A new dawn: embracing the challenge of mental fitness

22nd August by Chinazom Sunny

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Adjusting to a new country was even harder than I expected. I’d written down many plans and visualisations of what it would look like, but then I learned there’s a massive difference between planning something and then actually taking action. There are always additional problems and issues that arise in reality you can never expect.

I was used to having an ocean separating me from my in-laws, so it was brand new to have them right nearby. I was still building my still new marriage with my wife. And then, on top of it all, I was also preparing to become a dad, which scared the living daylights out of me. So, as you can see, my plate was full and my own mental fitness was tested at a high level. However, I needed to keep it strong because it was the only thing that was actually going to help me get through this. I was as far outside my comfort zone as I had ever been. I should have crumbled, but I actually thrived.

And then, once again, my life changed even more with two massive events: the birth of my son, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Holding my son made me realise what love really is and how to hold dearly to what’s most important to you, but there was no rulebook for living through a lockdown. We all just made it all up as we went along. I had to actually start my career in performance psychology and put into practice all the tools and strategies I had been using in my work with athletes.

The enforced prison sentence of the pandemic was great for organic practice of mental fitness. You had enough time to be alone with your thoughts, which, for some people, can be worse than a nightmare full of murderous clowns. But I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of during this hectic period. I pivoted, adapted, and discovered my creative side. I had to let go of my identity; who I thought I was or who I thought I should be didn’t matter anymore. I experienced, whether I liked it or not, what a growth mindset really took. Getting your ass handed to you repeatedly teaches you how to keep getting back up, learn the lesson required, and then move forward.

Along with billions around the world, I had no option. I had to move with the times and embrace all that COVID-19 offered. I couldn’t do the performance psychology I wanted to do because there was nobody playing sports! There was no one around to interact with. This is where I found a different role as a high-performance leadership coach.

Luckily (and thank God for virtual!) I could work with many leaders across a myriad of industries because of the power of communication tools like Zoom.

When you're going through transitions like these, the little things cause you the most pain. Learning to drive on the wrong side of the road, going to the grocery store and trying to figure out where things are, realising just because you speak English it doesn't mean others will understand your accent or what the hell you're talking about. Throw in caring for a newborn, the pandemic, and a change in career, it made for a fun-filled emotional roller coaster that I wouldn't change for anything.

The mental fitness revolution

There used to be a park near my mom’s house where I would go running when I was younger. I didn’t think of it at the time, but I was running all alone. There was no guy huffing and puffing trying to lose weight after a doctor’s visit. No Olympic marathon runner who just broke their own PB (personal best) record without even breaking a sweat. No average everyday Joe or Jane putting in mile after mile just to keep their minds clear.

No one used to go running. It just wasn’t a thing one did. In fact, my mom used to worry about me when I ran. “Why are you going running as a black person!? Get back in the house and watch a movie like a normal human being.” She’d go on and say things like, “What are you going to say to the police if they ask why you’re running in the evening?” Of course, I didn’t have a great answer. I just needed to run.

Then, ten years later, in 2015, when running in the same park back home in London, I couldn’t find a single blade of grass because everybody was running around. People were doing PT (personal training) sessions, CrossFit, and even doing group yoga in the park. The daily fitness routine was now normal!

It’s only recently that physical fitness became something everyone does. Now, if you aren’t out on a Saturday in the sun practising some sort of sport or fitness routine, you are the weirdo. This fitness revolution occurred overnight and now everyone’s into it. This is what I want and expect for the future of mental fitness. Everyone will focus on it and make it a habit to strengthen their minds.

There’s a huge opportunity before us, especially now that we are moving on from the pandemic. Everyone’s aware of wellbeing and mental fitness and we share a belief in one salient truth: there is no sustainable high performance without it. It’s time to rewrite the script and change the way we view and handle our mental wellbeing.

Are you ready to get real?

As the eldest son of a Nigerian family, they had certain expectations for me and how I was supposed to live my life. Until the transition to the US, I didn't fully realise how much of my identity centred around my upbringing and my position within my family. I realised this influenced my personality because I had always been this dependable, steady, and reliable person. This continued into my working life, and it’s likely the reason I stayed in the same line of work for twenty plus years! These are great attributes, but it also held me back. When I made my big transition, I decided to fully let go of this identity to bring my passions to life.

This identity shift and the courage to get real with myself were the revelations that led me to write this book. I went from investment banking to performance psychology coach to high-performance leadership coach, and now, with over 2,000 hours of coaching leaders through the pandemic to discover their own mental fitness prowess, it’s time to share what I’ve learned with other men. Are you ready to join me and shred the bonds of your past identity?


A huge thanks to Chinazom for allowing us to share this extract from Real Talk: A New Approach for Men's Mental Fitness and Wellbeing.

About the Author

Chinazom Sunny Nwabueze is the founder of Dreamcatchers Performance, a high performance leadership coach, behavioural science consultant with BetterUp Inc and author of Real Talk: A New Approach for Men’s Mental Fitness and Wellbeing.

He also created a mental fitness online community, a video chat series, and delivers workshops and presentations on mental fitness. Chinazom has amassed over 2,000 hrs of coaching. For more information or to book a session visit www.dreamcatchersperformance.com.

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