They say that every cloud has a silver lining. If that’s the case, then the storms we’ve all had to endure over the past couple of years have produced some benefits, too. One is certainly a better understanding of remote work, which we have catalogued every day on this site.
Maybe the most important thing we’ve “discovered” during the pandemic is the importance of mental fitness. I use that word in the same context as “Columbus discovered America.” It was something that was always there. It just took a major event to bring it to the attention of the majority of us.
Our discovery mirrors what we “discovered” about physical fitness over the past decade plus. During that time we saw organizational efforts directed at improving physical health, from putting healthier snacks in the vending machines in the breakroom to HR sponsoring workout and exercise competitions between departments. The reason for these new investments and policies is simple: We finally figured out that physically healthier workers are more productive and cost less in terms of time off and turnover as a result of illness and disability.
Now, because of the unique events of the last two years, we’ve “discovered” the same thing about mental fitness. When our team members are mentally fit, they’re going to be more productive, better focused, and less apt to miss work or be mentally distracted. That has a real bottom-line value.
How do we define mental fitness?
Physical health seems a lot more objective and easy to define. We can measure cholesterol levels, BMI and other physiological variables that are predictive of good health. Mental fitness is a little bit harder to put your finger on.
Really, it comes down to being able to move successfully from emotional triggers to rational decision-making. All of our anxiety comes from some kind of emotional trigger. Whether it’s a behavior or a circumstance, we feel something first. That team member who’s habitually late with some deliverable you need for a project? Your first response is emotional (and probably a negative one). Or what about when the quarterly earnings are announced and your boss relays the message from above that they need to see an improvement in productivity…yesterday! You’re likely not jumping into problem-solving mode right away. You’re feeling scared, frustrated, angry, insecure…any number of emotions.
When we stay in these emotions, we react. Our behaviors usually aren’t that productive and can be destructive. We’re in our amygdalas, that part of our brain where our emotions reside. What has to happen is a shift to the prefrontal cortex, where our decision-making resides. When we’re able to do that, we’re able to make wise decisions instead of merely reacting to how we feel in the moment.
How do we do that?
We’ll discuss the ways we can develop that “emotional dexterity” in future posts. Suffice it to say, that being able to manage our emotions is the key to mental fitness. Just as we need to exercise physically and stretch to keep our physical selves agile and able to move, so must we exercise our emotional selves to build mental fitness.
To get a head start on that process, please join us for our free event on April 13, Fostering Mental Fitness. Kevin Eikenberry and I will be talking to four experts who will be sharing some practical techniques and concept to help you and your organization become more mentally fit.
About the author
When he’s not working as the Content Strategy Coordinator for The Kevin Eikenberry Group, Chuck Chapman is a Marriage and Family Therapist serving individuals and families in crisis throughout Indiana. He also applies his knowledge and experience working with systemic interventions to businesses and organizations to help them regulate stress levels and build healthier and more productive relationships.