Yvonne Tajok, Leadership Coach, Cornerstone Coaching

Yvonne Tajok is a Leadership Coach and Mentor, helping women leaders elevate their career and well-being so they can make lasting impact. She works with individuals and businesses to deliver 1:1 and group coaching, integrating Positive Intelligence to improve performance, relationships and well-being. Yvonne is an Association for Coaching (AC) accredited coach and has worked with founders, executive directors, senior managers and research leaders in the financial services, legal and higher education sectors, helping them succeed in leadership and management, entrepreneurship, career transition and personal development. Yvonne has 17 years of combined experience in accounting and finance in higher education, in Australia and in the UK. She is passionate about supporting the development of women leaders so that they can pay it forward and pave the way for other women. She has been a Mentor with Inspired Women Lead! and London Business School as well as a Small Group Facilitator on the Women’s Higher Education Network’s (WHEN) Career Accelerator Programme.


In today’s digital era, modern conveniences and information are always at our fingertips.

Yet, more people are struggling with their mental health now than ever before. Resilience, confidence, overwhelm and imposter syndrome are common themes that come up in my work with both men and women. A recent Gallup article highlights that mental well-being is deteriorating, with rising stress levels leading to increased incivility at work, where we spend most of our waking hours. The article notes that 41% of employees report experiencing significant stress at work. Why, despite all these advancements designed to simplify our lives, is our mental and emotional well-being not improving to match?

From my experiences and observations, the common thread is resilience, or each individual’s baseline resilience. A deeper dive has revealed to me that this is tied to our mental capacity to handle challenges positively, productively, and repeatedly. Our ability to manage these challenges has a direct correlation to our long-term performance, relationships and well-being.

Building the Muscles of the Mind

I’m an advocate for building mental fitness, which is akin to physical fitness. Building the muscles of the mind. Strengthening our mental muscles enables us to respond more positively to life’s challenges rather than becoming stressed out and overwhelmed by them. Prioritising mental fitness is as important as physical fitness. The decline in mental health in recent years indicates a genuine need for this. Just like physical fitness, mental fitness requires consistent practice so that we can become more resilient to experiences like imposter syndrome. As we become more mentally fit, we are less ‘stuck in our heads’ and instead become more compassionate and emotionally intelligent in the way we interact with others. Having stronger mental muscles also gives us the headspace to focus on important tasks, which leads to an improvement in performance, better relationships and overall well-being.

I was introduced to the concept of mental fitness through Positive Intelligence (PQ), founded by executive coach Shirzad Chamine. PQ measures the proportion of time our minds are serving us versus working against us. It’s a practice of daily mental fitness exercises designed to build new neural networks and healthy habits over time. If you keep up the practice, you’ll maintain your fitness for life – just like physical fitness. The most significant change I noticed early on in the practice was my ability to recover quickly from setbacks. In one case I experienced a work-related setback that would usually eat at me for days but I recovered back to my baseline within hours. What a curious and pleasant experience! I wanted more of this and to share it with others! I finally began to understand why I had reacted the way I did to different situations all my life, how I had been unknowingly self-sabotaging. This meant that I could help my clients discover this for themselves too.

Survival Origins

Saboteurs reside in the left side of our brain, our survival brain, and exist to protect us from perceived threats since childhood. By the time we’re adults, these Saboteurs have overused our innate strengths and caused us to be overly cautious, leading to issues such as imposter syndrome, perfectionism and victim mentality. They also trigger self- judgment and criticism of others and circumstances. For example, I may judge myself or someone else for making a mistake but knowing that this reaction is the work of my Saboteurs, I can easily call it out and take back control over my response. I can respond more positively and productively. Recognising when these Saboteurs show up and actively calling them out allows us to take back control and respond more positively.

Though their intentions are to protect us, they often flag perceived rather than real threats, causing unnecessary stress and exhaustion.

If our Saboteurs help us survive, what helps us thrive? To counteract our Saboteurs, we can tap into our Sage, or inner wisdom, located in the right side of our brain. The part of our brain that is responsible for joy, creativity, empathy, and curiosity. Our Sage helps us respond to challenges positively and productively, with the perspective that all things can be turned into a gift or opportunity. By taking the Sage perspective, we become more energised and laser-focused so that we can handle anything that comes our way. This is how we improve our performance, relationships and well-being and sustain this over a lifetime. The Sage approach of ease and flow is much more pleasant and sustainable than the Saboteur’s ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality. So how do we harness our Sage so that we can get more enjoyment out of life?

3 Strategies for Mental Fitness

 Positive Intelligence highlights three key strategies for building mental fitness so that we can not only sustain positive habits but improve upon them over our lifetimes:

  • Strategy 1: Weaken Your Saboteurs – Recognise and shine a light on your Saboteurs when they appear. Calling them out gives you more control over where you place your mental and emotional energy.
  • Strategy 2: Strengthen Your Sage – Adopt the Sage perspective of turning challenges into opportunities. Grab a pen and paper and find the gift or opportunity in the setback. It may not come to you immediately but take some time and you’ll find it.
  • Strategy 3: Build Self-Command – Train your mind to focus on a chosen physical sensation (visual, tactile, breath) for 10 seconds at a time, directing your thoughts where YOU want them to go.


We have a significant capacity to build resilience to life’s challenges and transform them into amazing opportunities. We have the power to reduce our stress levels and live a healthier, happier, and more productive life. Prioritising mental fitness as we do physical fitness gives us the means to reach our full potential, even in today’s fast-paced and rapidly changing world.



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