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Episode #302: "Mental Fitness: The Game Changer" with Dr. Jackie Kinley

the best practices show podcast May 17, 2021


People exercise to improve their physical fitness. But how often do people exercise their brain for mental health? To teach you how to build psychological resilience, Kirk Behrendt brings in Dr. Jackie Kinley, author of Mental Fitness: The Game Changer, to share a framework to help you adapt to and tolerate stress in a more positive way. Your brain is like any other muscle — keep it healthy with exercise! To begin developing your mental muscles, listen to Episode 302 of The Best Practices Show!

Main Takeaways:

  • Stress can wear you down physically and psychologically.
  • Like physical illness, mental illness can occur in anyone if we’re not careful.
  • There are mental habits you can build and develop to stay healthy through stressful times.
  • People aren’t broken, they just haven't developed the skills to tolerate and cope with stress.
  • Psychological strength needs to be built and maintained.
  • It’s not about feeling better, it’s about getting better at feeling.


  • “When we first started to speak about this, everybody thought that this pandemic was going to be a sprint, that we just had to hunker down, we had to deal with things, we had to just buckle down and get through it. And what's become really clear is it’s a marathon. So, the stress has persisted. And as stress persists, it has a significant impact on us. Not just physically, our physical bodies, but psychologically, stress can really wear us down.” (05:22—05:51)
  • “Your brain is like any other muscle, and we have to develop skills to be able to deal with stress.” (06:23—06:29)
  • “Mental illness can occur in any of us if we’re not careful and if we don't take care of ourselves, just like physical illness can happen.” (06:47—06:54)
  • “I talk about four mental muscle groups. If you can see fit, which is perspective; if you can think fit, which is keep your thinking brain calmed down and focused; if you can feel fit, which is deal with all those emotions that come up — anxiety and panic happen when emotion starts — and then the last one is act fit, is if you can reach out to other people, stay connected. And so, these are skills, these are habits of mind. You can learn these things. You can make connections in your brain and you can strengthen those through exercises so that it becomes second nature. You can build the muscle memory so when you're under stress, you know how to respond in a positive and adaptive way.” (09:09—09:56)
  • “People aren’t broken; people just haven't developed skills. So, these are capacities that you can develop. When you don't have those capacities, if you get stretched and strained, then you can certainly develop symptoms — anybody can. Any of us can. Any of us can get anxious, depressed, even psychotic. Any of us can if our capacity is breached. And so, it’s not about judging people, it’s about understanding what resources individuals have, psychologically, and helping them to develop the skills they need. These aren't character flaws; these are skills deficits.” (10:50—11:26)
  • “We have a lot of beliefs, ‘Anger is not safe. Anger is dangerous. Anger means I did something wrong, if somebody gets angry with me. Sadness is weak,’ all of those things. There's so much misinformation about emotions. And emotions are actually adaptive. They're empowering. They're very, very helpful. But like the truth, they can be used for good and evil. Anger can be used for advocacy and ambition and perseverance. It can also be used to be nasty and mean.” (13:12—13:42)
  • “When we can't deal with anger, when we can't deal with sadness, when we can't deal with fear, and when we get stuck in emotions, that's when we get sick. So, stuck fear leads to anxiety. Stuck sadness leads to depression. Stuck anger leads to suspiciousness and paranoia, aggressive behaviors. And people will try to medicate away those symptoms. They try to get rid of them. But actually, it’s the opposite. The way we get rid of anxiety and depression is, we need to start to be able to feel our feelings better. It’s not about feeling better, it’s about getting better at feeling.” (13:58—14:40)
  • “Sync into the emotion. When you're under stress and pressure, your emotion is information. Don't shoot the messenger.” (16:09—16:15)
  • “When we’re under stress, when we’re fearful and under stress, it’s really easy to just see difference. It’s because you become narrow-minded; you don't see clearly. So, it’s really easy to fall into judgment and difference. And so, it’s really important when you're under stress to settle yourself down to think fit, to feel fit, and then to act fit, to lean into the other person, to empathize, to understand. When we’re under stress, it behooves us to understand.” (16:28—16:57)
  • “Sometimes, people don't want to see [a mental health professional], because in order to work with somebody, you have to be ready, willing, and able. And the able piece is that you need to be with the right person.” (20:23—20:38)
  • “We have focused so much on diagnosing people and putting a label on people — which can be really helpful in the short term. I'm not against that. But if they stick and get stuck, and if you don't actually move on and understand the person and help the person develop the skills they need, then they're not going to get better. They're going to keep coming back, and it’s going to get worse, because you haven't actually dealt with the problem.” (22:29—22:54)
  • “Sometimes, people don't know how to read their emotions. They don't know how to tolerate them.” (24:37—24:43)
  • “Some people don't deal with conflict. They don't empathize with people. They don't set boundaries. And it’s not because they're bad people, it’s because they’ve never thought about it. They’ve never really learned how. And these things are really important, not only for you to stay healthy, but for your relationships to be healthy and honest and not just superficial.” (36:45—37:07)
  • “People are stretched beyond their capacity. And that's when illness happens. That's when anger turns to suspiciousness, and projection, and paranoia, and violence, and bad behavior. But it’s not that these are bad people at the core.” (42:16—42:34)
  • “You have to help people build capacity. This is what I'm saying is psychological strength. We have to build it. And some people just have never exercised these muscles. They’ve never had to; they’ve never learned how. And we have to. We have to, because we’re going to be under stress. We’re going to be under strain. It’s not going to go away in the short-term. Things are changing, and we have to learn how to deal with it.” (43:03—43:29)
  • “If we can get the word out, if we can get people thinking differently, if we can move away from an illness paradigm, if we can move away from that and stop blaming and stigmatizing people and labeling people, and start helping people identify their growth opportunities and help them learn the skills that they need, we can have a huge shift. We can create a tipping point. But it starts with consciousness. It starts with awareness.” (44:20—44:48)
  • “We have the capacity to solve all of the problems that face us. But we have to start with ourselves. You have to start inside.” (45:03—45:15)


  • Dr. Kinley’s background. (04:06—04:47)
  • Why mental fitness is important in dentistry. (05:19—06:57)
  • The brain is like a muscle. (07:59—09:56)
  • See fit, think fit, feel fit, and act fit. (10:36—12:51)
  • What people get wrong about mental fitness. (13:00—14:59)
  • Who are the right people to talk to about mental health? (15:35—17:18)
  • Why there's resistance and hesitancy towards therapy. (17:57—21:34)
  • Why mental health has come to the forefront of social awareness. (21:52—23:05)
  • How to apply the framework of see fit, think fit, feel fit, and act fit. (23:32—27:03)
  • Social media can negatively affect mental health. (28:24—30:57)
  • Environmental aspects of healthy brain development and mental fitness. (32:35—34:23)
  • Learn, develop, practice, and measure mental fitness skills. (34:53—37:11)
  • See the potential in everybody. (37:41—40:15)
  • People are more strained during the pandemic. (40:16—43:29)
  • Thoughts on the future of mental fitness. (43:51—45:15)
  • Dr. Kinley’s book and courses. (45:48—48:31)

Reach Out to Dr. Kinley:

Dr. Kinley’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jackie.kinley.31

Air Institutes website: https://air-institutes.com/

Further Reading:

Mental Fitness: The Game Changer by Dr. Jackie Kinley: https://www.amazon.com/Mental-Fitness-Psychological-Strength-Resilience/dp/1775358321

Dr. Jackie Kinley Bio:

Dr. Kinley is a Psychiatrist, Associate Professor (Dalhousie University), and Honorary Fellow of the Canadian Association for Group Therapy, Training, and Facilitation and a Fellow of the Canadian Psychiatric Association. Her expertise in psychiatry and research in the neuroscience of resilience was the inspiration behind Air Institutes, which delivers programs to enhance mental fitness, performance, and resilience.

Jackie has provided resilience assessment, coaching, and training to corporate clients such as Emera, Air Canada, and Stewart McKelvey, as well as to professional associations such as The National Judicial Institute and Doctors Nova Scotia. She has worked with different departments in the public sector, including Health Canada and the NS provincial Public Service Commission. She has been providing resilience training for new recruits and the peer support team at Halifax Regional Fire Department, and partnered with non-profits that include the Canadian Mental Health Association and NS Division, as well as the YMCA.

Dr. Kinley has published many research articles on the neurobiology of resilience, presents internationally on the subject of personal and organizational resilience, and has had multiple media appearances on CBC and CTV, and has been featured in popular magazines, including Atlantic Canada Business Journal and Optimyze, a national women’s health periodical.


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