Today being World Mental Health Day, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and reflections on this topic, and from my experience at I Say Organic why I think it’s important for organizations to work towards enhancing mental well-being and what they can do.
I find “Mental Health” to be such a heavy term! My first reaction when I hear it is not a very positive one. I imagine someone in despair, having a breakdown. When I read “health”, “wellness”, “fitness”, then my mind creates positive imagery of healthy food, nature, yoga, people exercising in a gym etc. But adding “mental” to the equation changes it altogether. It’s definitely a reflection of my belief system, which has been shaped by my experiences of usually not talking about it. I haven’t asked around if this is the usual reaction people have when they hear this term, but I feel it’s probably quite common.
We know what we need to to for good physical health, but when it comes to the mind we don’t know. Our inherent belief is that the normal is for people to be mentally healthy by default, and it should take no effort to get there. That should definitely be an ideal to strive towards. But in order to create that type of world, where the lifestyle inherently conditions and equips everyone with the tools from birth that will lay the foundation of a healthy mind, we need to start taking some steps today. I think the majority today have very limited awareness on the subject and have never been exposed to why to and how to have a healthy mind, or perhaps have only ever attended a talk or a workshop at their schools or workplaces.
I’m not an expert on this topic, and I am only talking from my personal experience. I prioritised my mental health around two years ago, when I realized that it was something I needed to make a conscious effort towards improving and maintaining. Sometimes I think the greatest blessing of starting a company for me was that the stress of running it started getting to me so much, that I realized I had a lot of self-work to do in order to create my “dream” life that is in sync with my values of peace and harmony. I was fortunate that I got the right guidance at this high-stress time to nudge me in the right direction, before more damage could be done. What I have realized in the last 2 years that what works for me is to have a regular practice of reflection and introspection, time allocated to doing nothing or not having an agenda, and creating space and time for slow living and silence.
I realized that my misery was largely caused by the pressure I put on myself for the impact and results that I wanted my company and my work to create, and just being in that chase without any time to stop, pause, and reflect. I started trying different techniques like gratitude journaling, free flow writing, meditation, silent introspection, visualizations, and incorporating whatever was resonating into my daily routine. I also decided to try and integrate some of these into the culture at I Say Organic to create a culture that is target driven and result oriented, but without the unnecessary stress, and high on learning.
Regularly reflecting on what I was doing well, what I needed to do better, what I needed to start/stop/continue doing, etc. turned out to be really powerful for me – in keeping me balanced with respect to results, and at the same time more motivated and action oriented than before. So my first goal became to get the team into the habit of reflecting regularly. I had seen the burn out in some members in the team who started with a lot of enthusiasm, which had started dwindling, leading to low energy in the office. While I wished to create a space that inspires and challenges people, I feared that the opposite was slowly happening. After I started seeing the shift these practices created for me, I felt integrating some of these into the culture would start moving us in the direction of creating the kind of workspace I imagined.
The first requirement for a group to reflect together is that they feel safe to share openly and are not judged at all. This took some time. It was quite hard initially for me to lead these meetings where the team shared. As the one facilitating I had to take a step back and just listen. When I operated from my usual role of CEO, I could sense people found it hard to be fully authentic and sometimes get defensive. When I operated as a coach, it was easier to get people to think deeper and come up with realizations of what they can do better, what they need to change etc. It was and continues to be confusing to don these two roles. Sometimes I feel I should be the CEO holding people accountable, being a taskmaster, but I’ve slipped into being the nice empathetic mentor. And sometimes the opposite. But I’m learning to balance the two.
The result of creating a safe space to share openly is not only that people get to express their challenges and get guidance. It is also that sharing feedback, even critical feedback, becomes so much easier. When people share criticism from the point of view of how it impacts them and makes them feel, it is so much more constructive than when it’s shared in a blaming and accusatory way. Funnily, being consistent with these weekly sharings has increased the level of accountability in the team. At the same time, I feel it has made people feel more connected, more empathetic, and in sync with the purpose of the company.
The other important tool has been to structure the sharing by giving the team a framework to follow for reflecting and sharing, and giving equal importance to what they did well and what needs to improve. In the worst week, as the one facilitating the meeting, I find it important to bring out the positive things that happened, and likewise in the best week, it is also important to bring out what need to be better. I remember that in a series of these meetings many people (including me) were quite critical of how things were being done, and that was during one of our highest sales periods this year. Some people were quite taken aback, as they were expecting that the meeting was going to be really positive and only appreciating everyone. But the concern raised was that we had no idea why we were doing so well, and that worried many that this was not going to last long. Sharing such concerns authentically, and not giving in to my fear of disappointing someone or bringing down someone’s morale, has created strong bonds between people, and has dramatically increased my confidence in the team.
Lastly, I realized how important it is to keep the purpose, the “Why” alive. I saw in myself that when I was just looking at performance and targets, that took a backseat in my mind. And when the mind wasn’t conscious of the Why, it wasn’t happy. Daily tasks start seeming like chores, and naturally some sluggishness sets in. For me, regularly journaling helps keep the why alive. In some form or the other, it comes out. In the team, I try and use every opportunity to connect our work on the daily basis with the why. And the weekly meetings are a great place to do that!
How does this link to mental health? It’s one of those things I feel is more intuitive for me currently and I don’t have any solid evidence for it’s impact. I just feel that when people are openly expressing what’s working or not working for them, are able to share feedback openly, and are able to hold each other accountable for their own commitments and learning, combined with a routine of regular introspection, it puts the mind to ease. I find in my team that people deal with stress better, don’t hesitate to bring out conflict, get to thinking of solutions better, and handle failure better. I feel encouraging learning is the key, both in times of failure and success.