Dr. Karen Doll has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a licensed psychologist and consultant. She has spent 24 years partnering with industry-leading organizations and coaching high-achieving professionals.
Below, Karen shares 5 key insights from her new book, Building Psychological Fitness: How High Performers Achieve with Ease. Listen to the audio version—read by Karen herself—in the Next Big Idea App.
1. Mental health is an important part of well-being.
At a foundational level, mental health is an important part of well-being. It’s not a binary state; mental health and illness are not separate constructs. Nor are well-being and wellness either-or principles. The mental health continuum is dynamic and fluid. On the one end, it’s a thriving or flourishing state, indicating high functioning behaviors, ranging interests, self-reports of life satisfaction, feelings of balance, and centeredness. In the middle, surviving or languishing, there may be signs of distress or difficulty coping, while still functioning in daily life. You may feel stuck, have elevated and more frequent unpleasant emotions, and experience negative moods, attitudes, or a sense of self. On the other end, clinical symptoms or mental illness may be present and not properly addressed. There is bound to be overlap in where we fall on the continuum at any given time that can inform what level and type of intervention is best. It’s good to remember that people with mental illness, who are effectively treated, can thrive. Many people successfully manage their mental condition and flourish in their lives.
Flourishing is not considered a personality trait that you have or don’t have; it’s a process that you can cultivate through action and practice. Ideally, we want to progress into flourishing and thriving states; we want people to move from illness to wellness. Regardless of where you are on the line, you can build internal resources to mitigate the impact of life stressors.
Humans generally want to achieve and feel at ease. There are steps you can take to flourish by building your psychological fitness in order to live better, thrive, and flourish. The ACE framework, “action”, “connect” and “empower” is one way to focus your process. By taking “action”, you can enhance your mental health through solitude, community, and “connection” and “empower” yourself to focus on what you can control—your inner self. If you are struggling, you are not the only one. But it’s your choice to learn and enrich your life.
2. You can work out and work in.
While you train to achieve physical fitness, you can also train to build psychological fitness; you can work out and work in. The term “psychological fitness”, captures mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being while embracing the whole person, the mind-body-spirit connection. It involves self-management, healthy thinking, and effective emotional processing. Being psychologically fit will positively impact your performance, well-being, and how you respond to stress. Building your psychological fitness also includes developing coping skills, enhancing social interactions, community involvement, and making and connecting with something outside of yourself.
“Engaging in the process of self-discovery and monitoring makes choice and change possible.”
Developing psychological fitness addresses our whole well-being and ability to flourish. Flourishing involves the integration of all elements of wellness that contribute to the betterment of those around us and the collective. We don’t build psychological fitness to feel good, we do it to be at our best, so that we can connect and contribute to something beyond ourselves. Engaging in the process of self-discovery and monitoring makes choice and change possible. Understanding psychological constructs of sense of self, motivation, drive, and goal setting at a deeper level are all foundational to building psychological fitness. Understanding stress response patterns and how to navigate accordingly is also critical to mental fitness training.
Despite circumstances, managing mental health takes work, intention, and accountability. You enhance awareness, learn, take action, reflect, practice, train, and repeat. To achieve psychological fitness, it’s important to get a handle on what’s hindering your mental health, both internally and externally. Being psychologically fit also addresses our relationship to suffering. We all have our personal version of suffering; life is arduous. Wealth, external success, and good fortune do not protect you from emotional pain. Privilege is real and can serve as a buffer, yet it provides no guarantee for avoiding misery.
Obvious external barriers to well-being include adversity and trauma. Natural disasters, poverty, war, and violence all do damage and can get in the way of thriving. Beyond external situations that contribute to emotional stress, the internal barriers we create for ourselves are often overlooked. These internal factors that get in the way of mental health can be in our control; we can explore such obstacles and ways to reduce the impact.
3. You have the potential to change.
Self-regulation plays an important role in your psychological fitness. Effective self-regulation is about intentionally responding, being aware of the moment, pausing before reacting, and making decisions that align with your values. It’s about identifying patterns and making modifications that will lead to greater well-being. It refers to the process of managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, enabling you to meet goals and be effective in your life.
You don’t need to become absorbed by your thinking, emotions, and reactions; you have agency over your perceptions. Evidence-based interventions help you manage your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to enhance your mental health. The idea that we have influence over our state of mind and viewpoint is empowering. Paying attention to your thinking requires mindfulness and intention and is part of mental hygiene that needs to be regularly maintained and requires a strong sense of personal accountability.
“Emotional regulation is a process of influencing and moderating how you experience your feelings.”
Your mind is shaped by your thinking. When you are triggered emotionally, your thoughts can become distorted. Emotions impact perception and all thoughts and feelings can be explored and understood. Emotional regulation is a process of influencing and moderating how you experience your feelings. Positive psychology practices offer effective ways to improve your mental health and increase happiness. Mindfulness, energy management, the power of purpose, and prosocial behaviors are just a few of the many models and interventions.
4. Connection, community, and spirituality play an important role in mental health.
Personal well-being practices are essential, yet they are not enough to flourish. Personal development requires a blend of internal reflection and interpersonal connection. Much research on resilience and mental health has been focused on studying personal qualities, characteristics, and habits. What still needs exploration is the important role played by community, connection, experiencing transcendence, and the ability to recover from adversity.
Fostering spirituality can have a positive effect on the brain. Creating moments that inspire and spark spiritual connection promotes mental health. Reflecting on the frailty of life can be a catalyst for cultivating purpose and immediacy to affect desired changes. Connecting to purpose and meaning outside of yourself is an essential component to our collective well-being. By accompanying others on their journey, you will accelerate your psychological fitness. Accompaniment describes a support role—walking alongside, not intervening or fixing, but rather being a companion on the journey. It provides a framework of mutual connection, empowerment, reciprocity, and partnership.
People long for connection and to be included, welcomed, seen, valued, and heard. In this way, we can crowdsource addressing mental health. Increasing connections and building relationships is an impactful way to enhance well-being and psychological fitness. Doing it together is better as we are more inclined to overcome challenges, thrive, and flourish when we are on the path with others. Having healthy relationships in your life is a shock absorber. Companionship eases the suffering and provides a buffer to the struggle, offering relief so the hard things aren’t as hard.
5. Mental health is a journey, not a destination.
You are in control of your internal resources even in the face of difficult circumstances. A paradox of life is that we can try to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, yet get in our own way. We all experience suffering. Appreciating and accepting universal factors of being human that impact our psychology can be therapeutic and helpful in generating deeper self-awareness. It isn’t about eliminating pain; rather, we can upgrade how we respond to challenges and deal with internal discomfort. Much suffering stems from attempting to control the uncontrollable and from an internal feeling that we can’t handle the challenge being faced.
“Don’t forget the power of looking inward—because you hold the answers.”
Deep down there is a common core belief that people assume they shouldn’t have any problems, yet we were never guaranteed a life without suffering. As part of the human condition, we all engage in self-defeating behaviors. Sorrow, loss, pain, loneliness, and grief are inevitable. Life can feel dissatisfying, and common themes of living are suffering, jealousy, discontent, and stress; it’s easy to get stuck in the “if only” syndrome.
Happiness is a transient experience. It appears, we recognize it, and then it vanishes. Expecting anything else is bound to cause one to feel unhappy. We will experience unpleasant and pleasant feelings and they all will pass. While on your path to flourishing, consider these reminders: doing the inner work will build your psychological fitness, but both being and doing are essential. Acceptance of what is, surrendering, and managing expectations are simple suggestions, yet challenging to practice consistently. Personal responsibility can be an antidote to unnecessary suffering. We tend to exacerbate pain, leading to additional distress. Instead, reduce the tension between what is and what you want.
Philosophers and literary figures have been teaching us for a long time that the answers are within. St. Francis says you are what you are seeking. It’s easy to fall prey to thinking the world has the answers, that someone must have an instruction manual. Don’t forget the power of looking inward—because you hold the answers. Consider doing the work, like visiting a gym for mental health to create the changes you want in your life. Remember, the training isn’t supposed to be easy, yet the benefits are worth it. Being psychologically fit will allow you to thrive, flourish, and make the impact you want.
To listen to the audio version read by author Karen Doll, download the Next Big Idea App today: