mental toughness

Are You Carrying Extra Baggage?

Bakjac packing.jpg

Is your self-doubt getting in the way of you achieving personal success?

Recently, I got an email, asking me to undertake some work which took me a bit out of my comfort zone. It was something I hadn’t done before, and I felt my hands reach over to the keyboard in front of me to write back immediately with a “thanks, but no thanks” response. I will admit, I felt a bit anxious even considering the prospect and how I would even unpack how to start.

But instead of typing an immediate response, I sat back in my chair and reflected on my gut reaction and my “baggage” getting in the way of me accepting this challenge. 

If we are going to develop Mental Toughness and especially our Control C involving our emotional regulation and self-control, our Confidence C involving our personal and interpersonal confidence and the Challenge C allowing us to take risks and view challenges as opportunities and not threats, we find ourselves having to question what “baggage” we carry around with us on a daily basis.

•      Do you have self-doubt?

•      Are you carrying blame?

•      Are you worrying about all the things you can’t control?

•      Do you feel like an imposter?

•      Do you see challenges as threats?

•      Are your ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) crawling all over you?

Or does your luggage allow easy accessibility to your values, strengths, and skills?

Do you recognise the mindset you have and consider embracing a growth mindset? Do you:

•      Stop before you react?

•      Understand what’s in your way?

•      Consider what you are saying to yourself that’s getting in your way?

•      Consider what others are saying to you that gets in your way?

•      Recognise what you can and can’t control?

•      Consider what you are afraid of and how you could combat the fear?


So when considering your personal baggage or the interference you have getting in the way of emotional control, interpersonal confidence, and the ability to accept a challenge, consider some opportunities to move forward.

1)   Recognise your emotional response.

“If you name it, you can tame it”. One of the best opportunities to manage our emotional responses, is to first identify what we are actually experiencing and why. Try considering what it is you are actually feeling and what is the thought you have that is fuelling that emotional response.

2)   Recognise when your ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) are crawling all over you.

When it comes to situations we find intimidating, we often have gut reactions and a specific automatic thought fuelling this reaction. Some examples of ANTs might include:

Over Generalising

Draw conclusions on limited evidence and make sweeping negative conclusions that go way beyond the current situation. “Nothing good ever happens to me”, “nothing ever works”

All or Nothing Thinking

You view situations in only two categories instead of on a continuum, often called “black and white” thinking. “If I’m not a total success, then I must be a failure”, “either I do it right, or not at all”


You predict the future negatively without considering more likely outcomes “I’ll be so upset, I won’t be able to function at all”.

Disqualifying the Positive

Discounting the good things that happen or that you have done for some other reason, “that doesn’t count”, “I was just lucky”.

Mind Reading

You believe you know what others are thinking, failing to consider other possible scenarios, “he’s thinking I don’t know the first thing about this project”.

“Should and Must” Statements

You have a precise, fixed idea of how you or others should behave and overestimate how bad it is that these expectations are not met, “it’s terrible that I made that mistake, I should always produce the best work”.

So how can you consider turning your ANTs into PETs (Performance Enhancing Thoughts)?

3)   Reframing

Often, we can be “below the line”. We can engage in negative thinking, we get defensive, we use negative language and over time this can drag us down.

Reframing is a powerful, yet simple technique to move ourselves from below the line to above the line in our thinking, our language, our attitude and our behaviour.

It involves taking a negative statement and reframing it in a positive question to self to prompt a change in thinking.


Above the line1.png

Consider the steps:

1.   Identify the negative word in the statement. Eg, “hard”

2.   Think about the opposite (positive) word. Eg, “Easy”

3.   Now frame this positive or opposite word into a question with how, who, what, when or where (never use why – it just encourages more below the line thinking)

Once you master reframing, it can become part of your normal questioning of self to manage your personal baggage.

4)   Consider Your Values and Strengths

Based on your Values and your strengths, could you consider what actions you could take? Have you tapped into your strengths and values to recognise what you could do to take just one step forward? What are your options? What resources have you got? How could you use one of your strengths to compensate for any perceived weakness?

5)   Adopt a growth mindset.

Staying in your comfort zone will never result in any personal growth. You have to push yourself to step into a state of complexity to ever have new experiences and new growth opportunities. This obviously takes effort. But remember…… what dictates the size of a goldfish? The answer?....... the size of the bowl!!

Want to know more about developing your mental toughness and addressing your “baggage”? Send me an email at to enquire about coaching and training.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Wellbeing Strategist, Leadership and Wellbeing Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness Practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or



Could Social Anxiety be Related To Character?

Bakjac Spinners.jpg

As a Psychologist, I am always considering new ways to approach the assistance I provide to clients. I often find anxiety and more specifically social anxiety an issue which impacts many and from time to time we can all experience different levels of these symptoms.

It was therefore with great interest that I reviewed this recent article from Ryan Niemiec in Psychology Today about the potential relationship between social anxiety and character strengths.

Take it away Ryan:

When you hear the phrase "social anxiety",” you probably think of negative-oriented words like fearful, scared, and afraid. Mental health professionals who diagnose social anxiety disorder will look for a “persistent social fear,” “fear of performance situations,” “fear of being around new people,” "fear of embarrassing oneself,” and a “fear of being criticised by others.”

These represent a deficit-based approach—it is exclusively looking at what's wrong or weak. This is an unbalanced approach, yet still remains the mainline approach used in psychology and counselling and across the medical field in general.

Is this the only way to look at social anxiety?

A new study says, “No.” One of the important findings to emerge from the science of character is that not only do human beings have 24 character strengths that boost well-being but that these strengths are not always used to our benefit. It is possible to overuse any of your character strengths. For example, if you use too much curiosity by asking your shy colleague one too many questions, they might start to view you as nosey and bothersome. Conversely, you can underuse your character strengths. For example, if you never give money to an important work charity, year after year, your colleagues might come to view you as low in generosity or underusing your strength of kindness.

Back to social anxiety disorder. How might the underuse and overuse of character strengths be operating here?

Pavel Freidlin and Hadassah Littman-Ovadia, and I investigated this question. We developed a new test called Overuse, Underuse, Optimal-Use (OUOU) Survey of Strengths and gave it to people with and without a social anxiety disorder. While there were many interesting findings, one in particular stuck out to me. It turns out a unique combination of six overuses/underuses of strengths could be used to identify people with the disorder from those without (with over 87% accuracy!). This is the first actual study of character strength overuse/underuse to be published.

Here are the six overuses/underuses, along with an explanation of why they are relevant to social anxiety (they are not listed in any order of importance):

1.) Overuse of social intelligence

What it means: You are analysing your thoughts and feelings too much. You might also be quick to over-analyse the intentions and actions of others.

How this relates to social anxiety: You are probably giving extra attention to your nervousness and worry and less attention to more balanced thoughts and other feelings (such as excitement, interest, and hope). For example, you might see a hand gesture or expression on someone’s face and come to an immediate conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you.

2.) Overuse of humility

What it means: You have little interest in talking about yourself or any of your accomplishments. When people praise you for doing something good, you feel uncomfortable and awkward and say little to nothing.

How this relates to social anxiety: Humility is an important strength and can have social benefits. However, too much humility in certain situations can lead to depriving others of learning about you. If people can’t learn about you, it’s hard for them to connect with you, which can subsequently contribute to sub-optimal social situations.

3.) Underuse of zest

What it means: If others perceive you as coming across without even a moderate amount of energy, you might be perceived as uninterested or lacking in enthusiasm. Zest is one of the character strengths most connected with happiness, so in some situations, you might even come across as “unhappy.”

How this relates to social anxiety: In order to contribute to social situations, you need to express energy. If you are bringing forth too little of energy, you won’t contribute as much. This underuse feeds your “avoidance” mechanism which is a problem because "avoidance of fear" is a hallmark feature of all types of anxiety. Socially anxious people avoid what they are afraid of, which further perpetuates the cycle of anxiety. Underuse of zest feeds this process.

4.) Underuse of humour

What it means: In some social situations, you are especially serious and don't smile, joke, laugh, or see the lighter side of things. While that might be appropriate behaviour at times, there are situations where humour is particularly important—take, for example, socializing with friends or co-workers at a restaurant.

How this relates to social anxiety: Socially, humour and playfulness are kings (or queens). People generally want to be around funny or playful people. They want to laugh and have a good time. If you underuse humour in social situations, you are essentially eliminating one of the main pathways to connecting and socializing with others.

5.) Underuse of social intelligence

What it means: You are not particularly attuned to your own feelings or the feelings of others. You pay little attention to social cues, body language, or the circumstances of the social situation you are in.

How this relates to social anxiety: Social situations often require a subtle and nuanced level of awareness of feelings and circumstance. People unaware of their own feelings, unable to speak appropriately to those feelings, unaware of how others might be feeling, or unaware of how to query and discuss others’ feelings are at a significant disadvantage. Furthermore, those who sense this reality within themselves are prone to feel more anxious about this disconnect. People with social anxiety may also misinterpret cues or misread body language, further contributing to the problem.

6.) Underuse of self-regulation

What it means: You have some difficulties in managing your reactions to others or in managing your feelings or personal habits. You may come across as lacking discipline (in your speech and behaviour).

How this relates to social anxiety: The best social interactions involve a balanced back and forth of questioning, sharing, and communicating. If your self-regulation is particularly low in these situations, you may appear insensitive to others. This can impact the interaction and contribute to anxiety.

Taking action:

1.) The first step is awareness. If you or someone you know suffers from social anxiety, what is it like for you (or for them) to look at anxiety in this way? The best course of action with this new research is to reflect on how you might be overusing or underusing these particular character strengths in social situations. This will lead you to new insights and ideas for taking action.

2.) Think about social anxiety from the lens of overuse and underuse. This does not mean you have to get rid of deficit-based thinking or attending to symptoms and other parts that feel “wrong” about you. Instead, you now have an empowering language and a new lens for looking at this challenge.


There are different subtypes of social anxiety disorder that have not been addressed in this article. These are quite wide-ranging, for example, there are social fears involving eating in restaurants, giving presentations, and using public restrooms, to name a few. Thus, the overuse/underuse of these character strengths will need to be adapted accordingly.

Remember, this is a new study so it is important to have these findings replicated in additional studies. If these findings above are also found in future research, this could lead to new treatment approaches to this relatively common and painful condition.

Check out the full article here.

Want to know more about gaining strategies to understand your character strengths. Send me an email at to enquire about building your potential to maximise and manage your strengths.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Wellbeing Strategist, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing. You can find her at or


10 Reasons a Psychologist Can Be A WISE Choice For Early Intervention.

I have been working as both a Psychologist and Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant for over 20 years (saying that makes me feel very old by the way). I have to admit that one thing that really annoys me when getting a referral as a Psychologist is when the referrer says to me “It’s been 2 years and we’ve tried everything else to get this injured worker back to work and so we hoped you could work your magic”. Hmmm, well let me just pull that magic wand out of my handbag and wave it around a few times, sprinkle this injured worker with pixie dust and hope they will be open and trusting enough to listen to some opportunities to manage their pain and address psychosocial issues preventing their return to work. Unfortunately it does not often have a successful outcome when you consider they have had two years (or more) trying to manage pain (probably with the use of a number of medications), had numerous attempts at returning to work (some more successful than others), and have become entrenched with their behaviour and habits with respect to management.

The ABC recently wrote an article regarding the lives lost as a result of multiple drug use. A 43 year old woman died and in her bedroom was found more than 50 boxes of prescription medication including Endone, Methodone, Ibuprofen, Stilnox, Lyrica, Endep and Panamax. An inquest into her death found that she had died from acute multiple drug toxicity. See full article here.

Australasian work injury data on those who have not returned to work by 6 months post injury indicate that 84% of those who do not feel ready to return to work relate this to their injury/pain (Campbell Research and consulting 2005/06)

There are also many risk factors we know of which increase the likelihood of the duration of a claim, including duration of pain experienced, intensity of pain, more days of reduced activity, psychological symptoms of anxiety and depression and that the injured worker believes their pain is likely to persist.

We also know that there are a number of flags which are indicative of delay in recovery including:

·        Red flags (biological) – Serious pathology and co-morbidity.

·        Yellow Flags (Psychosocial) – Depression, unhelpful coping strategies (resting and avoidance), emotional distress, passive role in recovery

·        Blue Flags (Work factors) – Perceived low social support at work, perceived unpleasant work, low job satisfaction and perception of excessive demands,

·        Black flags (systemic) – legislative criteria, nature of work place and compensation system.

Given all these insights, couldn’t we be introducing the opportunity to provide injured worker’s skills to manage their pain before it becomes chronic and adopt strategies to enhance their wellbeing earlier in their management and treatment?

Professor Michael Nicholas conducted the WISE (Work Injury Screening and Early Intervention) Study (2011 - 2012). He recognised that through early identification (via Orebro Musculoskeletal Pain Screening Questionnaire - OPMQ) of injured workers in a high risk category, a multidisciplinary approach (General Practitioner, Physiotherapist, Occupational Physician, Psychologist) could be instigated within 1 week after an injury was sustained with significant beneficial outcomes.

The key roles for Psychologists in this study involved assessing personal and environmental obstacles for return to work, engaging with and helping the injured worker deal with obstacles and liaising with all key parties often including claims managers and RTW Coordinators. The outcome of the study showed the intervention group had less time off work and that this was sustained.

The WISE study demonstrated that Psychological intervention was particularly successful, with injured workers showing decreases in OMPQ scores, decreases in distress, disability perception and worry and increases in confidence post psychological intervention. See full outline and outcomes of study here.

So what can Psychologists offer within the first few days and weeks after a worker sustains an injury?

1)   Assist to manage expectations of injury, recovery, treatment and pain.

2)   Provide strategies to successfully understand and manage pain.

3)   Manage typical avoidance behaviours and the perceived need to rest following a work injury.

4)   Management of appropriate routine and sleep hygiene.

5)   Address worry and potential anxiety regarding the return to work process and address any obstacles or barriers to return to work.

6)   Address automatic negative thoughts and review opportunities to engage in thinking that enhances confidence in self-management.

7)   Assist the injured work to manage strategies for effective communication with their Mobile Case Manager, employer and medical practitioners.

8)   Manage any potential conflict more successfully rather than engage in less helpful behaviours which can impede successful return to work.

9)   Assist to map out an active (rather than passive) coping strategy.

10)  Manage adjustment to post injury capacity and impacts on lifestyle.

If you would like to know more about the opportunities for psychological early intervention, please contact Michelle at or 0412047590.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Leadership and Wellness Coach and Trainer/Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, Michelle has been working in the area of workers compensation and return to work management for over 25 years. Michelle assists individuals to develop strategies to develop their resilience and mental toughness to improve performance, behaviour and wellbeing. You can find her at or


Is Resilience Enough?

Building resilience

Building resilience

Everywhere you go within organisations today, leaders are discussing opportunities to increase their resilience and that of their team. Leaders want their teams to be able to “bounce back” and manage adversity much more effectively. Many are preaching to us about creating resilient individuals and a resilient workforce. But is resilience alone really enough?

Is it simply enough to recover after adversity strikes? Is it enough to simply “survive”? Or should we be setting the bar much higher? How can we actually THRIVE in a constantly changing environment? The current VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) landscape we live and work in means that we not only have to respond when adversity strikes us, we have to be able to thrive within a landscape where challenges and change are constant. The question is, are leaders and their teams equipped to deal with this “new normal”? Leaders need to be confident to be able to manage constant challenges and “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”. For this we need more than resilience, we need Mental Toughness.

Mental Toughness incorporates the concept of resilience but adds in two very important additions. These additions are our confidence and our ability to not only manage and thrive in challenging circumstances, but to see challenge as an opportunity.

A Mentally Tough individual is focused on making things happen without being distracted by their own or other peoples’ emotions. Research demonstrates high mental toughness explains up to 25% of the variation in attainment with respect to performance. Mentally Tough individuals are generally more engaged, more positive and have a more “can do” attitude. They also report higher levels of well being, better stress management and less bullying and are more positive to change.

Mental Toughness can now be measured using the MTQ48. This is a valid and reliable psychometric tool which only takes 8-10 minutes to complete and provides a profile of overall mental toughness as well as scores on the 4Cs of Control, Commitment, Confidence and Challenge.

Leaders now have the opportunity to enhance their skills to embrace change and challenges and thrive in a VUCA environment and in turn, they can then assist their team to build these characteristics through dedicated training and coaching.

Want to know how to build your Mental Toughness and that of your team? Send me an email at to enquire about coaching and training to develop Mental Toughness in your team.