Re-imaging the workplace: Mental fitness in the workplace

To fight against the reality that a challenge is facing us or that we have a challenge in our hands, reduces our chances of creatively and intelligently working our way through it.

Mental fitness is one of the least spoken about phenomena in the world in general and I think in Africa in particular. We tend to speak a lot about being strong, a man needing to be strong and sometimes even to be stronger than a woman as if strength is physical and more masculine than feminine. We scratch the surface of a big and important issue when we treat it like that and refuse to understand it, thinking that by sloganeering about it we will make a difference. Right now, cases of suicide, people collapsing and dying, some going insane, and many entering survival mode are on the rise and one can trace them back to lack of mental fitness.

Eckhart Tolle, one of my favorite writers and speakers rightfully teaches that a person’s relationship with challenges is very important and determines their wellbeing in everything in life. It is retrogressive therefore to teach that challenges can be totally gotten rid of when there are challenges all around us and Tolle dares say that these are good because they stretch all muscles including the muscle of resilience and what he calls spiritual growth or awakening. It is not good for anyone when they face a problem, to think or feel that the challenge should not be happening. It is ok to want to get the self out of an undesirable situation but to think that it should not be happening triggers a lot of body biological and chemical reactions.

To fight against the reality that a challenge is facing us or that we have a challenge in our hands, reduces our chances of creatively and intelligently working our way through it. Every feeling we feel, stamps itself on the body and has a chemical effect, which is either positive or negative. Negative thoughts result in negative feelings that trigger the secretion of negative stress hormones in the body and that places one in a situation whereby they are in a bad situation and need to be at their best to come out of it but have put themselves in a weak and worse situation. It is like when one is drowning, and they grab a heavy object like a rock and the rock makes it worse by assisting the water to press the person down and drown them.

A presentation on what happens within a person when they have a bad relationship with challenges will make anyone want to understand themselves and seek assistance regarding being able not only to understand how the mind works and the effects its working has on their wellbeing, but to also learn the practices that are needed to be mentally fit and stop the compulsive and unconscious activities of the body that do their own thing without them knowing. Some lose their sanity, some their cool and a lot lose even their lives through psychosomatic diseases that never warn anyone.

I need just about five minutes to scare you dear reader into taking mental fitness seriously because it is indeed serious and I would have achieved a lot if I managed to make you come forward and say now that you have made me understand that there is a horror movie happening inside me, please help me disrupt it and begin to take control of what happens inside my head, in my mind, in my heart and the whole biochemistry that is inside me. That, dear reader is something we need to make popular in the world because it is as important as food.

At the center of this horror movie happening involuntarily in our body systems, is this little thing called thought which is accumulated through lived experiences. We think, according to research, compulsively 95% of the time per day, and we think between 60 000 and 80 000 thoughts per day compulsively, 95% of which are recycled. I think it is even generous of research to say 95%. I think the samples might not have been representative of all reality in the world because my sense is that in Africa, we are in a worse state than that. We could be doing 99.9% compulsive thinking, I think.

The challenge with being stuck in compulsive thinking is that very little thinking, real thinking happens. Thoughts just flow out like diarrhea and never achieve anything new. It becomes autopilot thinking happening to us the way dreaming happens to us where we wake up the following morning wondering what happened and sometimes knowing we had dreamt but having even forgotten what we dreamt about.

A good relationship with challenges places us in a position where thoughts can be generated consciously that are fresh and can qualitatively address challenges without exposing the person to uncontrollable biochemical problems that worsen the situation as they press the individual down to the bottom of the pit. The mind fights a difficult battle when the person going through a challenges refuses first and foremost, to ACCEPT that they are facing a problem and that the problem had to happen. Had to happen? Yes. Why? Because it is happening. One uses double energy unnecessarily when they must lose energy denying that they have a challenge and at the same time use some energy to address the problem. If they accept that they have a challenge, the energy they were going to use to deny can be harnessed to give them double energy to address the challenge. There is no need to waste energy on denial because it achieves nothing.

Dependence on things exposes many of us to mental unfitness problems. We fall in love and seek security so that when the universe pushes the envelope for us and shakes us in our security, we are not ready and so lose it. We have a job in the workplace and begin to feel secure and never think that this could shake one day, and we find ourselves exposed. If we do not understand that mental fitness is cultivated by embracing vulnerability, then we are not ready, and our mental faculties will be found wanting when the day of reconning comes. You might be wondering and thinking that this writer is talking in riddles. Is he about to suggest that security is a weakness? Well, maybe yes. Let’s explore that further next week and examine the mental strength found in vulnerability. 


  • Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery, and mental fitness. He works for a Zimbabwean company as human capital executive, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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