3 Ways You Can Practice Your Mental Gymnastics


I work with people to develop their Mental Toughness. It’s not always easy. It takes dedicated practice and effort. But it is so worth it.

You have a choice.

You can step out of your comfort zone and experience learning and growth.

But first, you have to move through the discomfort of your danger zone.

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Mental Toughness is more than resilience alone. Individuals need not only to be able to bounce back after adversity strikes, they need to be able to be exposed to change and challenges and demonstrate their ability to thrive irrespective of the prevailing circumstances.

Mental Toughness can be broken down into the 4Cs of Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence.

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So how can you practice your mental gymnastics and focus on some of the elements of these 4Cs?

1) Follow the 80/20 rule.

Heard of Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 rule? We see this rule exist in so many different places. Originally The Pareto Principle referred to the observation that 80% of Italy’s wealth belonged to only 20% of the population. It can be applied to so may different situations. For example you might observe that a teacher spends 80% of their time with 20% of their students.

Recently, a leader I was coaching had a bit of an issue wrangling the idea of keeping her personal authenticty and developing her relationships with others and enhancing her interpersonal confidence. We worked on this model of the 80/20 rule. Why not consider your opportunity to stay 80% true to your authentic style and flex 20% of your style to recognise the needs of the person you are communicating with. You could then manage and enhance the relationship and build confidence in these interactions. You could flex this confidence muscle and practice your gymnastics every day when communicating.

2) Practice the PUSH

You may have heard of a gratitude diary – that is writing down three things you are grateful for in a diary at the end of the day. Well maybe you could add one more item to this diary entry. What has been your PUSH for the day?

What is the one thing you did that day that pushed you outside your comfort zone. It can be something small, like ordering a different type of coffee. Or it could be something big, like doing a presentation to your leadership team. But whether big or small, did you Push yourself, or challenge yourself in some way that day.

What if you practiced this every day so that you got better at pushing yourself out of your comfort zone so that when a challenge presented itself, you were not as worried to step into the danger zone.

3) If You Name It, You Can Tame It.

Often we are confused and upset and don’t have a clear understanding of why. But if we can name the emotion we are experiencing, we can tame it a whole lot better.

If you are not good with labelling your emotions, try a mood meter.

Just by asking whether the emotion has high or low energy and whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, you get a better understanding of what you are feeling.

• Recognise the emotion - “If you name it you can tame it”

• Understand the emotion – what generated it. What am I thinking that has lead to me generating this emotion

• Manage the emotion.

• Express the emotion – how can you do this in a productive way.

So go on, consider how you could practice your mental gymnastics every day to focus on the habits that could develop your Mental Toughness.

Want to know more about developing your 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.

Are You Carrying Extra Baggage?

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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.


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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



15 Ways To Boost Your Mental Toughness to Navigate Change

We have all heard the old expression (actually very old, Heraclitus, 500BC) “The only constant is change”.

We are preconditioned to perceive threat and anything that is different, ambiguous or unclear immediately pushes us into a state of uncertainly and complexity. Interestingly, this is actually the only place where we experience growth.

It is interesting that approximately 70% of all change management endeavours fail within organisations, often because a lot of attention is focused on the what (what do we need to do to plan for and manage change?), but often what is ignored or downplayed is the how (how do we personally navigate transition?). It is clear that organisations often do not consider the “how” and the fact that all individuals will manage change and challenges in a very different way. So how do we as organisations and as individuals work through a successful transition and recognise that developing our Mental Toughness and embracing change and “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable” is the greatest opportunity for growth.

What is Mental Toughness?

Mental Toughness has been defined as the quality which determines in large part how people effectively deal with challenge, stressors and pressure, irrespective of the prevailing circumstances (Clough and Strycharczyk 2012). In the 4Cs model of Mental Toughness 4 pillars are identified:

·        Challenge – seeing challenge as an opportunity and “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

·        Confidence – having high levels of self-belief and confidence in interpersonal interactions

·        Commitment – goal setting and being able to stick to tasks

·        Control – self esteem, being comfortable in your own skin and managing emotions.

You Can Develop Mental Toughness to Manage Change

 1)Reflect and ask yourself questions.

At some point in our lives, we have all had to deal with change and challenges. Using this previous experience is often a good start. Ask yourself, “How have I successfully managed change in the past?” “How could I apply my previous experience and skill base in the new situation?” “What resources do I use previously that assisted me?”

 2) Check your Mindset.

Check whether you are “above the line” when it comes to your attitude and behaviour regarding the challenge. Ask yourself are you considering options, being accountable for your own behaviour and considering possible solutions? Or, are you “below the line” where blame, excuses, frustration and negativity reside? Is your focus on what you can do, or what you can’t do?

3) Manage your wellbeing.

Are you making “self-care” a priority? Are you taking care of your physical self (getting enough sleep and exercise and eating the right foods), your mental self (mindfulness, relaxation) and your emotional self (relationships, laughter, mini-breaks away).

4)Tap into your strengths

 All too often when faced with a difficult challenge, our thoughts turn to all the things we are not good at. Instead, recognise your strengths and work out a strategy to tap into these to assist you manage the difficulty in your path. “Do what you’re good at”.

5) Recognise what you can and can’t control

Think about undertaking a simple exercise. Draw two circles, one within the other. In the outer circle, write down all the things which you have no control over, or you cannot change. Now in the inner circle, write down all the things that are within your control, or you do have the control to influence. Now consider…. Where are you spending most of your time when worrying and thinking….. in the inner circle or the outer circle? Which would be more productive?

6) Turn yourself from a Worrier to a Warrior

Recognise that worry tends to consume our every waking moment. Only allow yourself 10 minutes of worry time once or twice a day at a specific time every day. If your thoughts are interrupted by worry, tell yourself to put the worry down until your allotted time.

7) Manage your emotions

Often when it comes to managing adversity, challenges and change, we are confronted with unwanted or unpleasant emotions. The first step is to recognise and identify the emotion, build your emotional literacy, know your triggers and identify the driving thought. (check out my blog for more information on emotional management).

8) Reframe your thoughts

We all say things to self which can undermine our positive intent. Consider these steps:

a) Identify the negative word in your self statement. Eg, This is too “hard

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

c) Now frame this positive or opposite word into a question using how, who, what, when or where – eg “How could I make it EASY?”

9)Don’t take the change personally

Often, change or challenges happen to us rather than us making a choice to engage in the change that’s occurred. Mentally Tough individuals don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves. They look at the actions they can take to reassume control of the wheel. Reflect, assess and then take the first step. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you which way to go. Drive your own path.

10)Understand that the past is a nice place to visit but not a great place to stay.

Reflect on the progress you are making. Sometimes you take two steps forward and one step back, but acknowledge you are still moving in the right direction. Try not to look back over your shoulder too often, after all you’re not going that way anymore.

11)Tolerate the discomfort of the present for the results of the future.

Recognise that you are going to experience discomfort. But remember, “What makes you comfortable can ruin you!” “What makes you uncomfortable is the only thing that will allow you to GROW.

12) Anything worthwhile takes hard work

One of my most hated expressions is “all good things come to those who wait”. I don’t believe that at all. Good things come to those who just work damn hard at it. You need to recognise that any change is going to take effort. You need to put in everything you’ve got for the long haul. Develop your staying power, but don’t forget to celebrate your successes along the way.

13). Accept that your biggest fear doesn’t exist.

One of our biggest fears is “fear of failure”. But what we often fail to recognise is that failure is just a first attempt in learning, a chance to learn how not to do something and an opportunity to gain insight.  If you only ever fear failure, then you’ll struggle to create something new as you take the same route you’ve always taken. The ‘safe’ option is not always the path where we find growth.

14) Visualise the outcome

When we are going through change, many of us feel that “the light at the end of the tunnel has temporarily been extinguished”. So consider what it is that you want to achieve. What will it look like when you have achieved your goal? Turn your own light on at the end of that tunnel and start walking toward it with specific SMART action steps.

15) Celebrate your success 

No matter how small the step, reward yourself for starting the journey. AND, when you get to that final destination, pull out the streamers and balloons – you deserve it!

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced 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, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or