For those who read this column regularly, you may be aware that I worked in independent practice for 35 years as a dispensing optician, contact lens optician and business manager, before changing my career to become a coach. My key drivers for doing this were to help business owners and their teams, primarily but not exclusively in the optical world, to find new and better ways to run their businesses and delight their customers.

Part of this journey involved me swapping my CET points in dispensing and contact lenses, for CPD points in coaching and mentoring. One huge moment for me was discovering a particular book entitled Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. The subtitle of the book, ‘Why only 20% of teams and individuals achieve their true potential and how you can achieve yours’, intrigued me because during my days as a business owner having a winning team was always the goal. The book has similarities to The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters, The Source by Dr Tara Swart and other books that aim to uncover and help the reader to understand how their brain works.

Most people would say I am a positive person. I am a glass half-full optimist and I try to find the good in every situation. However, like everyone I am still prone to bouts of negativity or being reactionary when a calm, controlled approach to a situation would be more appropriate.

What this book taught me was that, in the same way we can train ourselves to be physically fit, we can also train ourselves to be mentally fit. Since embarking on a programme to do this, I feel calmer, more in control, and better able to deal with any situation that comes my way. I have made decisions about how I live my life that I may not have made previously and feel much better for it.

The most noticeable benefit I have seen in myself is that I feel I have the space and time to respond to any situation in a positive way, irrespective of what is going on. I now recognise that I have a choice when things are not going well, and, having practised mental fitness for a while, I am able to respond in the way I would like in the moment rather than having to reset or mend fences later. In some ways, it feels like I have hindsight in advance.

Not long after reading the book, just as Covid-19 took hold of our lives, I embarked on a training course to understand how to coach people in mental fitness, using some of the techniques described in the book. This uncovered more gems in the form of an app-based learning scheme that helps people understand their own mental fitness and gives them tools to measurably improve. I was so blown away by the results that I decided to become a coach of the programme.

I thought that over the next few months, I could give you an overview of how I have improved my own mental fitness, both at home and at work, and give you examples of how you can take some of this and apply it in your own life.

The benefits of being mentally fit

For me, one of the most important aspects was being able to pause when things may be going wrong or getting stressed and being able to avoid any reaction that might exacerbate the situation.

Taking time to stop and think as well as taking some time to stop and not think, but just ‘be’. Taking time for personal reflection, thinking about how I have been as a person and being honest with myself about how and when I can improve further.

One thing I heard from author and speaker Nigel Risner many years ago was the phrase ‘if you are in the room… be in the room’. This is about being ‘present’ and ‘engaged’, and, amusingly, for me this morphed into the phrase ‘if you are on the golf course… be on the golf course.’ I can now go and play golf without thinking about work, checking my phone for messages, or worrying about something I cannot control right now. As well as enjoying my golf a lot more, my scores are improving.

Setting boundaries is another key change in my life. Before I started working on my mental fitness, I would give my own time freely to help people who sought my advice or help. Maintaining the boundaries between certain parts of my life has helped me to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Like many people, there have been times when I worked too much, I had little time for family or friendships. What I did not realise I was doing at the time, was ‘over-helping’ to the point where the people asking me for help were not learning or growing themselves. Once I understood this, I was able to set and keep boundaries on deciding who and what I was prepared to help with.

I have also expanded my own comfort zone. I have taken on new challenges both work-wise and at home and treat new experiences as opportunities to grow and learn.

Lastly, and most importantly, I have discovered that maintaining the fitness of your brain is just as crucial as maintaining the fitness of your body. With regular and consistent activity, I have been able to build my mental strength and fitness. Like any muscle, the more you exercise it the stronger it grows.

Next month I will go into more details about the kinds of exercises that have helped me, but in the meantime if you wish to look further into mental fitness for yourself and your team, please do get in touch.