levels of stress were low.
For those deprived of breaks, the average beta wave activity rose as time passed over the course of the day, suggesting an increased buildup of stress.”
Does that surprise you? Or does that sound about right?
When your self-care takes a back seat, you will most likely be depleted and zapped of your energy because so much of it is going to others or other things. It takes a lot of stamina to be there for your team, especially when you are supporting their emotional challenges and issues. The mental power required can be taxing. And if you do not have a good routine and practice of ensuring that your bucket is filled and gets refilled often, you will have all your juices sucked out of you with little to give yourself.
As a result, I imagine that your ability to show empathy decreases, and your levels of burnout increases!
So, where do we begin? We hear over and over that it starts with us. It starts with prioritizing yourself and developing your levels of self-empathy. For many of us exuding and showing empathy for others may be natural and in fact, that is just what saps our resources, our energy.
How do you inject the oxygen mask theory and take care of #1, before you take care of others?
What can you do each day to keep yourself present, focused, and optimally mentally fit and do so to live as fully and in your zone as possible?
I remember one of the tips that I used to share with new managers regarding ways to recognize their workforce was to acknowledge folx right away and do things that were easily accessible, free, and did not require you to jump through any hoops.
I believe the same is true for self-care. What are things that we can do that are right at our fingertips, that are free, and that do not require permission from anyone else or the need to jump through hoops? Self-care is also going to look different for each of us.
So, if you have a solid daily practice that centers on self-empathy and self-care. BRAVO!! Keep it up. If you need to dial it up a bit, then consider where you can inject it and add it to your tank throughout the day. And if you score low in this area, consider one or two things you can start to do to focus on yourself.
Here is a great link that has 40 fabulous self-care ideas: Check it out!
I especially love “read a joyful story every day”. We hear so much negative noise that I find it important to focus on the good that is happening in the world!
I hope this was helpful and I appreciate you.
I will leave you with a quote.
“Never give from the depths of your well. But from your overflow.” Rumi