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09.16.05 Issue #184  
Practicing Good Mental Fitness in Times of Crisis

Dr. Nancy Haller
Executive Coach
McKenzie Management

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It’s been heart wrenching to watch and read about the devastation in the Gulf Region over the past two weeks. Perhaps like me, you have found yourself being more appreciative of everyday comforts and conveniences too often taken for granted. I am more thankful for the health and safety of my family, for the roof over my head, for clean water, for the fact that I can write this article on my computer.

Catastrophe does have a way of washing away layers of superficiality. It enables humans to relate on a new, deeper level. In the wake of any tragedy people begin to think about their life situation, about the possibility of death without warning. And to redirect their energies to what is really important.

From time to time we all experience negative thoughts as well as angry or depressing feelings. Ups and downs are a part of life. But it is important to maintain a healthy perspective and a hopeful outlook. Not that smiling and thinking positive thoughts will increase your revenue overnight, but you will affect your bottom line by practicing mental aerobics.

Just like physical exercise, mental agility requires dedication and practice. It begins when you think about what you have instead of how bad things are. I have been told that the Chinese character for ‘crisis’ is the same as ‘opportunity’. This is a great philosophy. Look at difficult times as a chance to learn about yourself, to improve your ability to persevere and to develop courage. Quick results and immediate gratification are great, but true success comes from working steadily to overcome obstacles, sometimes in the face of tremendous odds.

Watch for small signs of progress. So much of our distress is the direct result of unrealistic expectations, about ourselves and others. Refrain from playing the ‘blame game’. Stop the self-criticism for perceived inadequacies and stop judging others harshly. Both zap us of energy, creativity and productivity. In difficult times, the real winners are those who stay motivated and focused on their goals.

Do things that make you feel confident and secure…a craft or a hobby, music or sports. Whatever the activity, give yourself time and permission to enjoy it. Take yourself lightly. Laughter is a cathartic experience. It allows us to release tension and frustration. Remember the last time you had a good belly laugh? Remember how exhausted and relaxed you felt afterward?

Here’s an exercise to help you ‘get in shape’. You’ll need paper and pencil to record your ideas, and some uninterrupted time.

Imagine that it is one year from now…September 16, 2006. As if by miracle, everything you want for yourself and your practice has become a reality. Concentrate and focus on the details. Once you have captured the specifics, imagine how you might feel waking up in the morning. In your mind’s eye, notice how you would respond to people at home and at the office. Picture yourself driving to work and what differences there would be. How would you respond to traffic or aggressive drivers? How would you talk with your staff? What kind of expression would be on your face as you worked?

Now train yourself to implement one of these behaviors today. Whether it is greater emotional composure or more encouraging remarks to others, the impact of just one small modification holds tremendous possibility. If you are having trouble doing this on your own, seek the help of a ‘mental coach’. Just as physical trainers improve performance in athletic competitions, coaching offers ways to enhance professional effectiveness.

Overcoming adversity begins with mental fitness. Being positive and appreciative takes effort, but that power rests within each one of us.

Contact Dr. Haller at if you would like help getting mentally ‘in shape’.

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