Unshakeable in a Shifting World: Building Your Mental Fitness Toolkit 

In December 23 I did an exciting workshop with a team around the concept of Mental Fitness. What an interesting term. Fitness: generally associated to physical ability and conditioning, describing a state of readiness and capacity to endure certain physical conditions.  But what is mental fitness? And how do we develop it? 

This is the start of our short blog series on mental fitness, connecting us to the importance of this most essential condition. In this blog, we’ll explore the meaning of mental fitness and why it’s such an essential focus point today. 

What is mental fitness?

Unshakeable in a Shifting World: Building Your Mental Fitness Toolkit 

Mental fitness is the intentional development of our thinking, so that we can navigate our rapidly changing environments. It’s very similar in concept to that of physical fitness. It’s the capacity and quality of an individuals thinking within changing environments. The quality is defined by attributes like clarity, perspective and agility. 

Most of us are physically fit enough to run 500m, but to run 42 km takes effort, attention, and discipline. Likewise, most of us may be mentally fit to embrace certainty and predictable environments. But we may not be mentally fit for changing environmental dynamics, where old assumptions are often no longer relevant or reliable. 

Are you focusing on your mental fitness? And are you focusing on your team’s mental fitness? 

4 reasons to focus on mental fitness.

1. The Ability to Adapt And Change

The obvious one: we are living in a world of change. Which requires agile thinking, not fixed thinking. In a world of no change, we can probably rely on past assumptions and experience. A world of change challenges our assumptions. It often exposes past experiences as an Achilles heel. One of my favourite quotes to highlight the velocity of this change comes from Canadian President Justin Trudeau. He says

“The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.”

Imagine someone tells you their computer is operating on Windows 95, what would you think? You’d probably say that’s antiquated. And you would have to conclude that they’re unable to leverage the latest advancements off their old platform. Now, if technology had made little or no advancements in the past few years, having Windows 95 wouldn’t make much difference. But in a progressive and dynamic technological world, keeping up means upgrading. 

Is it possible to access our current world if our assumptions are based on information that isn’t current? If so, what are the consequences? 

Unshakeable in a Shifting World: Building Your Mental Fitness Toolkit 

2. A Thriving Mental Being

We are not doing well mentally. This is not a judgement; we all feel the weight of navigating our modern-day living. The stats don’t lie. Susan David highlights this in her book Emotional Agility when she shares how since 2017 (as stated by the World Health Organisation), depression has become the leading cause of disability. No longer is our biggest impediment physical, but it’s mind related. This condition is captured powerfully by this writer who said…

“Today’s poor live better than yesterday’s kings, however, Americans are taking antidepressants in astounding numbers, leading to the current opioid epidemic”.

3. Accepting When We Are Wrong

We are wrong more often than we realise. In a predictable world, we could state things with more confidence. But our unpredictable world requires a greater level of tentativeness. We might not like this thought, but our blind spots are on the increase. Let’s quote 2 credible sources…

“The idea that our minds are susceptible to systematic errors is now generally accepted.”

Daniel Kahneman 

“More often than not there are moments where we are wrong.”

Seth Godin

Unshakeable in a Shifting World: Building Your Mental Fitness Toolkit 

Mental fitness enables us to dance with the notion that we might not be right. When this happens, we enable an openness. A teachability. A proactivity to seek out new ideas, and to filter irrelevant outdated ideas. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Adam Grant powerfully says…

“The hallmark of wisdom is knowing when it’s time to abandon some of your most treasured tools and some of the most cherished parts of your identity”

And let’s go back thousands of years to Confucius who said…

“Real knowleadge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”

To understand our ignorance and let go of tried and tested tools is the product of a mentally fit mind. 

4. Knowing what is worthy of attention, and what isn’t

There is a glut of distraction. The noise around us has amplified over the past few years. This causes our good intentions to be hijacked by a barrage of distraction, leaving us with the feeling of ‘being ticked off’ rather than ticking off our needed actions and plans.

Now more than ever, to remain focused and have high levels of mental quality requires an ability to discern what’s worthy of attention – and what isn’t. This thought is powerfully captured by Franciscan Priest and writer Richard Rohr who says… 

“In our culture we suffer from a glut of words, a glut of experiences, a glut of tapes, books, ideas. When we have too many words, we tend not to value them, even if they might contain life for us. We can’t absorb it all. This can lead us away from a beginner’s mind. We desperately need some disciplines to help us know how to see and what is worth seeing, and what we don’t need to see.”

These factors don’t need to paralyse our desire to be mentally fit. Infact, they can energise them. Growing our mental fitness is founded in the desire to remain relevant in a changing world, by embracing change, understanding our ignorance, fostering new paths, and seeking disciplines for increased improved perspective.

In the blogs that follow my goal is to uncover and explore the ways to become mentally fit. I hope this sounds like a journey worth taking. 

Let’s wrap up with a story

Unshakeable in a Shifting World: Building Your Mental Fitness Toolkit 

On the 3rd of January 2017, I woke up in the early hours of the morning in the beautiful seaside village of Great Brak River. Great Brak River is nestled in the garden route between Mossel Bay and George. One of my favourite places in the world. 

I woke up at this time specifically to run through the village that crosses Great Brak and the sea. The plan was to complete the route and end my run with a sunrise on the beach. I let myself out the gate with my remote. And as I started to run; it began to rain. The rain became steadier, eventually becoming a heavy downpour. 

For me, running in the rain is a delight, and it brought with it the added benefit of absolute solitude. Whilst running, I came up with this interesting plan. Today was obviously going to be a no sunrise day. Let’s replace the sunrise with a swim in the river. Let’s jump off the bridge into the river. I was amused by this idea, and I was also aware of my right hand. 

In my right hand was the gate remote, and with harder rain came a harder grip on the remote, seeking to protect it from the water. When I got to the second bridge, the place of my river jump, I had this impending question: what do I do with the remote? The unanswered question foiled the adventure. Later that day I reflected on what a great run I had enjoyed. And with the gratitude came a sense of regret – if only I did not have the remote in my hand. 

To navigate our changing world requires that we learn to hold our thoughts, conclusions, and preferences more lightly. Some signs of low mental fitness are the inability to notice what we are unnecessarily holding onto. The inability to notice new opportunity, and the inability to adjust to what the environment is doing. What ‘remotes’ are you holding on to? 

Combating Compliant Thinking: Strategies to Sharpen Your Critical Thinking Skills

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