EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Mental Fitness: The next frontier in workplace mental health’ is a weekly series, in partnership with Dr. Bill Howatt of Howatt HR Consulting in Ottawa. This series takes a deeper look at mental fitness — an approach to prevent mental harm and promote mental health.
Setting clearly defined personal goals and milestones is a proven way to make a successful personal change.
For example, you create a mental fitness plan to eat a set number of calories daily, work out three days a week with a personal trainer, and walk at least 10,000 steps per day toward your objective of losing 20 pounds. These goals establish key metrics of calorie intake, number of workouts, and count of daily steps.
If you achieve the three metrics 90 per cent or more of the time, you will be on track to achieving your target weight loss goal in four to five months. By having defined daily metrics you will be more likely to lose 20 pounds than if your plan were ad hoc, deciding what you would do each day based on how you feel.
Maintaining mental health is no different than physical health. Achieving a desired outcome requires intention, focus, and measurement — a critical success factor for creating a mental fitness plan.
Defining mental fitness metrics
“Mental fitness success is dependent on defining what you will do and how you will measure it.” — Dr. Bill Howatt
Creating a mental fitness plan that includes helpful strategies such as journaling and meditation without clearly defined parameters is no different than trying to lose weight by what you feel like doing.
As illustrated in the chart below, simply listing journaling without more specifics is often of little value.
What’s missing is a daily accountability goal for how much journaling you are willing to do, followed up with a personal reflection at least once a week on the perceived benefit of the activity for promoting your mental fitness.
As mental fitness levels increase, so do resiliency and emotional well-being.
|Mental fitness metrics plan||Weekly progress|
|Targeted time of day to complete activity||Targeted length of time required to complete activity||Target number of days per week to do activity||Mental Fitness metrics weekly evaluation||Perceived benefit to mental fitness this week|
1 (low) – 2 (moderate) – 3 (high)
|i.e., journaling||7:00 AM||10 minutes||7 days||6/7 completed||2|
You can convert what you think is good for you into new habits by creating metrics and measurements. However, it takes time and lots of repetition for any new behaviour to become a habit.
People who start a mental fitness plan without a clear set of goals and metrics are more apt to relapse and lose focus.
Adherence is key to achieving meaningful results from mental fitness activity. Metrics and weekly monitoring can increase adherence by focusing attention on the activity and results.
The end goal for creating mental fitness metrics is focus and accountability, not perfection. For example, successfully adding a mental fitness activity like journaling to your daily routine requires time to become a new habit.
Create your mental fitness metrics plan
After deciding what you will do as a part of your mental fitness plan, the next step is to establish metrics to measure your weekly progress against your plan.
The exciting thing about a mental fitness plan is not how much you do but how disciplined you are in doing what you say you will do and acknowledging the benefits of engaging in your chosen mental fitness activities.
Set realistic expectations because it can take months to notice improvement and realize meaningful benefits of mental fitness activities like diet, exercise, journaling, and meditation.
There are no healthy quick fixes for mental fitness. Only time, intention, and repetition will maximize the benefits of any mental fitness plan.
Mental fitness is about the long journey, not short sprints. Just as failure to pay attention to physical health can lead to health issues such as obesity, by ignoring negative thoughts and emotions you are more likely to be reactive and struggle emotionally.
Use this table to chart your weekly mental fitness progress:
|Mental fitness |
|Mental fitness metrics plan||Weekly progress|
|Targeted time of day to complete activity||Targeted length of time required to complete activity||Targeted number of days per week to do activity||Mental fitness metrics weekly evaluation||Perceived benefit to mental fitness this week|
1 (low) -2 moderate – 3 (high)
|Physical health (i.e., exercise, diet, sleep, and health style choices)|
|Mental fitness (i.e, prosocial activities that promote pleasant emotions, includes help-seeking behaviour)|
|Authentic social connections (i.e., self-compassion, peers, family, intimate relationship)|
Dr. Bill Howatt is the Ottawa-based president of Howatt HR Consulting.
If there is a particular microskill or topic you would like to see Dr. Howatt write on that supports employees’ mental health in the workplace, please send your request to Talent Canada editor Marcel Vander Wier.
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