Episode 281 – Mental fitness with Jodie Rogers

Jodie RogersThere’s something about the writing process, the words on the page, just holding you accountable in some way to your thinking.’

Jodie Rogers has identified the real competitive advantage for today’s organisations: the mental fitness of the people working there. But as she points out, it takes more than an elearning module on how to take an afternoon walk to unlock the benefits of a workforce that’s not just avoiding mental ill health, but positively mentally fit. 

She also talks honestly and thoughtfully about her own struggle to write this book – not just overcoming imposter syndrome, but rejecting the early, easy answers she came up with for a deeper, more rigorous self-interrogation. And all this against a backdrop of the pandemic – coping with running a business, a family tragedy, and two small children not allowed out of the front door for 45 days during the Spanish lockdown. 

Absolutely compelling listening. 

Jodie’s site: https://symbiapartners.com/

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

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Alison Jones: I’m here today with Jodie Rogers who is a human behaviour consultant with a background in psychology and interpersonal communications. She’s the founder of Symbia, a leadership company working to empower teams to develop emotionally and socially intelligent individuals who are resilient and proactive problem solvers.

She works closely with global corporates like Unilever, Coca-Cola and L’Oreal at individual, team and leadership levels to help guide them on the importance of mental fitness as a catalyst for growth. And her new book is called The Hidden Edge: Why mental fitness is the only advantage that matters in business.

So welcome to the show Jodie.

Jodie Rogers: Thanks Alison, happy to be here.

Alison Jones: It’s great to have you here.

Tell us first about that really interesting phrase, mental fitness, because I love that you completely kind of sidestepped all the stuff associated with the phrases that we usually use here.

Jodie Rogers: Exactly. Yes, I mean, it’s been very intentional because obviously the topic of mental health and mental wellness and mental ill health is extremely important. But really, as soon as you say anything with the word mental on it, everybody defaults to the illness stage of the spectrum. And I think there’s a whole other conversation that we’re missing and that we’re not having which is fundamentally important. And it’s this idea of mental fitness.

And thank you for asking the question, because I think it’s important to define it because in my experience, people just assume we’re still talking about mental ill health and we’re not. And how I like to bring it to life for people is really to imagine a spectrum where on the left-hand side you have mental ill health, and that might be you know in workplace context, it could be stress and anxiety, depression et cetera.

Let’s say in the middle, we have wellness and wellbeing. Those efforts whilst great are still largely focused on keeping people out of the illness phase and then if you look to the right-hand side of the spectrum, which hasn’t really existed in people’s minds, it’s this idea of mental fitness, which is actually really asking ourselves the question is getting people from minus five to zero or plus one really enough? Are we really tapping into our full potential here? And I argue that it’s absolutely not enough because the absence of illness does not equal health. And so what if we were putting energy into strengthening people’s understanding of their minds, how to manage emotions and giving them tools and know-how really to deal with their inner game.

What would that make possible? What capabilities would that bring about in people?

Alison Jones: And it’s such a timely argument as well, isn’t it? Because we’ve been so focused on skills and teaching people to do specific tasks and jobs, and we’re in such a state of flux and change at the moment, that actually, it’s not so much about any one specific skill. It’s much more about the ability to learn and the ability to deploy those skills and the way that you approach tasks.

Jodie Rogers: Absolutely, and the reason why I’m sounding a little bit incredulous is how disconnected we seem to be from the realization that everything starts and stops in the mind. So we need to be thinking about mindset, perspective, confidence, as well as those outwardly visible things like skills and capabilities and the things that are often being judged in the workplace.

 I think it’s just fundamental that we start to value and nurture those assets.

Alison Jones: Yes and it’s really interesting from a writer’s point of view and a publisher’s point of view, it’s such a nice lesson in how you can take a metaphor that’s already out there and well understood and extend it. Because we get the thing about mental health, and we also understand that the absence of illness doesn’t necessarily mean that you are fit. There’s something extra that goes into that.

As you say, it goes above, it’s plus from zero and you immediately get it. So it’s a good lesson in creating a title and creating a concept, I think.

Jodie Rogers: Well, and also there is an actual real life parallel in the medical world, because up until the seventies, until they finally made the causal link between smoking and cancer, which by the way they knew about they were just denying, and once they made that link, it brought around a massive debate around: is it enough for us to focus on the eradication of disease and illness? Or should we be teaching people about maladaptive behaviors, like overeating, smoking et cetera. And perhaps we should be educating people about nutrition and exercise.

 And that brought around this whole attitude of prevention over cure and up sprang the whole fitness industry, the physical fitness industry.

And by the way, while doing that, they took millions of people out of the health system, saved billions and enhanced the lives of millions of people. Isn’t that a good idea? Absolutely it is. So why aren’t we applying it to mental health?

Alison Jones: Well, you are, that’s the whole point.

Jodie Rogers: That is the point. I’m on a mission.

Alison Jones: And one of the other things I really loved as well, was you just asked a question and I’d never heard it phrased like this before, you said something like, if somebody said to you they had never been ill in their lives, not even a cold, would you believe them? Of course you wouldn’t because everybody, and it’s exactly the same with mental health and you bring that sort of the statistics in, well in your team of 30, you know, at any one time, there’s going to be this many people with mental health issues right now. And there’s going to be these kind of people who’ve had it in the past and these people, and it’s just so completely normal.

I think that’s a really important message as well, isn’t it? So we’re not looking at a minority of people who aren’t coping or something. This is just, this is life and just with physical health, you know, you work to protect people from what is coming down the line at them.

Jodie Rogers: Absolutely. And that’s part of the problem with the topic is the taboo around it. It’s like the worst kept secret ever existed, where we’re all pretending that we’re fine, but everybody knows that they’re not fine, but they’re not talking about it. And yes, I think, it is important to say that the mental health and mental ill health space absolutely underfunded and under-invested and we need it. We still need attention there.

However, because it’s shrouded in so much taboo and stigma, that’s why I want to open this other conversation because once we start to talk about mental fitness, it actually gives more permission to talk about the possibilities and the positivity that may come from investing in this.

And of course, if we invest our energy, time, money in this topic, by default we then keep people out of mental ill health. So it’s a win for individual, it’s a win for business, it’s a win for society and that’s the fight that I am fighting.

Alison Jones: And I thought it’s very smart to pitch it to the readers of this book who are going to be, you know, leaders of organizations, as actually a competitive advantage, because I hadn’t heard it phrased like that before.

Jodie Rogers: Yes and do you know, I was sitting thinking about it as you do when you’re going through the writing process, you become quite obsessive about it. And I was really thinking, why am I talking to business about this, first of all, and my default answer was well, because that’s what I see every day, that’s who we work with every day. But it was like, but surely there must be also a hidden benefit in speaking to business about this.

And when I started to unpack that, I realized actually look the pandemic has brought into sharp focus, how underfunded the National Health is, and not just in the UK, but everywhere around the world there’s a struggle.

I said, well, if they’re already heaving under the weight of the physical pandemic, there’s no way we can expect them to then also take on the mental and emotional pandemic. And then that’s when the thought of absolutely business should be doing this, business should be paying for the training and the work that’s required.

And I thought well okay, if businesses are going to pay for it, how am I going to convince them to pay for it?

Alison Jones: What’s in it for them?

Jodie Rogers: Exactly. And that’s when we went to work about, you know, I’ve been working in business for decades, I’ve always worked inside and alongside corporate. So I know how the machine works and if you need to convince them, you need to convince them in their terms. Which is why I set about creating a business case for this to demonstrate how this. Not only, everyone’s sick and tired of the cost of doing nothing and the dramatization of that. And it’s actually not enough to motivate people unfortunately. And I thought, well, let’s turn that on its head and look for the positive story of what’s actually the benefit to the bottom line of doing something.

Maybe that will be a motivator instead. And let’s see, Alison.

Alison Jones: I think you make a very good case in the book. And you mentioned, and I pick up on a phrase you just used, about getting obsessed when you’re writing a book because, oh yes. Tell me, what did you discover as you were writing, what was that process like for you?

Jodie Rogers: Yes, so, interesting. I’m a talker and being of Irish heritage, that is probably not a surprise. And, I run workshops, I do public speaking and everything I do is kind of around, vocal, I suppose, persuasion. And so when it came to writing, I definitely had a limiting belief around writing.

You know, my brothers are dyslexic, we weren’t natural academics. I had the belief that I couldn’t write. And so actually, when I started on this journey, I had no intention of writing the book. My plan was to talk the book and to have someone else write it for me. And I thought that that was a brilliant idea and that is what I tried and it actually didn’t work and it didn’t work because of me, not because of them, because I’m so passionate about the topic, actually talking it through with someone else was good, but I felt like I had to slow down to get the message across. And what I did instead was I went, do you know what, I’m just going to have to do this myself, but I don’t have any time to do this myself.

So I’m just going to hunker in, into my bunker and I’m just going to get this out. So I was kind of fuelled by this, I don’t want to do this, but I have to do it. So if I’m going to do it, I need to just really focus and this is in a pandemic by the way. Of course I have, we’re in Spain and we went through quite a brutal draconian lockdown where…

Alison Jones: You couldn’t even go for exercise, could you?

Jodie Rogers: No, my children did not leave the front door for 45 days.

Alison Jones: And your children are quite young. I remember you saying in the foreword…

Jodie Rogers: Yes, they were, at the time they were two and four.

Alison Jones: And the thought of a two year old who can’t go outdoors, just honestly, my face is draining just thinking about it.

Jodie Rogers: Can you imagine?

Alison Jones: No, I can.

Jodie Rogers: Yes, and I was running a business and my husband’s income had disappeared overnight. And do you know what, you know, that wasn’t even the hard part because my father had been diagnosed with cancer in January and had passed away at the end of May and I couldn’t get back to Ireland to see him.

And so when you think of those circumstances deciding to write a book, it probably isn’t at the top of your list,

Alison Jones: It’s extraordinary times though, isn’t it? And, and sometimes that shakes you into extraordinary things.

Jodie Rogers: I love that sentence, that’s lovely Alison, I’m going to borrow that because that’s how it felt to be honest. I had this sense of urgency driven by the pandemic, by my father’s death.

And, you know, I had had this book inside of me for years. I always knew I wanted to write a book. I knew that I had said, I’m going to do it, you know, you make these arbitrary rules up, I’m going to do it when I’m 40 because by then I should be wise enough that somebody might want to listen to what I’ve got to say.

Alison Jones: Hollow laugh.

Jodie Rogers: Exactly. And then as the pandemic unfolded, I, you know, Symbia, my main business, we work with leaders and leadership teams and their wider teams and I could see this unraveling happening in front of me. And I was becoming deeply frustrated that not enough was happening. And when you look at HR and the wellbeing teams, they did their damnedest, they did their best, but what ended up happening, and this is going to be hard to hear for some people, including myself, but it’s also very funny, is we instead of wellbeing, we did wellbeating, where we just overwhelm people with resilience modules, and you have to do this e-learning on how to take a walk at two o’clock and that’s not what people needed.

People needed to be empowered and they needed connection and they needed to understand themselves a bit better. So I got very fired up about that. And those things combined… Oh, and third thing, the business of course had slowed down while all of our clients tried to work out this new world and what would happen and what wouldn’t happen, what they would invest in and what they wouldn’t, so that also opened up a little bit more breathing space for me to be able to write.

I didn’t do what I would have loved to have done, again because of the pandemic. I had these romantic ideas of locking myself away in a country cottage for three weeks and writing the book and drinking coffee and looking out the window nonsense.

That’s not what happened, because I’m still dealing with my children, dealing with the business, dealing with my team as well and all of the stresses of life. And so I promised myself that I was going to continue to write within nine to five, and when the children were asleep, because I didn’t want to steal any more time from my husband.

And so there was a lot of late nights.

Alison Jones: I can imagine, but I want to take it back to what you were saying about the talking it out and shifting to writing it, because there’s something really interesting there. You are a verbal person and I can absolutely and I know some of our authors have talked their book out and then edited the transcript almost.

What was it that made you shift from talking to writing? What couldn’t you achieve with the talking?

Jodie Rogers: Yes, it’s a really good question. I think I had a certain amount of impatience with it. I felt like the questions, I was being asked thorough questions, but I didn’t feel like they dug deep enough. And I also felt, now this is me just answering it very honestly, I haven’t thought about it properly until now, but I also felt like when I was being asked the questions on the spot, I think there was maybe a bit of defensiveness within me, where I would just have the answer and give the answer instead of doing what truly was needed, which was the, Hmm. Does that work? And is that does that fit? The kind of backwards, forwards, the messiness of the creative process, I don’t think I could really do speaking out loud because I needed to do that in solitude to some way, with just me and the words and the paper.

Alison Jones: I really loved the way you described that and I can totally get it because I think there is something about writing it down that exposes all the, as you said, the superficiality, all the bits that actually you haven’t really answered. And there’s also something about the interrogation of yourself that happens in writing, isn’t there?

Where if somebody else’s asking you the questions and then you answer, and especially if they’re working for you, they’ll kind of go, well, you’ve answered that, move on. But you know, if you’re writing for yourself and you’re setting your own questions, you can loop back and say, well, why is that an issue?

Or is that what I really mean? Or is that the right metaphor or well, I’ve always said that, but is it really true? And there’s some rigour and depth with that, that I think it’s hard to get in a conversation, isn’t there?

Jodie Rogers: Absolutely. It’s like an internal introspection and interrogation that you kind of have to do privately because it is so messy.

Alison Jones: Which of course militates against the whole, I’ve just got to get the book written thing. There’s a bit of a tension there, isn’t there?

Jodie Rogers: Yes, I know. But that was a good, healthy tension I think in the end. And it doesn’t matter, you can have all the will in the world, but you’re still at the mercy of publishers and their timelines and COVID and Brexit and all of the other things. So you may as well take the time to get it right.

Alison Jones: That’s a great response, isn’t it? The world’s going to hell in a hand basket. So I’m just going to sit here and do it right. Okay.

Jodie Rogers: Totally. It doesn’t matter how much you want to get it out there because there’s things going to get in the way.

Alison Jones: Yes, absolutely. That’s a really good demonstration of mental fitness in action people.

Jodie Rogers: Yes

Alison Jones: I love that. I mean I personally feel that a writing habit is a really, and you actually mentioned this in the book don’t you, about writing in a journal as an example of something that you can do as a practice to support your own mental fitness.

And I think for me, you’ve just demonstrated beautifully one of the reasons for doing it is because it just, you’re in control, it’s in a safe space and it allows you to reflect in a way that you often don’t get the chance to do in interactions.

Jodie Rogers: Yes, there’s something now that we’re talking about it, there’s something about the writing process and the pages, the words on the page, just holding you accountable in some way, to your thinking and to make sure it makes sense. Whereas I guess, because a lot of the work that I do is with leadership teams and workshops and we’re doing capability training where I am the authority and I have the answers.

And so when I was verbalising, that kind of persona was coming through too much probably, whereas I really just needed to hold myself accountable a bit more and be interrogated by myself because I was the one with the difficult questions.

And I wasn’t sure, now that I think about this out loud, I wasn’t sure they were going to have the right difficult questions and that’s what I needed.

Alison Jones: That’s brilliant. And it’s great that you got over that, I was going to say imposter syndrome, that’s not the word that you used. You used it as the limiting belief was what you said, wasn’t it, about your ability to write. Did you feel yourself into the craft of writing? Did you get sort of more confident in that as you went on?

Jodie Rogers: Yes, because you know, it was nonsense that I thought I couldn’t write.

I just kind of felt, I don’t know, you know I’m sure a therapist would have a field day about where that came from, but if I’m really honest, Alison, I barely remember writing this book. It just poured out of me and flowed out of me.

I didn’t stumble. I wasn’t unsure. It was just something that, I guess it was also a combination of workshops and talks and training and different things that I had been expressing for years. And it all just came together in a neat little bow in the book.

Alison Jones: Well, maybe when you write the next one you can have that country cottage and that looking out the window with the coffee and you’ll know you can do it next time.

Jodie Rogers: Do you know, it’s funny. I don’t know if there’ll be a next time time and that’s not, I mean, like I legitimately don’t know, just because, it’s funny, so we focus on team, team effectiveness and leadership, and I have a business buddy who has a book all about collaboration and team effectiveness.

And I remember thinking I should really be writing that book. And why am I not bothered that they’re writing that book when I should really be writing that book, but it just was not the book I was supposed to write. This book was always the book that I was supposed to write. And so I do have a certain sense of fulfillment that’s already come from just birthing this.

Alison Jones: But having learned all those lessons, Jodie, you know, you could do it again. Come back in five years time and see where you’re at with it then.

Jodie Rogers: In five years time I’ll have another rant that I’ll need to get off my chest.

Alison Jones: Exactly exactly, but you’re right, there’s no point writing a book for the sake of it. You’ve got to know why you’re writing, what you’re writing. It’s got to be the book that only you can write in a sense, hasn’t it?

Jodie Rogers: Yes, and that’s why it felt so right, I suppose, in the end.

Alison Jones: So I always ask my guests their best tip for a first time author. And I’d love to hear what you would say to that.

Jodie Rogers: Well, honestly, it’s trust yourself, but I know that sounds like a cop-out and it’s quite conceptual but the things that are going to creep up, you’re not good enough, or you’re not ready or you’re not a natural writer, nobody wants to hear this.

Doesn’t matter. Write it anyway, write it anyway. And you can assess that at the end, but you know, you’d rather have something to assess than have never started because of those beliefs.

And again, this is right down to mental fitness, isn’t it? People always say to me. Oh, yes, you know, so are you saying that if I believe whatever, I can be a world number one author that I will be, and I’m saying absolutely not, I’m not saying that at all, but you’ve a damn sight better chance of being a world number one author, if you actually write the book and get out of your own way, that’s what I’m saying.

Do the thing and then worry about it later.

Alison Jones: And that’s such a good insight because actually so many of us it’s like, well, as long as I haven’t written the book, I haven’t failed yet.

Jodie Rogers: Hmm. Yes, I would say you failed already, darling.

Alison Jones: That’s a much better way of looking at it. And actually just, again picking up on something you said earlier about I’ll wait until I’m 40, I’d just like to say from the other side of 50, people if you’re waiting to get to a certain age so that somebody hands you a certificate and says you are now qualified to write your book, it does not happen.

So yes, don’t wait for that. You don’t feel any more grown-up.

Jodie Rogers: You feel younger.

Alison Jones: You’ve got more awareness of what you don’t know, Yes

Jodie Rogers: Exactly.

Alison Jones: And I’d love for you to recommend a book to us. Well, it doesn’t have to be a business book, but is there a book that’s really helped you kind of professionally?

I mean obviously, everybody should read The Hidden Edge but apart from that?

Jodie Rogers: So I was thinking about this and I don’t think this is a business book, although loads of leaders, and those people in business do talk about it, but it was an absolutely pivotal book for me in my life, which is another cliche unfortunately. It’s Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Effective People. And the reason why that matters so much for me is I was living and working in Brazil at the time.

I was due to localize and stay there and take a promotion. And then HR had called me to say that they messed up my visa and that I actually had three days to leave the country and I had to go back to London, which by the way, where I didn’t have a house and I panicked and I thought, what am I going to do and all that? And had all of this drama.

And I remember thinking to myself, actually I decided that I was going to go to Argentina and it would just work from there. And then I spoke to a very good friend, Delaney, and she said to me, do you know Jodie, is that going to make you happy? And then I suddenly realized: No, actually, and I don’t even think I am happy.

And then that brought me on a question of, this all happened by the way within 24 hours, what would make me happy? And I decided that I had always wanted to travel through central America and now at this stage, you are going to laugh, I was 31 and felt like I was too old to jack it in and go travelling again.

I know it’s such a joke. You always think you’re too old. And the truth is.

Alison Jones: And you look back and think: WHY did I not…

Jodie Rogers: Yes. Yes, you’re the youngest you’re ever going to be, so crack on.

So, and then the next day I resigned and I bought a one way ticket to Mexico and I brought one book and it was Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Effective People.

And I read that, spent the next seven months traveling over ground alone, but you’re never alone, I met lots of people along the way. And that’s not a book you read, that’s a book that just, it’s a workbook, like you have do the work. And that’s when I really went on that journey asking myself, what am I going to do with my life?

That was the big existential question. And it was through that book that I realized previously I’d been using my understanding of human behaviour to really help companies and brands sell more stuff to people. Things that they didn’t really need and didn’t need more of.

And I just had this massive reframe where I went, okay, I need to use my understanding of human behaviour to help people be better at their lives and just have better experiences of life.

And that’s when I completely retrained and set up my company, that was eight years ago. So that book was really fundamental in my life.

Alison Jones: I love that. What a brilliant story and what a cracking book to take with you. I mean, you know, you could have reached for a chick lit, aren’t you glad you didn’t?

Jodie Rogers: I don’t actually know why I took that book but yes, thankfully I did, a bit of foresight.

Alison Jones: Yes. Jodie, if people want to find out more about you, more about Symbia, more about the book, Where should they go?

Jodie Rogers: symbiapartners.com has everything there.

Alison Jones: Brilliant. Well, that was succinct. Thank you. I put that link up on the show notes, at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com, along with the transcript of this conversation, which I think will bear rereading if you’re listening and wanting to take notes, then I recommend you read the transcript as well, because we’ve covered a lot of ground and had some really, really thoughtful insights from you.

Thank you so much for your time today Jodie.

Jodie Rogers: Oh, it’s a pleasure, Alison. Thank you. And thank you for your questions, they’re fantastic.

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