Formula Won

Christian Ayerst from Mental Health Support Solutions on winning in sport and shipping through psychology.

“If you have a fitness coach where you can improve your fitness abilities, you can also improve your mental ability”

Jan Bednarek, professional footballer for Southampton FC and Poland quoted in the Guardian newspaper last weekend.

Strange, isn’t it? At MHSS we’re working round the clock to tell the shipping industry not to be shy about mental health and encouraging hesitant individuals and organisations to embrace its benefits.

So imagine my surprise when I read the sport section of my weekend newspaper, then vegetated in front of a Netflix documentary about F1 – and saw elite athletes talking loudly and proudly about their use of professional mental health to gain an edge.

I’m generally cynical about professional sport: the money, the egos, the treatment of the fans. But – by engaging professional mental health to gain the competitive advantage amongst peers – elite sports are light-years ahead of the shipping industry. Let’s do the same in shipping.

Because someone who is focussed, alert and has a consistent process for making good decisions has an advantage over someone who doesn’t.

Is this all a bit Jedi, requiring light years of training in a galaxy far away? A lot of input for minimal output?

Absolutely not. We all practice personal psychology daily – often without knowing it. When we drink water. Breathe deeply. Mentally prepare for our next meeting.

So the foundations are already laid.

Imagine what a few tweaks and corrections from professionals could do for our efficiency, output and quality of decisions in a maritime environment?

Take an example: a bustling chartering or trading desk. Offers, counter-offers, freight rates and add-ons whizzing around like atoms. A tidal wave of information to receive / interpret / digest / analyse / reason / respond / memorise.

Wouldn’t someone trained to make quick, accurate decisions based on a tested formula perform better than someone swamped with information and expected to find the metaphorical needle in the haystack – whilst putting out several other fires?

That’s why sportspeople use performance-enhancing psychology. And that’s why shipping should too.

Ten years working as a lawyer and most incidents I saw had an element of human “oops” about them. Someone made a mistake tendering NOR. Bunker delivery notes signed without question (or considering the consequences).

Charterparty fixed “basis last” – without checking or pushing-back.

I’ll put my neck out here – many of these incidents could have been prevented or reduced if those involved were psychologically supported.

So let’s stop treating mental health as a weakness – and start investing in it, like our lycra-clad sporting colleagues. We use less than 10% of our brain – so anyone who optimises the processing power of the most powerful computer in the room should be applauded.

But let’s do this properly. Because mental health is essentially detective work – only a trained psychological professional can unearth the unspoken clues, the nuances and unlock someone’s true potential. Perhaps that’s why Lewis Hamilton hasn’t (yet) asked Christian Ayerst to whisper sweet pre-race platitudes in his ear – he’s got an opinion like everyone else, but he’s not a psycho-medical professional (and knows nothing about cars).

The benefits of being proactive are immense – whether in sports, shipping or any other industry: engaged staff, safer operations, reduced mistakes and improved bottom-lines. Professional sports recognise this – and so should shipping.

At MHSS we’re giving people the tools to unlock their psychological potential. We have a psychologist (who has previously coached the England rugby team and professional golfers – whose focus is on team communication and making high-quality decisions under pressure. And a specialist in optimising results from teams of mixed cultures and nationalities.

So as an industry let’s treat mental health as an investment in performance and competitive edge. Lewis Hamilton probably won’t be fixing your next cargo – but the psychological edge he enjoys can definitely be deployed in shipping. Talk with MHSS – and let’s find out.

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