Mental Toughness

10 Good Reasons Why You Need A Mental Toughness Coach


My fellow Mental Toughness Practitioner in Sydney, Paul Lyons recently provided this great read to understand what a Mental Toughness Coach can do for you.

I’ll admit up front that as an experienced Mental Toughness Coach and Psychologist I am biased on believing you may need a mental toughness coach. However, I have assisted many people to understand their mindset and how they can proactively manage this to recognise that they can empower themselves to fulfil their goals and to achieve greater positivity and lower their personal levels of stress. We need to be able to recognise in life how we can “starfish up”.

This can work for you and here are 10 reasons why:

1. You can see the wood for the trees

One of the challenges of life is that you can easily become caught up in the everyday emotional rollercoaster and lose your perspective. Someone neutral, removed from the emotion of the situation, like a Coach or a Psychologist, can assist you look beyond it. They will help you to articulate your current reality and ideal future state and achieve that by working with you through the priorities, challenges and opportunities.

A mental toughness coach will focus on improving your performance and wellbeing. They will ideally use the MTQ 4C’s framework to help you understand and identify the mental obstacles and interference that prevent you from performing to your potential.

Author Tim Gallwey in his book 'Inner Game of Tennis' developed a simple model: Performance = Potential – Interference that simplifies the challenge you face to being the best you can be.

2. You can regain your passion and sense of identity

In reaffirming your path from now to the future, your Mental Toughness Coach will help you rediscover your passion and align it properly with your goals to get you motivated and keep you motivated. This will reinforce your sense of identity –who you are, what you stand for and why, and with it the emotional boundaries that reinforce your definition. As a result, you build your self-esteem, self-efficacy and with them a positive mental attitude.

This is an important piece in the puzzle because you learn that if you think you can, you can.

3. Learn to control what you can control

With your Mental Toughness Coach you can learn to identify what situations and circumstances you can control and then to better control them. Similarly, you’ll learn to largely ignore what you can’t control.

4. Better manage your emotions

Emotions are important and thankfully as humans we all have them. With your Mental Toughness Coach you can identify the strongest emotions you have and how they can help and hinder you, especially in a team environment. You have to learn how to regulate your anger, disappointment, fear and confusion when decisions or situations don't go your way and sometimes your elation and joy when they do.

5. Improve your focus

One of the challenges of the modern world is that it is too easy to become distracted and diverted from achieving your goals. Your Mental Toughness Coach will help you set your goals, imagine and visualise your success and learn how to change the channel of your distractions to concentrate and focus more efficiently.

6. Reframe negative situations and failures as positive opportunities to learn

One of my career turning points came from a shift in thinking about failure. I used to think that failure was opposite to, rather than an important part of, success. Your Mental Toughness Coach will help you to reframe negative situations or setbacks as opportunities to learn and also to think about the problem differently. Should you persist with your current course of action or is there another way?

7. Become more flexible and adaptable by being uncomfortable

Your comfort zone is called a comfort zone for a reason. It’s comfortable. Your Mental Toughness Coach will help you to think differently and become comfortable in being uncomfortable. Being more adaptable to changes when they occur and more flexible when you need to be will help you see opportunities and be prepared to take greater risks to achieve them.

8. Manage your inner voice

We all have an inner voice that expresses an opinion, usually negative, that can have us second-guessing an opinion or decision. Your Mental Toughness Coach will help you to create a script and learn how to use your inner voice positively and objectively.

9. Develop your confidence and self-belief

A major part of your mental strength mental strength comes from your confidence in your own ability to perform well in what you do. Sometimes you can lose it, or not develop it at the same pace as your technical or operational skills, which can hinder your progression. This lack of confidence prevents you from performing the way you should, which in turn affects your self-confidence. Your Mental Toughness Coach will help you break this vicious cycle through various techniques that include regular reaffirmation, visualisation, controlled breathing and others.

10. Improve your wellbeing – care for yourself

In improving your mental fitness you need to pay attention to ensuring your body and brain can work efficiently. Your Mental Toughness Coach will help you develop routines and habits around sleep, diet, exercise and learning to recognise and manage your stress levels.

The above are ten of many reasons how a Mental Toughness Coach can help you to improve your performance, positivity, adaptability and wellbeing. This can start through some self-reflection gained from taking the MTQ Plus psychometric test which measures your Mental Toughness and highlights any mental obstacles you may have.

Want to know more? Contact Michelle on 0412047590 or via email

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, 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.



One Clear Step To Help You Into A Growth Mindset

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The one thing I have always wanted to do is go on a Segway.

I have seen people on them before and they look like so much fun. However, I have been constantly worried about falling on my butt and looking like a fool and embarrassing not only myself but my kids as well.

However, on a recent trip oversees, I vowed that I was going to give it a go.

As you can see from the photo – I DID IT!!

So it got me thinking – what can we actually gain from pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone every single day.

The thing is, if we never make a mistake, isn’t it also the case that we have never pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone.

We never actually put ourselves in the position of learning anything new and as a result we never actually experience any growth.

So, what if we now translate this into our work environments? Are we pushing ourselves enough? Are we learning enough?

If we are going to survive in a fast paced ever changing and dynamic landscape, then we need to be able to be agile and not be constantly plagued by worry over whether we will always get it right the first time.

Developing a growth mindset from an individual, leadership or even organisational perspective takes hard work and dedication.

So what does an individual with a growth mindset look like?


Individuals believe that talents are innate gifts. People spend their time documenting their intelligence instead of developing it. They tend to worry about looking smart and are often worried that they might be ‘found out’. They tend to avoid risk, focus on ability rather than effort, consider effort as disagreeable, see success as effortless, feel failure can be attributed to others, and consider setbacks are to be avoided.


Individuals believe their talents can be developed (through dedicated hard work, good strategies and input from others) and therefore they put a lot of effort into learning. They consider their brains are just the starting point. Challenge is seen as a good thing, they have confidence in themselves, they learn from mistakes, hard work is seen as more important than ability, they consider practice develops ability, they recognise people can change and they accept that what one person can learn everyone can learn. This view basically creates a love of learning.

When it comes to our Mental Toughness to manage change and challenges, we do have the ability to change the way we think. We can do this in two ways.

1.   Permanent – change our thinking habits – rewire and develop new habits

2.   Temporary – flick a switch and behave like a Mentally Tough person – turbo charge your thoughts, focus your mind, think and act confidently and positively.


When I work with individuals to develop their growth mindset, the model of Mental Toughness works really well and although we focus on the 4Cs of Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence, I particularly focus on the Challenge C.

Challenge  -Risk Taking – I will push myself. I am driven to succeed

                   -Learning from experience. Setbacks are chances to learn.


There is one simple way that you can embrace a growth mindset and enhance your ability to manage Challenges every day – You can push yourself outside your comfort zone even in a small way – every single day.

When we don’t know what’s going to happen next it can be pretty stressful. As a result, we tend to want to avoid these situations. We know that our brains fight to keep the status quo and we literally have to train our brains to experience and desensitize to the experience of stepping outside of our comfort zone.

When we feel uncertainty, it signals us that we are unsure of our environment and uncertain of our skills to cope. But what it also does is send a signal to our brain that we have to start learning.

What it means is that some situations might be really uncomfortable, but they are also essential if we are going to make the most out of our brain and see our learning grow.

Your comfort zone is basically a switch off for your brain’s growth.

So, what can we do about this?

We need to make sure we are pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone every single day. It does not have to be a huge push on the first day. We need to recognise that sometimes the aggregation of marginal gains is invaluable in helping us move in the direction we hope to travel and gain momentum.

It could start with just changing the type of coffee you order every day and trying something new. You could try a different way of communicating with an individual that you have struggled to connect with and ask them questions to get to know them better. You could approach your boss about an idea that you’ve had but never been brave enough to discuss. You could speak up in a meeting. You could try going on a Segway (lol)

Whatever you decide to do, do it daily.

You have probably heard of a Gratitude Diary – ie writing 3 things down that you have been grateful for that day.

Well how about adding to this and doing your “Push” for the day – the one thing you have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone to do that day.

What will your “push” be for today?

Want to know more about developing a growth mindset and mental toughness? Send me an email at

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, 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



6 Effects Of Chronic Stress On Our Brain and How To Manage Them


So many of us have dynamic lives with a huge range of stressors impacting us daily. We all know that stress impacts us negatively, some experiencing more negative impacts than others. I was reading this article by Deane Alban which explores the impacts chronic stress can have on our brains, and it is quite startling.

Chronic stress increases the stress hormone cortisol and affects many brain functions, putting you at risk for many mood disorders and other mental issues.

Chronic stress, the kind most of us face every day, can in fact be very harmful.

90% of doctor visits are for stress-related health complaints.

Chronic stress can make you more vulnerable to everything from diseases to the common cold.

The non-stop elevation of stress hormones not only makes your body sick, it negatively impacts your brain as well.

The Dangers of Chronic Stress and Cortisol

There are two main kinds of stress — acute stress and chronic stress — and, despite what you might think, not all stress is bad for you.

Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response.

Once the threat has passed, your levels of stress hormones return to normal with no long-lasting effects.

Some degree of acute stress is even considered desirable as it primes your brain for peak performance.

Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine are stress hormones produced on an as-needed basis in moments of extreme excitement.

They help you think and move fast in an emergency.

In the right situation, they can save your life.

They don’t linger in the body, dissipating as quickly as they were created.

Cortisol, on the other hand, streams through your system all day long, and this is what can make it so dangerous.

Excess cortisol leads to a host of physical health problems including weight gain, osteoporosis, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, heart disease, and diabetes. 

Chronic stress takes a toll on adrenal glands, leaving you feeling “wired but tired”.

Cortisol also takes an equally high toll on your brain.

The Effects Of Chronic Stress On Your Brain

Some of these brain-related stress symptoms will be obvious to you, like memory loss, brain fog, anxiety and worry.

But most of these effects of stress on your brain are behind the scenes.

When stress becomes chronic, it changes your brains function and even its structure down to the level of your DNA.

You don’t notice they’re happening but you will notice the side effects…. Eventually.

So here are 6 ways chronic stress impacts your brain health and mental well-being along with some simple steps you can take to counteract the damage.

1)   Chronic stress makes you forgetful and emotional

Memory problems may be one of the first signs of stress that you will notice.

Misplaced keys and forgotten appointments have you scrambling, further adding to your stress.

If you find all the stress is making you more emotional too, there is a physiological reason for this. Studies show that when you’re stressed, electrical signals in the brain associated with factual memories weaken while areas in the brain associated with emotions strengthen.

2)   Stress creates a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety

Stress builds up an area of your brain called the amygdala. This is your brain’s fear centre.

Stress increases the size, activity level and number of neural connections in this part of your brain. This makes you more fearful, causing a vicious cycle of even more fear and stress.

3)   Stress halts the production of new brain cells.

Every day you lose brain cells, but every day you have the opportunity to create new ones. Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is a protein that’s integral in keeping existing brain cells healthy and stimulating new brain cell formation . It can be thought of as fertiliser for the brain. BDNF can offset the negative effects of stress on the brain. But cortisol halts the production of BDFN resulting in fewer new brain cells being formed.

4)   Stress can deplete critical brain chemicals causing depression

Your brain cells communicate via chemicals called neurotransmitters. Chronic stress reduces levels of critical neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and dopamine. Low levels of either of these neurotransmitters can leave you depressed and more prone to addictions.

Serotonin it is called the happy molecule. It plays a large role in mood, learning and appetite. Women low in serotonin are prone to depression, anxiety and binge eating. Men, on the other hand, are more prone to alcoholism, ADHD, and impulse control disorders.

Dopamine is the motivation molecule. It is in charge of your pleasure-reward system. Too little dopamine can leave you unfocused, unmotivated, lethargic and depressed. People low in this brain chemical can often use caffeine, sugar, alcohol and illicit drugs to temporarily boost their dopamine levels.

Serotonin-based depression is accompanied by anxiety and irritability, while dopamine-based depression expresses itself as lethargy and lack of enjoyment in life.

5)   Stress can make you feel stupid.

Stress can cause your brain to seize up at the worst possible times - exams, job interviews and public speaking come to mind.

This is actually a survival mechanism.

If you’re faced with a life-and-death situation, instinct and training overwhelm rational thought and reasoning. This might keep you from being eaten by a tiger, but in modern life this is rarely helpful.

Stress impairs your memory and makes you bad at making decisions.

It negatively impacts every cognitive function.

6)   Chronic stress shrinks your brain.

Stress can measurably shrink your brain. Cortisol can kill, shrink and stop the generation of new neurones in the hippocampus, the part of your brain that stores memories.

The hippocampus is critical for learning, memory and emotional regulation, as well as shutting off the stress response after a stressful event is over.

Stress also shrinks the prefrontal cortex. This negatively affects decision making, working memory and control of impulsive behaviours.

On top of all that, chronic stress destroys your happiness and your peace of mind. It wears you down mentally and emotionally.

Some side effects of stress that impact your mental well-being include:

·        excessive worry and fear

·        anger and frustration

·        impatience with self and others

·        mood swings

·        suicidal thoughts

·        insomnia, nightmares and disturbing dreams

·        trouble concentrating or learning new information

·        racing thoughts

·        nervousness

·        forgetfulness and mental confusion

·        difficulty in making decisions

·        feeling overwhelmed

·        irritability and overreaction to petty annoyances

·        excessive defensiveness or suspicion

·        increased smoking, alcohol, drug use, gambling or impulse buying.

It’s no fun experiencing the stress related symptoms. And it’s no picnic for those around us either.

Check out this little video for more info:


So here are 6 Simple Steps To Help A Chronically Stressed Brain

Minimising stress and protecting your brain against its effects is easier than you might think.

Here are 6 simple steps to stop stress in its tracks and overcome its harmful effects on your brain.

1)   Stop free radical damage by eating a diet high in antioxidant rich foods like fruit, vegetables, dark chocolate and green tea.

2)   Increase levels of brain boosting BDNF by getting daily physical exercise. It doesn’t have to be strenuous. Walking is excellent. So are exercises with strong-mind body orientations like yoga, tai chi and qi gong.

3)   Start a daily meditation or mindfulness practice. Meditation not only reduces stress, it is a proven way to keep your brain young by keeping telomeres long. Meditation is also the best tool for learning how to master your thoughts. Chronic stress does not come from events in your life as much as it comes from your thoughts – your automatic negative reactions and cognitive distortions – about these events.

4)   Try one of the many mind–body relaxation techniques such as self-hypnosis, biofeedback or autogenic training.

5)   Look into taking an adaptogenic herbal remedy. Adaptogens increase your resilience to stress while supporting overall health. They promote balance between feeling energetic and feeling calm. Examples of adaptogens include ginseng, holy basil, artic root and bacoba.

6)   Get plenty of sleep. It is during sleep that the brain consolidates memories, repairs itself and grows new brain cells.

Chronic stress may seem to be an unavoidable part of life, but these proactive steps will definitely reduce its wear and tear on your brain.

Chronic stress takes a high toll on our mental health. It affects your brain structure and function in very real ways. It hastens brain ageing, depletes beneficial brain chemicals, enlarges your brain sphere centre and holds the production of new brain cells. It increases your risk of psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. And frustratingly it causes mental functioning to jam at the worst possible time, leaving you less able to cope with the stress of daily life. Fortunately, some lifestyle changes, managing your responses and increasing your resilience and mental toughness can help you stop the damaging effects of stress.

Want to know more techniques to manage your stress levels, and build your resilience and mental toughness, contact Michelle on 0412047590 or via email

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, 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.


Try This One Strategy To Better Manage Workplace Conflict.


Need to work out conflict between staff in your workplace?


“Vomping” is a simple and effective tool for working out interpersonal conflicts, establishing understanding, and finding common ground. If you follow the steps, it can really work.

A good recommendation is to familiarise your entire group with this process even before conflicts arise. That way, when an issue does come up, every person in the group will have this tool to tackle it—“hey, can we VOMP about this?”—and others will know what they are talking about! No one has to be afraid to bring something up because they don’t know how to handle it. Everyone is equipped with these simple steps to follow.

VOMPing happens in four stages—Vent, Own, eMpathize, Plan.  This process works best when two people step aside and communicate one-on-one in a private and respectful manner.  Each person needs to recognize the process and agree to go through all the steps, alternating turns and listening actively, without interrupting one another.

1. Vent

First, both people “vent” about this issue. This is your opportunity to tell your side of the story completely uninterrupted, and get it all out there. Just make sure you use “I” statements, speaking only from the first person to describe your own personal experience.  Be vigilant about not disrespecting your partner, and be honest. Use concrete examples, express your emotions, and get it all out there. One person goes first, then the other goes. While your partner is speaking, listen actively and do not interrupt them at all. Each person should have as long as they need to tell their story.

2. Own

Now, each person takes “ownership” of their words, actions, and attitudes and acknowledges their part in the story. Even when it seems like one person is totally “in the wrong” a conflict is never entirely one-sided. Be honest, and remember that both of you are motivated to clarify and resolve to problem.

This is a very exciting step in the process of conflict resolution because it allows each person to assume responsibility for their part in the conflict, and since both people are committed to taking responsibility, much of the fire of hostility is extinguished in this step. Ownership is a safe step because both people are committed to this process and to identifying their role in the conflict.

3. eMpathize

This is your chance to stand in the other person’s shoes, and see things from their perspective. When you do this, you are able to honestly internalize and recognize the other person’s experience and relate to their emotions and both the intended and unintended effects of your words and actions. Empathizing helps us grow in our understanding as people, and brings us closer together.

4. Plan

Now, suggest concrete actions and agreements that can be made to address the issue and solve the problem. Find the common ground here, and make an action plan. The plan doesn’t have to be set in stone, and can always be revised later.  Plans are important so we can move forward and feel like we’ve really accomplished something through the process. Plans can also be referred back to as a mutual basis for accountability in the future.

Want to know more about successfully managing conflict? Contact Michelle on 0412047590 or via email

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, 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.