Whenever mental health comes up in discussion, we immediately think of the worst case scenarios- depression, anxiety and suicide. I understand why they come to the forefront of our minds because we give those the most attention because of their severity, but the truth is mental health goes much deeper and should be noticed well before we get to those points.
Nick Saban, for those who may not know, is the head coach of Alabama's football team, which has been as dominant as a program as we have seen over the last fifteen years or so in a team sport in a long time. Coach Saban, like many great leaders in the world, is not as worried about the outcome as he is about the process which got the team to that outcome.
In both sports and life, we are thrown curveballs. In college, my coaches never beat us down for missing a good, open shot. That result was not seen as just a miss, but a well executed process. If we replicated that process over and over, more times than not, we would score and more times than not, we would win.
The same goes in our every day lives- the right process will always lead you to coming out on top more times than not, and for those times you come up short, you can easily identify and correct any weak points.
So where does mental health tie in to success? A better question would be to ask where our mental health is separated from our success.
A runner cannot post a personal best when they are hampered by a hamstring injury. Just like you cannot perform at your highest capabilities when you are suffering from poor mental health.
What we as a society fail to understand is that mental resiliency, fitness or toughness, is all a learned skill. Sure, there are people who are naturally more advanced, just like some people are naturally faster or stronger than others but I promise you, mental toughness can be learned. Outside of the science, how do I know this for sure? I have experienced it myself.
When I was 17 years old and decided I was going to pursue basketball, there was a wide variety of opinion about myself as a player. Two things were always consistent when I was being evaluated- the first was I had as much potential as anyone and could be as great as I wanted to be. The second consistent critique was that I was soft. Physically, I was weak, but my mental toughness was non existent. This has turned out to be the greatest gift in my life.
I played with a chip on my shoulder, but only as far as my comfort zone would allow me to. In high school, I was more athletic than everyone which got me through competitions. I had enough of a skillset to be recruited by colleges and allow me to further my career.
Then I got to college, where everyone was one of the top players in their state and always the best player on their own team. I was no longer athletic enough to just "athlete" my way through. To make matters worse, my mind was exposed.
I hated workouts and just tried to survive, never thrive in them. I was always ridden a little bit harder than my other teammates because I was being tested to see if I would cave in and quit, or grow a little more each day.
My first year I redshirted, the second and third year I barely played. My junior year, I was a starter but suffered a back injury in preseason. That was my limit, I now had what I always was looking for- an excuse. It was now okay to fail because I would be able to blame my back. This ran through my subconscious and because of it, I lost my starting spot by the end of the year.
That off-season, I made a decision. I set a goal when I came to college to become a professional athlete and I was dangerously close to failing. Most people told me I had no shot at this point and to be fair, they were probably right 99 times out of 100.
There was a difference though, I had cracked enough of my mind to pull me through. I woke up at 3am every morning to be in the gym by 4. Two hours of weights, an hour of running, and two separate sessions on court for six weeks before heading back to school.
I went back to school ready. I was different. My coaches took notice from day one.
That year I was named captain, a full time starter and had a breakthrough year that helped me achieve my goal of becoming a professional athlete.
My physical ability was always present but my mind was light years behind. I look back on what used to phase me in my early college career to where I am now and the growth is immeasurable.
The past eight years I have been a professional athlete, travelling the world to play a child's game. Even more than that, I have learned more than I thought possible. I have learned what real pressure is as an American import and have understood how to perform when staring down the barrel of a metaphoric gun. I have learned about loss and I have learned about growth.
I have experienced mental health issues because I failed to understand the importance and complexities of our own minds. Because of those trying times, being mentored by experts in the mind, body language, and reframing techniques, I now have a unique skill set that can lead to change in not only my life, but others as well.
That's the beauty in our struggle. With pain comes growth and with growth comes a new level of life we never thought possible. However, we can only reach these levels if we understand how to step through the struggle and gain the tools needed.
So where does all of this tie into mental health and mental performance?
We each struggle with unique adversities throughout our life. Often, we allow our struggle to cripple us, define us and dictate what we are capable of and not capable of.
Imagine you are a business owner. Your business has just opened and you would do anything that was required to succeed. When we put a piece of ourselves out into the world we become emotionally attached- that vulnerability goes to the forefront of our priorities and we want to put our best foot forward.
Who we are as a "brand" is no different to starting a business. We want to reach our true potential and enjoy the fruits of our success.
As your business grows, there are new responsibilities and branches that come along with it. You enlist an HR department, a sales team, hire a law firm, accountants and the various other groups that are needed.
Responsibility in the workplace can become overwhelming just like life can be. Maybe at work you are paying more attention to the sales team for a period and in your personal life you are paying attention to a situation surrounding a sibling. Because of these situations, at work your HR department begins to suffer from a lack of attention as does your fitness because you're giving more attention to your sibling.
This is what we do with ourselves every day. We extinguish the fires we need to without checking in on the other areas of our life. Instead of finding peace, we are putting out fire after fire, draining our batteries and eventually depleting our mental health.
A study was conducted in the UK and found that mental health and job performance were not only directly related, the losses sustained from mental health were absolutely shocking.
The UK loses an estimated £35 billion a year. The breakdown was as follows-
- Reduced productivity = £21.1 billion
- Sick Absence = £10.6 billion
- Staff Substitution = £3.1 billion
Those are remarkable numbers and speaks to the seriousness of a lack of understanding around our minds. A lack of education and false stigmas around the importance of mindfulness both internally and in the professional landscape, have led us to where we are today.
Mental fitness can be taught. Mental toughness can be taught. Mental efficiency can be taught. Emotional intelligence can be taught.
I have learned throughout my entire professional career that the mind is a skill. Mastering that particular skill is the sole most important thing to mastering everything else in this world.
The Navy SEALS, the most advanced and feared tactical team in the world, operate on the basis of the 40% rule. When your mind tells you that you have had enough, you are really only 40% of the way there. You are less than half way of what your body is fully capable of. To train your mind allows you the ability to defeat whatever is in front of you- whether that is physical or otherwise.
Over the past few months in particular, I have been working with some of Australia's most elite athletes in a one on one setting. Various sports, each individual is competing in the highest levels Australia has to offer, and watching them break through new barriers and overcoming the blockages that were in their careers prior, has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever been able to experience.
Even better than that- they are all able to take these tools into their personal lives and have noticed change there as well. When you make someone better at their profession you have a sense of pride, but to make someone feel better in their own life, that is something I just can't quite put into words.
Our minds are the key to opening up the world in front of us. To create the success you want does not need to come at the expense of your own mental health and peace of mind.
Have you ever wanted to know what it would feel like to operate to your true potential? Of course you have. Let's have a conversation and get you to where you belong.