Mental Strength is the Key to Workplace Excellence

Workplace change can be scary. For most people, speaking in public can trigger angst. To others, meeting your new boss for the first time might have you losing sleep in nervous anticipation. However, for everyone, stress and anxiety are normal reactions to uncertainty. But the pioneer qualities of determination and flexibility can help you shake off those feelings. And, they are the key to creating workplace excellence.

Determination allows us to bounce back from adversity. Flexibility helps us persevere through challenges.

Jonathan Berent, author of Work Makes Me Nervous, has worked with over 10,000 professionals and says anxiety on the job—ranging from mild to intense—“is an epidemic.” Symptoms range from obsessive worry and racing thoughts, to fears of appearing nervous and avoidant behavior.

He notes these basic anxiety triggers including the fear of:

  • Public speaking
  • Interacting with authority figures
  • Taking on new challenges and change in general
  • Being seen by others as noticeably nervous
  • A deep-rooted perfectionism where nothing is ever good enough

Achieve workplace excellence by being resilient 

People have varying abilities to naturally bounce back. Some adapt to change more quickly. In what seems like no time, they find new ways to solve problems, are more willing to take risks and cope well with ambiguity.

Resilience at work is all about adapting to a changing environment—showing a willingness to learn new techniques and take on new roles through your own initiative. In practical terms, flexibility is also about covering for other staff members when they are ill or a project is struggling or failing, occasionally putting in extra hours to get things done and being resourceful and positive even when things aren’t working well.

Building mental flexibility, as with becoming more physically flexible, takes stretching. And, just like your physical well-being, it’s something that must be done every day to maintain strength. Your workplace excellence depends on it.

Here are four guidelines for your workout:

1. Take the opposite point of view

A flexible mindset moves us away from limiting thought patterns to a place of openness and possibility.

2. Identify places where you can compromise

Experts in behavior science view mental flexibility not as a personality trait or a state of mind, but as a set of behaviors that can be changed. Everyone is flexible about some things and inflexible about others. When you think about flexibility as “something I do” and not “who I am,” you will start to realize that you can make lasting, positive changes that may open up opportunities for some relaxation, laughter and joy amid the daily grind.

If you feel as though you’ve become a bit of a stickler about strict schedules and perfect plans, it may be time to loosen up and become more flexible.


3. Change your routine and stretch every day

The people who have the most trouble coping with ambiguity are those who have settled into a comfortable routine and haven’t changed much. Not stretching yourself regularly creates rigidity. Try something new. Learn to dance, pick up a new language or cook a new recipe.

In a study led by Wilma Koutstaal Ph.D., at the University of Minnesota, older adults who participated in a variety of novel and stimulating activities over a three-month period showed a significant gain in creativity, problem-solving abilities and other markers of “fluid intelligence” when compared to a control group. Novelty aids mental flexibility, which contributes to brain growth and development throughout a lifetime.

4. Learn from your mistakes 

If you make a mistake, take time to understand why. Where did you go wrong? The problem is not in making mistakes. The problem lies in not learning from them.

There will always be challenges and changes at work. However, if you become more mentally flexible with daily practice, you’re less affected and less anxious. In the end, you will become a stronger person who adds to the sense of workplace excellence instead of detracting from it.

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