Episode 81 – Bek Smith | Mental Fitness Expert
In this episode I chat with Bek Smith, founder of Smith and Wellness, speaker and subject matter expert in health and wellbeing. Bek has a background in psychology, spent ten years working as a physiotherapist, is a group fitness instructor of 17 years and was sponsored by Reebok for 5 years in her role as a dance program presenter. She was also the inaugural Lead Trainer for the Wellbeing and Resilience Centre at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, and in 2019 did a TEDx talk on the importance of mental fitness.
This insightful and joyful discussion is full of practical strategies and focuses on the concepts of mental health and mental fitness, and its alignment with general health and fitness concepts that are better understood. We also delve into how it is useful to balance our mental strength, flexibility and endurance, as focusing too much on any one of these leads to dysfunction.
Key episode highlights include:
- The permission you need to stop and relax, comes from you
- Sometimes the most valuable use of your time is to unplug, but sometimes it’s to actually plug in and get things done, because it will give you a sense of fulfilment and release the emotional baggage
- Allow for there to be space and silence in emotionally heavy conversations
- Don’t try to ‘fix’ someone, instead partner with them to solve a problem
- Start to cultivate a growth mindset around mental fitness
- When you follow what brings you joy, not only does it make you happier but it makes you more productive.
Bek was also kind enough to pass along these mental fitness tips:
Mental Fitness Tip 1 – focusing on our strengths of character helps us overcome our internal negativity bias
Mental Fitness Tip 2 – compassion starts with self-compassion, and the three steps to cultivating that are mindfulness, self-kindness and remembering our common humanity
Mental Fitness Tip 3 – emotional mastery is about recognising the utility of our negative emotions as well as cultivating positive emotions
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Murray Guest 00:02
Bek, welcome to the podcast on a hot summer’s day. No, it’s still spring. Hot spring day in 2020. Summer starts in December, right?
Bek Smith 00:13
Murray Guest 00:15
It feels like summer, doesn’t it?
Bek Smith 00:16
It very much does. And I’m really appreciative on this warm day to be sharing some warmth with you. Oh, that’s
Murray Guest 00:22
the nicest thing to say to start a chat. Thank you. I’m looking forward to diving deep into mental wellbeing, mental resilience, mental fitness. How’s your week been? Because you have interesting things in Adelaide with lockdowns and non lock downs and all that
Bek Smith 00:44
Oh my gosh, I would say that my week has been positive. And it has given me cause to be optimistic. And it has also been really fluctuating. So yes, we went into lockdown for what was meant to be six days. And then we were told, after three days now it’s okay, we’re going back to easing restrictions again. And, you know, all the complications that came with that for many businesses, didn’t impact me directly. But I did notice that, interestingly, going into lockdown was not as difficult for me as coming out of it again, when they said we’re easing restrictions. I was like, I’m not ready. I was so mentally prepared to be in my house for the next three days. What do you mean, I have to go back to the world?
Murray Guest 01:29
I just bought all this pasta and toilet paper. What’s going on?
Bek Smith 01:32
What am I gonna do with everything in the fridge?
Murray Guest 01:38
Yeah. Do you analyze or assess yourself based on what you know, as that stuff happens?
Bek Smith 01:47
Very much so. And sometimes I feel like I’m over-analytical of myself, because of the nature of the work that I do. And, but I think that preceded the work that I do as well, I was always quite self reflective. And as a child, I wasn’t very social. So I spent a lot of time on my own. And I think that lends itself toward me being quite self reflective, and overly analytical. And that actually made me interested in studying psychology. So then when I go to university, you know, one of the fields and one of the parts that I took was to study psychology so I could get more of an understanding about myself. And I guess that internal reflecting hasn’t really stopped.
Murray Guest 02:31
Got you. And as you were going through that reflective process of coming out of lockdown, did you get to any breakthrough moment of what was going on as to how you’re feeling? Yeah,
Bek Smith 02:43
great question. I think it was, for me, the best insight was that I had a societally permitted few days to just stop and to stop the activity. And then when that got taken away, again, it felt like the permission to stop was removed. And so I sat with that and went ha, actually, the only permission that I need is my own permission to stop and to relax. And so the insight for me has been in, oh, maybe I do need to put the brakes on a little bit more than I have been recently and give myself that permission to take more time out without being enforced upon me.
Murray Guest 03:29
Yeah, it’s like, sometimes we need that permission to do something. But let’s give ourselves our own permission. And I know one thing we’re going to talk about is self care. And something I’ve learned over the years, I can’t remember who said it first, but self care isn’t selfish. Yeah. But like when you’ve said, okay, you need to stop, we’re going to stop for six days. This is what the government saying, Oh, okay. So I’m going to look after myself. I’m going to slow down. But how do we bring that into our day to day approach and behaviors?
Bek Smith 04:00
Yeah, absolutely. And there’s so much programming that I know that I have to stay productive and to stay busy. And that’s something that I’ve been consciously aware of for about 10 years before that the programming was there. And I was just kind of working to it without being aware of it. But the last 10 years, I’ve been making more of an effort to drop the attachment to being busy. And when I read some of Brene Brown’s work around busyness as a status symbol, and productivity as self worth, really hit me in the field, I was like, Oh my god, she can see inside my soul. Ever since reading that work, I have been more and more conscious of giving myself those permissions to slow down. However, my default is still to go back to busy and productive and I’m just continuing to work with that default pattern and trying to bring In a little bit more self compassion. And as you said, a little bit more self care over time.
Murray Guest 05:05
I was talking to my wife the other day, and I said, I’ve got a few emails to send. She goes, do you know how often you say that? Oh, okay. Let me just check in on that. Yeah, there’s this status of I’ve got a few emails to send. I thought, okay, there’s, there’s a pattern there that I’ve got myself into.
Bek Smith 05:23
And how useful is it to have other people, they’re reflecting back to you and showing that mirror too?
Murray Guest 05:29
I said, I can’t hear you. I’ve got to send these emails. No.
Bek Smith 05:35
I can’t possibly I’ve got important things to do. Because I’m important, and I need to go send important emails. Yeah,
Murray Guest 05:40
yeah. As I bash on the keyboard, yeah. I’m getting better at asking myself the question, is this the most valuable use of my time right now? Can this be sent tomorrow? And again, it’s rewiring my brain after using corporate roles. And but I’m still, as a human, I’m getting better at it. But I slip up and also back into the I need to be busy and serving and doing stuff.
Bek Smith 06:07
Yeah. It’s very interesting, though. I talk a lot about balance and trying to find the balance between different things, because it’s no use shutting off from everything. And it’s no use being completely engaged in everything all the time, you know, you need to have that right balance. So I love that question that you’ve just asked about, ‘is this the most valuable use of my time right now?’ Because sometimes, the best thing that you can do for your self care is to unplug and switch off. But sometimes the best thing you can do for your self care is to plug in and do those things, because they’re going to give you a sense of fulfillment. And so it’s just about what’s the most valuable thing right now? It’s a great reflection question.
Murray Guest 06:48
Yeah. And I had four chunks of work I need to get done this week. Each one was only about 20 minutes. And because I didn’t do them early on the week, I could feel the emotional baggage building on those because I kept on putting them off. And then when I stopped to get one done, I was like, Okay, I feel a bit better. Now I can do the next one. Yeah, that’s such a great insight that you’ve brought to the conversation around self care. Sometimes we just need to, to get it done. Other times, we need to tune out but actually being aware of where we’re investing our time.
Bek Smith 07:20
Yeah, definitely self care might be doing that piece of work for 20 minutes, not stepping out to have a massage, right?
Murray Guest 07:28
Yes, yes. Okay. So help me understand this mesh, this integration of psychology, and being a physiotherapist, how did you get to that place? And, why that?
Bek Smith 07:43
Yeah, sure. So to explain that, we’ll take a little bit of a journey back to my teenage years, and I was trying to make that decision about what to study at university. And because I had that self reflective nature, paired with some experiences of mental illness from a young person, I was really attracted to psychology because I wanted to understand more about myself. And in studying psychology, I actually decided that I was not in an emotional place to be able to help other people. So I got three years into my study pathway. And when I can’t go forward with clinical psychology, I’m just not in the most, you know, robust place for myself. So I actually diverted to a research career. And I left after three years of study after finishing my bachelor’s degree, and I went into research psychology. And that was wonderful because I got to study communication, and I got to work in a setting where I learned a lot. However, then I got really bored of sitting at a desk. And research psychology is a lot of number crunching, and a lot of report writing, and actually not a lot of interacting with people. So that year for me was really valuable in learning new things. And one of the things that I learned was that I would like to be more people oriented than that. So I decided to go back to university and study physiotherapy instead, and found out that there was a graduate entry pathway that I could take where I wouldn’t have to start the whole four year physiotherapy degree from scratch, but I could actually take some of what I’d studied in my undergraduate bachelor’s degree and apply that so I could finish the masters of physiotherapy in two years. And so then I branched off into clinical work and never intended to go into private practice. I always wanted to be in a hospital setting because I felt that that’s where I could make most difference. But I landed in this private practice job and loved it, loved it, and was there for 10 years. And funnily enough, one of the things that kept coming up in my physical therapy work treating my clients was all of their emotional baggage. It’s amazing what happens when as a therapist, you lay your hands on somebody, there is a barrier that comes down. And I don’t know how many patients of mine said to me, oh my god, I haven’t even told my psychologist this, but bla bla bla bla bla. And then I was like, I’m doing this counseling work that I never intended to. And I actually didn’t feel like I was fully qualified to do it, either. So, in 2016, I circled back to psychology again, and studied deployment of positive psychology and well being. And that lit me up like you wouldn’t believe. Because all of a sudden, I had found this field of positive psychology, which is about building on our strengths, which I know you do a lot of work in. And looking at how we can live our best lives, not just how can we recover from difficulties and trauma, but how can we actually thrive and flourish in our lives. And I feel like that was the missing piece that I had actually been looking for when I had been studying at an undergraduate level. So since then, my intention was to take that Diploma of positive psychology and wellbeing and integrate it into my physiotherapy practice. But then an opportunity came up to work as a lead trainer in a wellbeing organization. And I unexpectedly ended up taking this leap into public speaking, education and training and so long physiotherapy. So there was a little period of integration there of the psychology with the physiotherapy. But now it’s diversified into just a completely new career path for me.
Murray Guest 11:47
Yeah, and I can relate from similar journey around discovering strengths and the strengths based approach and impact that’s made on me and the people I work with, and the link between strengths and positive psychology. So I hear you, and I, high five, you. I’m wondering though, when you reflect back on the 10 years of physiotherapy, what were some of the things that you now leverage and reflect on that’s really helped you and what you do now,
Bek Smith 12:22
I think a lot of the questioning, you know, the lines of inquiry with my patients, and the non judgmental approach that I took to my clinical practice. So whereas some physiotherapists that I worked alongside, would freak out a little bit, if there was a patient with complex conditions, you know, if they were presenting with a chronic pain presentation that was wrapped up in mental illness, or there were a lot of what we call yellow flags, where there were social behavioral issues that were compounding their pain presentation, those visitors would often hand ball the patient to me, “Bek’s really good with these kind of complex presentations” when there’s a lot of emotional baggage. And I would just always take a very open line of inquiry for those people, you know, and I would probably ask them questions that other physiotherapists weren’t brave enough to ask explicitly around, you know, their emotional state or their mental state. And I wouldn’t offer solutions, but I would just ask questions and open up conversations. And then in many instances, I was able to steer them towards seeing a counselor or a psychologist that they hadn’t been willing to before. So I think it’s that line of inquiry in the openness that I use that I still leverage from now.
Murray Guest 13:44
Yeah, gotcha. And what I’m also hearing there is knowing where your lane is, and when you refer and don’t refer?
Bek Smith 13:53
Yes, absolutely. And in some instances, people come in, and their pain presentation is compounded by loneliness. And, you know, in those instances where people have got very limited social connections, I try to steer them toward engaging in Pilates classes. And we had a thriving Pilates community in our clinic where because all these people would come together, and they’d make friends and they do their Pilates class, then go and catch up for coffee afterwards. So sometimes just staring in that direction was really useful. And more recently, I’ve come across the terminology around social prescribing, which I read about in some of Johann Hari’s work, they’re starting to do that more in Europe and in the UK, where doctors will socially prescribe community groups to people. Because the loneliness factor is so high, and such a contributor to depression for many people.
Murray Guest 14:46
And I was gonna just jump in and say and 2020 has highlighted that even more.
Bek Smith 14:53
Absolutely. And at the positive side of that is that it’s brought it more to the forefront of our attention, and I think that we now see the importance of social connection in a renewed way. So I’m hopeful that we can start to leverage from that understanding.
Murray Guest 15:09
I’m wondering also just around when you were practicing and with what you do now, how are you aware and what tips you could possibly share around creating an environment, an environment where people open up, where you create that level of trust, and Brene Brown obviously talks about that pair of trust and vulnerability. But what do you know, really creates an environment where someone is going to open up to you when you ask those questions.
Bek Smith 15:34
I think it’s a combination of different things. One of them is body language, it will be being able to face the person but in a non confrontational way. So I found that I often used to sit facing my client, but on a slight angle, and leaning toward them, rather than sitting back and looking like I was retreating, giving them eye contact, but not staring at them, either. Allowing space in the conversation, which is so important, because I think when you’re having conversations around things that are emotionally heavy, your nervousness can sometimes make you want to fill the space. And so one of the skills that I learned was just being able to leave some silence, especially when it looks like somebody is pondering or trying to come to a conclusion or find an answer. And, again, just being non judgmental, and trying not to anticipate what you’re going to say next. But just letting things emerge, not trying to fix the problem, but allowing the problem to emerge. So that then it’s out on the table, and both people can then discuss it.
Murray Guest 16:43
Yeah, there’s something that’s sticking with me there too, about not trying to fix somebody, but partner with them to potentially solve a problem or to achieve a goal. But I’m not trying to fix you. I’m not making you wrong. So even before your work in positive psychology, I’m hearing that was just part of who you were in your approach back then as well.
Bek Smith 17:05
Yeah, it was, and it was helpful earlier on, I think it was around 2012. I did some study in coaching. So I went and did a wellness coaching certificate. And that strengthened some of that natural tendency toward inquiry for me. And it helped me to take those lines of questioning with people in a in a more skillful way.
Murray Guest 17:31
Yeah, I’m loving those tips that you just shared, because I think whilst you may not be a practitioner, or a coach, or a leader, but they’re just great tips for anyone that wants to really show up in a way that’s really present for someone else.
Bek Smith 17:48
Yeah, whether that be in a professional context, or just with your mates.
Murray Guest 17:51
Yeah. Tell me what’s the difference between mental health and mental fitness.
Bek Smith 17:59
For me, the analogy that I use is to come back to the body and to consider a healthy body and a fit body. A healthy body is something that we might do with a little bit of input and consciousness and awareness. So in order to be healthy, we might be aware of eating right, we might be aware of exercising, we might be aware of staying hydrated enough and getting enough sleep. And for some people, there can be a little bit of effort involved in staying healthy. For some people, they seem to be naturally gifted with a healthy body. And they just seem to be able to do anything, eat anything, not look after themselves, and they their blood pressure stays great, their cholesterol stays great. Those people who tend to smoke for decades and turn out to be fine. And so health I feel can be hit or miss. Yeah, you can be lucky to be in good health, you can be unlucky to be in bad health. Sometimes it takes more effort, sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of effort at all. Whereas with a fitness approach, there is always effort involved in fitness, there is always something deliberate, that you’re doing. And it’s the same with mental health, some of us are lucky enough to have a good foundation of mental health that potentially some of us might take for granted. Others are unlucky to not have great mental health. And there have been lots of contributing factors around that just like physical health, but to be mentally fit, we need to take deliberate action. And just like with our bodies, the more deliberate action we take to make ourselves fitter, the more likely we are to also be healthy along the way. And it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to occasionally get sick, right? So the fittest healthiest person will still come down with a cold or a virus sometimes. But the fitter we are, the less likely we are to be struck down by illness. So For me, that’s the difference between health and fitness. It’s just taking it to that next level of deliberate action.
Murray Guest 20:06
Yeah, I’m also thinking about the ongoing investment. So if I think about an athlete and their fitness that’s like, yeah, I’m fit for the season. I’ve done my preseason training, I’m done. No, there’s an ongoing investment throughout the season, throughout the year throughout their life. And that’s what I would add, tell me if I’m wrong, I’m thinking about, okay, how do we continue that investment, that growth mindset around my mental fitness?
Bek Smith 20:34
Absolutely. And there’s the question – do I want to maintain the fitness that I have, or do I want to grow and progress the fitness that I have, what level do I want to be at with my mental fitness. And that is also going to depend on what challenges you’re required to face, so if you decide that you want to go from one sport to another, you might need to change your fitness regime. And if you decide that you want to start to lift heavier weights, you’re going to have to start to challenge yourself a little bit more. So it very much depends on what you want out of your life. But I think that it definitely lends itself to conversations when we’re talking about mental fitness around what do you want? And definitely, what kind of investment do you need to make to get there?
Murray Guest 21:17
And back in 2019, you did a TED talk on the importance of mental fitness?
Bek Smith 21:23
Murray Guest 21:25
Before we jump into the actual content, tell me about what it was like to do a TED talk.
Bek Smith 21:34
Yeah, it was so bizarre. Because over the past three years that I’ve been doing, speaking, a lot of my speaking is a bit more free flow. And I tend to think about beforehand what I want to say. And so when I’m going into a presentation of some sort, I’ll often have dot points in my mind of these are the three or the five key points that I want to make. And the way that I express that I’m just going to get there and it’s going to flow, and it’ll come out however it comes out. But as long as I cover those key points whereas with a TEDx talk, we were required to write out our script word for word, and then practice that verbatim over and over and over again, until we had it exactly right. Then on the day, you just hope that it’s all going to come out the way you’ve practiced. And in my case, it didn’t. If you watch the TEDx talk, you might go, Oh, yeah, that all flowed fine. But behind the scenes, what was happening is I got about five minutes in and realized that I’d forgotten this huge chunk. And it had just went. And so I’m still talking and going, Oh, my God, I forgot that big chunk. Do I just chuck it in now? Will it make sense if I say it now?
Murray Guest 22:51
Your impression of a duck swimming on water was fantastic.
Bek Smith 22:53
I walked out of there, walked off the stage. And the only thing I could think about was did it even make sense. So I didn’t get to see the recording until it went live on YouTube. And so I had no idea that it would even make sense. And when I watched it back, I was like, Ah, okay, you can actually comprehend what I’m trying to say, good. It was not what I intended.
Murray Guest 23:23
And for anyone that isn’t aware, the TEDx process has the 10 commandments, don’t they? Which is like the 10 things you are not to do when you’re on stage type of thing.
Bek Smith 23:33
Yeah, pretty much and the things that they were coaching us to do, because we had a speaking coach that worked alongside us with the build up process to help us both and write our content and in practice, how to deliver it. And there was a whole bunch of stagecraft around that that I had not been privy to before. So things like instead of gesturing with, you know, hand gestures that you would normally make in conversation, you have to make them three times bigger. And if you’re going, you know, 1-2-3, you have to project and be a lot more animated than I’m used to. So it felt very unnatural. But when you do watch it back on camera, you go, Ah, that actually, I didn’t look as big as I felt. Yeah. And it’s just such such a bizarre process, but one that I learned a lot from, and I’m really grateful for.
Murray Guest 24:28
Yeah, well, I’ve heard about 20% more. But what you’re saying maybe it was 40%, right?
Bek Smith 24:37
Yeah, everything goes big.
Murray Guest 24:39
Yeah. I love what you talk about in your TEDx talk about bringing this mental fitness and physical fitness together. So this dream you have about when people go and get something looked at in their body or the physical body, that there’s those conversations that you and I have been talking about that are also happening from a practitioner or a coach, whoever it might be a trainer, around the emotional and the mental side. How do we get to that place? Do you reckon?
Bek Smith 25:11
Yeah, it’s gonna be a journey. First of all, thanks for watching the TEDx talk. I think that that perspective for me came from my work in the fitness industry as well. So I’ve been teaching group exercise for a long time, as you mentioned in the introduction, and I’ve noticed that even though I haven’t worked as a personal trainer, I have a lot of personal trainer friends. And they say similar things to me, like I was experiencing as a physiotherapist, that they get a lot of clients who will offload things emotionally onto them. And in their personal trainer role, they don’t feel like they have the capability to be able to coach their clients with what they need. And so the marriage between physical fitness and mental fitness for me was really born out of my experiences as a physio as well as listening to those experiences of personal trainers and feeling as though there is such a gap, when we’re talking about our health practitioners and our fitness providers in what we are able to provide for clients. And because I had done that coaching qualification, I started to think, my gosh, even if everybody just did a little bit of extra wellbeing coaching, and was able to then not solve problems for their clients, but lead them through that process of inquiry about, oh, what could my next step be? That would be so valuable. And then the next step after that is, well, what if we actually had some practical skills and tools that we could offer clients, which doesn’t fall into the scope of psychotherapy, however, stays within our lane, and helps us to help those clients more. And those things might simply be around, you know, some of the work that you do in asking them about their strengths, and how they can apply that to their fitness? Or to their recovery process, their rehabilitation? Asking people, instead of what’s wrong with your body at the moment, what do you want to fix? Asking them, what’s going right in your body? What do you appreciate? What are you grateful for in your body, and just getting people to think a little bit differently. And I don’t think that we need to be sitting on a psychologist couch in order to give people some of those skills and tools that they need to just think a little bit differently.
Murray Guest 27:35
And I’m thinking about how with all good intent, some people might be you know, ‘When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’. So people come to your your class and you go, we’re going to do this program, and we’re going to force this out, we’re going to do this program, we’re going to do that program. But actually maybe based on today’s mental health or mental fitness of somebody, we actually need to do something a bit different, maybe we need to modify that, maybe we need to work with them a little bit differently, based on where we’re at today. Because where we’re at today might be totally different from where they were last week.
Bek Smith 28:13
Yeah, absolutely. And we can carry so many assumptions that what was okay last week is still okay this week. And just because I’m able to do it somebody else will be able to do it. And from a group fitness perspective, when I’m teaching classes, which are around, most of the stuff that I teach is dance based or yoga based. And I will always offer two or three variations of moves, because I don’t want to make an assumption about the ability of my client that day, let alone in general. And my classes have always been quite full of a range of diverse people, different ages, different genders, different ability levels. And it’s because I’m quite inclusive in the way that I teach. So if you can’t do it this way, just do it this way instead. And I encourage people to be non judgmental about themselves and to be compassionate about themselves and to really listen to their body. So I’ve always blended those kind of internal reflection processes into our physical practice, because I think it’s really important to marry the two together.
Murray Guest 29:24
Yeah, I heard about some research a few years ago, and I wish I could reference it correctly. But the research was around, if you have people do exercise that they love, they’ll actually have a better improvement, they’ll achieve better results than if you get someone to do exercise that they actually don’t like doing. So I’m not a swimmer. I can swim, but if you asked me to go and do laps of the pool, I’m just not going to get the results of someone else that loves swimming. And so I’m wondering what your perspective is there around that link between our emotional or mental perspective of the exercise and the exercise that we do.
Bek Smith 30:12
The connection is just enormous. And I’ve always encouraged people to explore different forms of physical exercise to find what works for them, and not just throw the baby out with the bathwater. So if they don’t like running, don’t give up on exercise altogether. If you don’t like that exercise at the gym, don’t give up on it altogether. But just keep experimenting until you find what’s right for you. Maybe it’s roller skating, maybe it’s weightlifting, maybe it is chasing your dog around the yard, or whatever it is, find what brings you joy. I think that the more I have followed my joy in my life, the more it has taken me to places that are not only making me happy, but making me more productive and making me more useful for other people as well.
Murray Guest 30:58
I love the link here to what brings you joy and what brought you joy as a child. And how can you do a version of that now? For me, when I ride my mountain bike, I’m thinking I’ve got my flannel shirt on my tracksuit pants, and I’m with the guys in the bush and I’m 12 years old. And on school holidays. And sometimes I can smell something when I’m riding my bike. I’m like, back there. And that brings me that joy. Where swimming takes me back to swimming lessons, of being screamed at with a kickboard. I’m like, Oh, no, no thanks. So what’s that thing that brought you joy when you were young? And how can you do a version of that now?
Bek Smith 31:45
Gosh, I love that. That’s something for everybody who’s listening to this to really consider and such a great takeaway.
Murray Guest 31:51
Yeah, maybe it’s go climb a tree?
Bek Smith 31:53
Yeah, yep. Go play with some hula hoops. See where that takes you.
Murray Guest 31:59
Not very far, my hips aren’t that flexible.
Bek Smith 32:03
I took up rollerblading again. And that’s brought me so much joy. I’m so terrible at it. And I feel like a baby giraffe and so uncoordinated. But I am just having so much fun with it and meeting new people. And yeah, I’ve been exercising at the gym for you know, two decades. But just adding another little string to my exercise bow has been so much fun.
Murray Guest 32:28
And you’re using different muscles.
Bek Smith 32:30
Yeah, absolutely. And different social connections, there was a very interesting opportunity we had at the gym that I work at this year, when we were returning from the COVID lockdown in South Australia, where people had to book in for classes and book in for gym visits. With gym visits meaning going to exercise independently on the treadmill, or do weights or whatever. And the uptake of individual gym visits versus the uptake of group fitness classes was extraordinarily different. So with people coming back, we had about 24% uptake of individual gym visits, versus 86% saturation of group fitness classes.
Murray Guest 33:16
Bek Smith 33:16
And I think that’s because of the social connection that gets created when you’re exercising with others. And that’s what people were missing and wanting to come back to. So one of my big tips around exercising mentally, or exercising physically, is to also ask yourself, How can I incorporate others into this journey with me? Because the social accountability can be really powerful but the social enjoyment can be really powerful, too.
Murray Guest 33:42
Yeah. And we’re pack animals aren’t we?
Bek Smith 33:47
Yep, absolutely. And I’m not going to get out of bed at six in the morning on my own. But if my friend Maria is going to come and join me, yeah, well, I got to get up because I don’t want to disappoint Maria. So we often do things to you know, keep playing along with the pack.
Murray Guest 34:01
Yeah, I totally agree. Now just to help bring together some of your insights, and to help my listeners around some of those tips to really develop that mental fitness. You shared a few things already, but what would you say are some of those key things that people can do to build that mental fitness?
Bek Smith 34:22
I think one tip comes back to my point around balance that I mentioned before, you know, so many things come back to balance for me. And with mental fitness training, it’s important to have a variety of strategies. The same as though we might cross train with our body. If you are only doing heavy weight lifting for one muscle group, you will end up creating an imbalance in your body. And if you’re not stretching, and if you’re not exercising other parts of your body and in other ways, then you’re going to lead to an injury or a dysfunction. So there are approaches within psychology, like cognitive behavioral techniques, for instance, that if you only work with cognitive behavioral techniques and nothing else, you might end up becoming quite rigid in only working with those techniques. So rather than just thinking about your thinking, maybe diversify and also use other mental fitness strategies like mindfulness, or cultivating positive emotion, or practicing stillness, practicing authenticity, and have a range of different mental fitness exercises that you do so that instead of only training for mental strength, you’re also training for your mental flexibility and agility and your mental endurance as well.
Murray Guest 35:37
Oh, I like that so much. Because I’m just thinking about how that looks in my life and the people I work with. And I think quite often, we can go down the rabbit hole of our I need to go and do a whole program of ‘blah’ to invest in my mental fitness and wellbeing but let’s try a few things and keep that balance going. So something that’s worked strongly for me is active meditation.
Bek Smith 36:15
Oh, I like it. Tell me more about that?
Murray Guest 36:18
Well, I used to think I had to go and sit in the forest with my legs crossed and harm my hands in a perfect pose and recite something. And I realized that that’s not what it’s about. That, by doing different tasks, I can get into that zone. I realize I’m quite meditative. And I can feel like my breathing comes back under control, I’m more focused, and my energy levels are better, my hormones are balanced out, and I’m much more relaxed and less stressed doing different techniques. And to be honest, it might be sweeping the floor slowly, mindfully, or, you know, taking the clothes off the line – I’m not going to rush and rip them off, I’m just going to slowly take them off, and take that time out. And definitely riding my mountain bike, I can get like that if there’s a trail I know where the risks are, I can feel like I’m resetting.
Bek Smith 37:14
Absolutely. I love that you’ve mentioned that because I was speaking with somebody this week around stillness and mindfulness. And she was saying, I really struggle with it. You know, she has a complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And she said, sitting in stillness is excruciating. For me, it just brings so much up that I can’t handle and we were talking about exercise, physical exercise as a form of meditation. And because I know her through the gym, I said, What about movement? You know, are you able to get into the zone through exercise, and she was like, Oh, that’s the only way I can do it. So I will do more of that. If that’s something that you love, it’s bringing you joy, it’s helping you to clear your mind. Your body may be moving, but your mind is more still. And so you’re getting that balance, which is great.
Murray Guest 38:03
Yeah. And again, I think that leads to your strengths based approach or positive psychology approach, which actually helps tap into what works best for the individual.
Bek Smith 38:14
Yeah, because there is no recipe that’s going to suit everybody. Just like there is no recipe of food that you can make that is going to please everybody’s palate. There is no mental fitness recipe, or physical fitness recipe that’s going to suit everybody in every mind.
Murray Guest 38:31
And not everybody likes coriander.
Bek Smith 38:33
Murray Guest 38:35
But they should.
Bek Smith 38:36
I can’t stand coriander
Murray Guest 38:40
We have a problem now. I actually heard there’s a genetic disposition where people can taste coriander like soap. But it tastes fantastic. Honestly.
Bek Smith 38:58
I had a bad experience with a food poisoning dish with coriander, I just haven’t come back from it
Murray Guest 39:07
Yeah. Mine’s bourbon from when I was about 15. But that’s a different story.
Bek Smith 39:14
Some of these things we need to rewire and some of them can just be left well alone.
Murray Guest 39:18
That one’s staying there. I don’t need that one at all. Bek, thank you so much for your time. It has been awesome. You are doing some amazing work. It’s been so great to connect and share your insights and your journey. And I’ve got a couple of quick questions to ask you to help us wrap up. One question is, what’s your vision for the future?
Bek Smith 39:41
My vision for the future is one where people take much more deliberate action with their mental health and one where we are embracing as a society, preventive mental health strategies, rather than waiting until we get in crisis before we do something about our psychological wellbeing.
Murray Guest 39:59
Now, this one I haven’t prepped you with. This next question, if you could hire a billboard, and on that billboard has a message and everyone in the world – all 7 billion – drive past and they see that message. You can hire that billboard for a while. What is your message on the Billboard?
Bek Smith 40:23
I think my message would have to be a question. And it would just be something to stimulate people to think a little bit more deeply around looking after themselves and others. So it might be something around, Who are you looking after today? Because I think we need to consider what we’re giving, as well as what we’re taking in this world. And we also need to think, you know, am I looking after myself? Do I need to look after somebody else today to really get over this epidemic of loneliness and disconnection that we have? Yes, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Tomorrow, it could be different.
Murray Guest 41:03
We can update the billboard every week. That’s okay.
Bek Smith 41:06
Oh, that’s exciting, I think come up with a whole list.
Murray Guest 41:12
Thank you so much. And for people to find more about you, I’ll make sure in the show notes is a link to your LinkedIn profile. I know you share some amazing stuff on LinkedIn. And also check out Smith and Wellness, your website, which has got lots of cool stuff. And to finish this up, tell me what is your definition of inspired energy today?
Bek Smith 41:35
A definition of inspired energy is around looking at, if you break down the word spire, a spire is a pinnacle, and inspire means to breathe in or take in. And people have often spoken about in ye olde days around inspire being taking in spirit or taking in higher knowledge. So my definition around inspired energy is around cultivating the energy or cultivating the momentum that nourishes our highest being. And that could be our highest knowledge, our highest physical presence, our highest spiritual presence. But it’s about that taking in to keep generating that energy and keep generating that momentum to help us be our best selves.
Murray Guest 42:21
Oh, I love that. I love that so much. And I love your link to ye oldie times whenever it was as well.
Bek Smith 42:30
Whenever that was…
Murray Guest 42:33
Thank you so much for all your wisdom and knowledge and energy today. It is been such a privilege to spend some time with you. Thank you so much.
Bek Smith 42:42
Thank you, Murray. I really appreciate your generosity of time and your generosity of knowledge sharing as well and giving myself and all the other speakers that you’ve had on your show this platform to share a little bit of insight.
Murray Guest 42:53
I really appreciate the chance I get to meet lots of awesome people like you, wishing you all the best for the rest of 2020 and an amazing and fulfilling 2021.
Bek Smith 43:04
Thank you and to you and to everybody listening and thanks. You take care of yourselves and each other. Bye bye.