On a wintery November morning, November 28th, 2018, a group of over 70 professionals had their spirits raised at the first ICBE Wellbeing Event in Kilkea Castle, Kildare.  Billed as helping to foster individual and team resilience, the event featured a blend of stress management and mindfullness to insights from high performance coaching and mental fitness techniques.

Michaela Fitzpatrick

The day kicked off with an impactful talk by psychotherapist and training consultant Michaela Fitzpatrick, who warned about the longterm physiological effects of stress that ranges from mild anxiety to deep depression and absenteeism.  Michaela’s presentation centered on bringing attendees through the C.A.R.E model covering Causes of stress , Awareness of effects, Review responses and Establish resilient responses.  With over 75-90% of doctors visits related to stress, the need to deal with it effectively was made clear.   Michaela explained what causes stress including some guaranteed stressors such as Worrying, Catastrophe thinking and Asking disempowering questions that resonated with the group before giving some pragmatic steps and thoughts to create resilience and wellbeing including:

  • I can handle this
  • I am calm, relaxed and in control
  • I am competent, capable and resourceful
  • I have choice over what to think and how to respond
  • What would help me to cope better?
  • What advice would I give a loved one in this situation?

Michaela finished up with some final mental tips and actions to take to further build resilience  and wellbeing advising attendees to

  • Manage time and take breaks
  • Manage stress and anxiety
  • Get help / support
  • Mindfulness activities and relaxation techniques
  • Increase hobbies and fun activities
  • Get enough sleep and rest
  • Exercise and improve diet
  • Spend time in nature

The damaging effects of stress frequently needs CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) to reverse its impact.

Finishing her talk Michaela reiterated the importance of downtime and recharging.

Fergus Barrett

Entitled ‘Mindfulness – Learn how to gain more clarity in your life and live a happier and more authentic life’ ex-defence forces now mindfullness teacher and author Fergus Barrett shared his insights about people and teams.

Fergus showed the group how to use breathing to learn to relax with the 4-7-8 breathing technique.  This involves taking four breaths, holding for 7 seconds and blowing out for 8 seconds.  Fergus then articulated his philosophy that we should Live in the present moment, Plan for the future, and Learn from the past.

He also pointed out that self-care is hugely important and we should avoid negative bias by practicing gratitude.   This can manifest itself in actions by replacing 3 positives/thanks for every negative comment.

Dymystifying meditation, Fergus described it as ‘relaxed awareness’. This state of mind means we need to:

  • Have no agenda/no goal
  • Accept what’s happening in present momnet
  • Grow the good / decrease the bad
  • Water the flowers not the weeds – what you focus on grows

Expanding basic meditation into Body Scan Meditation/Mindfulness can have a big impact of quality of lfe and also help with getting to sleep

Summing up his talk, Fergus pointed to the need to maintain Clarity, Awareness and Space.

90-98% of your thoughts are repeated everyday and 80% are negative “We wonder why things don’t change” pointed out Fergus.

Caroline Currid

Kicking off the afternoon session, Performance Psychologists Caroline Currid shared a lifetime of experience and learnings in her talk ‘Unlocking your potential – focusing on high performance’ based on her work with the Tyrone, Tipperary, Dublin and  Limerick GAA teams in addition to Lions captain Paul O’Connell and Kenya’s 800m Olympic champion David Rudisha.

According to Caroline, in the world of high performance, purpose (the What & Why) comes first followed by the how. “We need to show everybody in an organisation what their purpose is” said Caroline.  Further pointing out that each team should have a gameplan/strategy that is “theirs” and that it drives decision-making.  In order to maintain this clarity she also proposed not focusing on competitors; focus on your gameplan.

Echoing business language and structures, Caroline advised that people/employees should set KPIs to get buy-in and that less is better.  3-4 KPIs is ample; more equates clutter (for clarity) but that it is also very important to be able to measure these metrics.

Caroline expanded this point by asking attendees how they measure leadership in their organisation, pointing out that goals should be weekly/daily and not just annual.

Using the Swiss Cheese theory she pointed out that the key to success is plugging the tiny gaps.

According to Caroline, the best performance ratings range is 5-8 as otherwise, anything wider demotivates people at the lower end and people at top think they’re carrying people at the lower end of the scale.

In her sports experience, Caroline observed that the best managers spend time with the second 15 and those not even on the panel, rather than just the first team.

In the quest for peak performance, it is important to understand what’s holding people back and to get to know individuals as people, which Caroline summed up as ‘To be valued is to belong’.

Culture play a large role in how we behave and percieve things, with Caroline pointing out that in western cultures we have watches;  but in Kenya people have time.  This was further amplified by “Enjoy the food in your mouth” and experiencing things to their fullest.

Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, Caroline suggested that in Ireland we are not good at honest communication or holding each other accountable adding “With People pleasers there can be a big explosion when they let things go”.

The physical work environment can impact on communications and accountability with Hot Seats/Desking  leading to tougher conversations as sitting at a different desk every day leads to more ‘eyeballing’.  Relegating the role of verbal communications, Caroline stated that 20% of what we talk about every day is factual and also that attitude is way more important than skill.

Caroline observed this first hand when Paul O’Connell & Anthony Foley brought accountability to Munster by raising standards and that they “Don’t need to be liked; but respected”.

Adding balance to the high performance debate, she also pointed out that fun should be a priority.

Caroline’s final tips to making high perfomance sustainable were to:

  • Freshen it up
  • Spend time with players
  • Refresh KPIs every year
  • Stretch zone vs. Comfort zone

Sheila O’Malley

The final speaker, Sheila O’Malley, spoke about Building Resilience & Mental Fitness with a focus on the practical tools and strategies to avoid being overwhelmed.

Sheila first tip was to keep a Gratitude diary for 21 days.  The three weeks of documenting postitive areas to be thankful for is the optimal length of time for habits to form.

Secondly she encouraged everyone to focus on MIT (the Most Important Thing), rather than trying to deal with the wide range of normal daily issues.

Echoing some of the earlier points of other speaks she also advocated “Be Kind to yourself” and self nurturing, without which we can wither.

Sheila wrapped up the day with a final practical tip of establishing boundaries.  These ranged from no phone calls in evening; scheduling 30 min “meeting” for yourself everyday so this time is kept free.  True to the title of Sheilas presentation these boundaries help to protect ourselves from being overwhelmed.

The four speakers all gave diverse and insightful perspectives elevating Wellbeing from being perceived as pampering to an essential ingredient in achieving Peak Performance.  Through a mix of fireside chats, presentations, story-telling, impromptu workshops to tossing of stress balls the speakers created an atmosphere of engagement with attendee active questioning, interpreting and internalising all they heard.

The key takeaway – the most important person in your life is you.  Take time to be kind to yourself and try to live in the moment.

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