The Balance Code

How to Build Mental Resilience with Krystle Kustanovich

April 03, 2024 Katie Rössler Season 2 Episode 22
The Balance Code
How to Build Mental Resilience with Krystle Kustanovich
Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever wondered what sets apart those who thrive in the face of adversity from those who stumble? Today, I invite you to explore this intriguing question as I embark on a journey into the realm of mental resilience. Joining me is the insightful Krystle Kustanovich, an expert in the field, to unravel the mysteries of cultivating inner strength and fortitude. 

Krystle is an accredited mental performance coach who works with professional athletes and high-achievers on their mental performance as they navigate the steps to achieve the next level of their success.

In a world where physical endurance often takes the spotlight, the significance of mental resilience cannot be overstated. So, let's delve into this vital aspect of human capability and discover how to harness it’s power for personal growth and success.

What we talked about?

  • Crystal's background and expertise in mental coaching for athletes and celebrities.
  • Understanding the fear response and its impact on resilience.
  • Practical strategies for building mental resilience in daily life.
  • The importance of self-awareness and beliefs in shaping resilience.
  • Daily practices for building mental resilience, such as mindfulness, sensory awareness, and labeling emotions.
  • How to navigate setbacks and challenges with resilience and positivity.
  • How the prefrontal cortex, when activated with positive emotions, supports mental resilience and creative problem-solving.


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Welcome to the balance code podcast, a place where you have permission to step outside the hamster wheel of day to day life and learn tools for better balance. My name is Katie Rössler. I'm a licensed therapist and hidden grief and burnout specialist. I help ambitious high achievers who are ready to get off the one way train to burnout and learn better tools to embrace life.

Oh, and by the way, I'm an American living in Germany, who's still learning the language, a mom of three and an entrepreneur. Living my balance code is what helps me keep working in incredible ways without burning out. So let's discover our balance code together.

 Welcome back to the podcast today. I'm with Krystal Kustinovich, And we're going to be discussing how to build your mental resilience. Now, this is a topic that many of my listeners are, going to be listening in on and going like, okay, what, okay, how do I do this? How do I do [00:01:00] this?

Because they're really good at physical resilience. They disregarded the fact that. The mental and emotional resilience is there too. So Crystal's really going to uncover what goes on when it comes to mental resilience and how to build that up. Crystal, thank you for being here. Thank you for, for sharing your wisdom ahead of time, because I know there'll be a lot of things you're able to teach us.

Share a little bit about yourself, where you are, what you do, and who you are. Amazing. Thank you so much. I'm very excited to be here. I love talking about the mind and the brain. So this is also a big treat for me. Um, I am in Cape town, South Africa. I'm originally from Durban, which is on the East coast and I've moved to the West coast.

And I work predominantly with professional athletes on their mental game. Um, As well as celebrities, because there's a massive overlap in terms of, you know, if you're a sports professional athlete, you're like a celebrity. and it's all about, you know, being true to identity and offering what you can of [00:02:00] yourself to your fans without betraying who you are.

and I. What was the next question? And who did I assume? That was, that was it. You did it. Yes. Yeah. Excellent. How did you come to start working with athletes and, celebrities? Okay. So when I first started my coaching in 2019, you're kind of encouraged to be like a general practitioner. So they say, go and coach everybody.

Just go out there, Whoever wants to work on something to change your behavior or thinking or whatever, just go and go and coach everyone. And through that process, I realized that there were types of people I love coaching and types of people that actually didn't match my energy. So it became very, it felt a little bit draining for me.

and I thought, Oh, I wonder if. there's a way to like figure out who these people are that, you know, energize me as much as, I energize them in our sessions. And it turned out that I love working with high [00:03:00] achievers. So people who are super ambitious, who want to go getters, who just want to get out there and like make stuff happen.

And in that process, I had to do a lot of reflection because I was also a teacher at a, an all boys high school. And it was, it's one of the oldest schools in Cape town and they have this long tradition. It's a very, very high achieving school. And I realized that I was often working with like the top academics, the first team players, the kids that were just like really all round superstars, but didn't know how to manage.

The emotional mental side of things. and so on that reflection, I thought, well, I wonder if there's a thing for, you know, like mental coaching in sports in South Africa. And I was unpleasantly surprised that it's not such a big thing. so I started. Reaching [00:04:00] out to athletes on Instagram and the racist history.

That's amazing. It finds us, doesn't it? It finds us, but it's so good that you were aware and tuning into that. Okay. So what I find is that my clients and many of my clients are past athletes or current athletes. So I'm like, yes, this really rings true. They will put themselves through the physical ringer.

They will push themselves to the limits when it comes to mental and emotional issues. They're like, but that's the last thing on their list though. Oh, I have a run. I've got to do something else. I've oh, I'm busy. I'm like, you're just as resilient. What happens in our minds that we think physically, I'll push myself, but emotionally, mentally, I want to stay far away from that.

You know, I think, there's an element of, it's a bit of a scary thing. the psychology of humans sometimes can feel very daunting and [00:05:00] very foreign, and very often we're very scared of what we don't understand. So that's generally why we avoid it. So, I mean, just to simplify it, Completely down to, you know, the foundation.

We are wired for fear and fear will make us avoid something or it will make us confront something. obviously it also makes us sometimes, you know, there's, four different ways that you can also like freeze or you can fawn, but those are the two main ones. It's like away or towards. And when you're avoiding, what's really funny is when you're avoiding these things that you're afraid of, that's the very thing that you actually need to work on to have relief.

Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely. Like bonded. Like bonded. When you feel the fear, that's a sign. I don't even like to say a sign. I like to say it's data. I take out the emotion [00:06:00] completely. When you're afraid, it's data. It's telling you something. It's communication. Absolutely. Absolutely. You're right. When you're working with somebody who's like, okay, um, I know I need to work on some things like mental stamina or just, or the emotional piece, right?

Like all of the components of, Perfectionism, people pleasing, like all of that happens in athletics as well. And if you're listening, you're not an athlete, but do you have a skill set? You're really, really good at, this is all going to be similar. How do you help them build their mental resiliency? Okay.

So I actually used physical resilience as a metaphor. It's all an analogy because it's exactly the same. So if you think of. Your mind and your brain, the same way you think of your heart and your emotions, the heart is the organ, it's the muscle and the emotions is the sensation that you have, the brain is the organ and the mind is the sensation you have from that organ.

and then in [00:07:00] terms of your physical, when you're connecting to your physical, you're actually lighting up part of your brain. That's the exact part that you need to be mentally resilient. Perfect. But if you haven't joined the dart, it's not going to serve that purpose. So your brain needs instructions.

Your brain needs to know what to focus on. If it doesn't know what to focus on, it will just go to its default focus. Because it doesn't want to use extra energy. So if you think of exercising, like most people will exercise and feel a sense of relief. You know, if they were stressing about something and they go for a run or they go to the gym, afterwards they feel better.

And it's obviously it's because now they've lit that part of their brain up that is giving them that relief. But if you are not making that connection, then you're not actually using the tool for what it's meant for. Yes. And I think there's a control piece here of physically we can see the weights and what we're lifting or the amount of [00:08:00] time we've been doing something, but with the mind and with the heart, you can't see them.

So you're like, how much further is this strengthening this? Is this getting better? How do you help them see progress so that they know it's working? Absolutely. So the thing about this is that you have to create that. You have to create what does that look like? So I know this is working when, so you've got to create it.

So I think that's also part of the struggle people have because you know, the gym, if I go and I'm weight training and week by week, I see that the weights are getting heavy and heavy. I'm going, Oh, this is working. I'm getting stronger. But with your mind, you actually have to go, well, It's not so much. I have to actually have a daily practice that I'm being consistent because it will work.

the, the work comes from the consistency of the practice. Right? So if you think to yourself, okay, when I'm reacting to something, so if I think about. Before I used [00:09:00] to do this work, so earlier on this morning, I got some news and it rattled me a little bit now before it would have taken me days to recover from that it would, I would spiral, I would ruminate on those thoughts, I would panic, I would, you know, I wouldn't sleep at night.

And I've gotten to a point where my recovery is within a minute. So now that I know that my recovery is shortened, I know that it's working. I know that the work that I'm doing is it's doing its job. So I would say it's more about being self aware and saying, well, how long did it take me to recover from this in the past and how long is it taking me to recover now?

Do you find with your high achievers that often they don't see that recovery? And you're like, wait, you just told me at the beginning of our call that this is happening and this is improving. And you're going, is this working? Do we struggle to see our own progress? Yes, absolutely. So with high achievers.

there's an interesting dynamic that we like to use [00:10:00] negative emotions to push ourselves. So it will be using a shame and guilt and anxiety. So we're using all these negative emotions because we think it's pushing us. However, it's very draining. It's not an energizing emotion. So you have to work almost 10 times harder to get to where you want to be.

Whereas if you had A approach of encouragement and acknowledgement you would actually achieve at a much faster rate. Yes. Absolutely. Talk to me about what some of these daily practices are to build that mental resilience. You know, I have, obviously as a therapist, I know they talk about, and there's a lot of science behind a daily gratitude practice, really rewiring the brain to be more positive and focused.

What are some things that we can be daily doing that science shows us actually helps build our mental resilience? Amazing. So it's about actually connecting to your five senses. So the people [00:11:00] that are so good at going for runs and everything, that's amazing. So you don't have to change anything about your daily practice.

It's just about what you're focusing during that practice. So if you're going for a run and you start noticing when your foot touches the ground, see how long you can notice that for. Or, uh, if you hear, you can hear like your clothes are making a noise when you When you're running, listen to that noise for as long as you can, before your thoughts start, you know, like distracting you.

So the whole thing about mental resilience is training your brain to focus on what you want it to focus on. So when we're feeling emotions that kind of like, completely take over our bodies, we go, once we've built this muscle of saying, no, no, I want you to focus on this instead. The recovery from that emotion is so much quicker and it's all about where we're shifting our brain from our limbic system and our amygdala to our [00:12:00] prefrontal cortex.

That's literally what we're doing over and over and over again and we're strengthening that neural pathway so that when we want to focus on what we want to focus on, the front part of our brain is completely lit up and it's like, okay, I know what to do. Right. You're speaking my language. Oh my gosh. So we've got this amygdala, this almond little, little piece of our brain that overrides everything.

And that prefrontal cortex, think your forehead, is huge. Now, it doesn't stop developing until mid late twenties. So if you did some things in college and you know, it's okay. It's okay. We forgive you. You want this area activated. So what you're saying is you're going to start training that area to be stronger and to be the go to versus the fight flight.

I hate you. I love you. I love the drama. What, you know, whatever it might be going on in the amygdala. Absolutely. Because you know, we, we have to remember our thoughts and our feelings on our [00:13:00] facts. It's not the truth. It's just a truth. We've created. So that's where, you know, I love to talk about a self fulfilling prophecy because whatever you're thinking about, about yourself will become true because that part in your brain, that amygdala where your, your fear and your fight or flight response lives.

It wants to make sure that it's doing its job and every time it takes you through a process and it confirms that you should have been afraid. It confirms that, you know, this is the, this terrible thought you have about yourself is true. It's going, you see, you need me, you need me, but we only need it for a fraction of the time that we actually use it.

You need me. I told you I'm relevant. It's like the mean girl. I have to be here. No, you don't. But I will tell [00:14:00] you this. Okay. I did. I did read a study, about, so there's this gentleman went to these, neurologists. So the brain doctors, And they were studying these women who had had brain damage where their amygdala was no longer firing.

So they didn't feel fear at all. So there was no emotional fear or worry or anything like that in their body. And what ended up happening were these women kept getting themselves into dangerous situations because they weren't afraid. So we do need fear, but we need it with discernment So we don't want the fear to be the driver.

We just want the fear to be the person on the side with a map saying, Hey, listen, we can go this way or that way or that way, or, you know, but we don't want fear to be behind the wheel. Right? Like we need a certain level of anxiety to take that test, but we don't need it to a level where we can't take [00:15:00] the test.

Absolutely. That makes sense. Okay. So we're, we're doing our, I call it flow state activity, right? We're like doing the run. We're playing the instrument. We're, doing that thing. For me, it's puzzles. You know, you're doing that thing. And you're being very present and you're feeling, you're sensing, you're getting into all five senses.

What are some other things then, like, say we get that down and we're like, yeah, I'm really actually quite good at that. Mindfulness practice I can do. What are some next things we can be doing to build that resiliency? So the labeling things. So I know we, you know, I'm, I'm a millennial. We went through a long, thing of saying, I don't want to label anything.

You know, I don't want to label it, but you must. So having a new level of self awareness. So for example, I feel excitement and anxiety in the exact same place in my body. I've had to learn to discern. Between whether I'm feeling anxious about something [00:16:00] or whether I'm feeling excited about it because I used to always just say it was exciting because I'd learned to cope with anxiety or with the anxious feeling.

I don't have anxiety with the anxious feeling so and which would burn me out. Because I was going on about, I'm, I'm, I must be excited because it's this, in the same place, you know? so having this new level of self awareness and very often that requires us to actually stop in the moment and go, Hang on.

Is this something that I want to go towards or is it something that I actually want to run away from? Oh, yes. And the, the moment that you have that awareness and can label the emotion or the experience, you know how to then respond to it. Every time. Because you're saying like, I just kept saying it was excitement, so I kept going towards it.

And your brain and body by the end of the day were like, I'm depleted. I'm just fight or flight, adrenal fatigue, all of it. I'm done. And you're like, what's going on? I was just so excited. Like, Oh, [00:17:00] okay. I don't understand. You know, at the end of the day, I've got this like raging headache. I don't even want to like talk to anyone and I'm an extrovert.

So what's going on here? Yes. Yes. So we have our mindfulness practice. Then we have our awareness of the emotions and actually labeling them. And so that we know then how to respond. How do we get to that step where we know how to respond? Because a lot of us are dig deep, push the button. We can do this, keep going.

And that's like you said, causing the headaches at the end of the day, causing us not to want to be around people. We're just depleted. What do we do once we start to understand what that emotion is? So when you know what the emotion is, sometimes I ask my clients, what do you want to feel instead? So what do you want to feel instead of this emotion?

Or what do you want to do instead of the behavior that followed it? So give yourself that opportunity to go, you know, this is what things are looking like, but what do I want instead? Because [00:18:00] again, your brain needs instructions. It needs a clear idea of what it needs to focus on. If you're giving your brain an abstract instruction, like, I want to be happy.

Okay, you've got to go, okay, well, what does, what does happy look like? What does it feel like? How do I normally feel happy? What makes me happy usually? What is that trigger that comes with it? So it's about really getting like a holistic view of what it is that we want instead. Yes, yes, yes. I think about when people are like, I just need more help with what, what specifically?

Our brains are like the best personal assistants, but if we come to it vague or yeah, like fluffy, then it's like, okay, well I'll just kind of, we'll see. Or if you come to it with, I don't want this, it negates the, I don't want, and focuses on the thing. And then you're like, okay, great. Why did I don't want this to happen?

Why does it keep happening? Cause you just keep focusing on that. [00:19:00] So really our brains will continue a cycle, how we focus them. Even if we think, no, but I said, I don't want to the, okay, then what do you want? And then get very, very clear. So I love that you're saying that once you notice what the emotion is, how do you want to feel?

And how do you want to think? Because as you and I know, sometimes there is a level of anxiety that we can't just flip off, but we can go, what are the thoughts I want to have in this situation? So I don't compound it. So I can kind of help soothe them. And then the next step I will add is like, what are the coping skills that help me?

Um, and settling that by making the nervous system go, I'm okay, I'm safe, everything's good. You know, that bagel toning, whatever it is that helps you, Ooh, we're good. Everything's good. Then the mind takes a chill pill. Prefrontal cortex gets activated and goes, okay, logically, how can I support myself in this situation?

 So, and on top of the prefrontal cortex, so it has logic, but it also is with joy and [00:20:00] creativity. and pleasant emotions thrive. So it's where we feel like, you know, when you are in flow, that's what's lit up, you know, time and space just kind of disappear and you're just feeling great things.

So that's why it's also so important for us to, to stimulate the prefrontal cortex as much as we can, because it will strengthen it. Mm hmm. You mean practice makes perfect? Is that what you're saying? No, practice makes permanence. Permanent! Practice makes permanence. Oh my goodness. There's a quote. There you go.

Yes, absolutely. We often forget it is a muscle you can strengthen in a way, right? And exactly what you said, the more you practice, the more it becomes permanent. It becomes your habit. Your way of responding. When a client comes to you and said, man, I've been making all this progress and really building my mental resiliency.

And then something [00:21:00] happens. They're sick, they're stressed. They travel, that person comes back in their life and it knocks them down. How do you help them to remember they still have resiliency. We all have those setbacks. Well, mine, my go to is, well, what do you believe about this? What is the belief? Yeah.

Around what, what you think's going on here, because anything we believe about ourselves, about other people, about our capabilities, about what we want, that's the lens that we look everything through. Those are the glasses we put on. So what is it that you believe about this? Because if you have this belief that, Oh, when this happens, it means this, it's always going to keep derailing you.

So check in with what you believe. Check in with what that belief that you've created is. That personal assistant again, check in, are they, are they [00:22:00] thinking and feeling and believing what you want them to? Absolutely. Absolutely. Crystal, thank you so much. I feel like we could just talk for hours about this.

You and I are like geeking out on the brain science and I'm like, Oh God, Katie, this is about her. Interview her. Don't like share stories. But I love it. The brain is amazing. And we don't need to be so scared of it. That's it. it's created for us. Yes. Like it's, you know, it was put in us because that's the species that we have.

And we just go, Oh, okay. I was using my brain as a hammer, but I actually needed it as a screwdriver. Right. Right. And working with someone can be that change maker of going like, ah, and then you have those skills lifelong. You never go back. Right. Cause you're like, Oh, again, permanent. It's a habit. I know how to handle this.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Crystal. If people want to connect with you, if they want to find you and learn more from you, where can they find [00:23:00] you? I'm all over social media. the only thing I actually don't use is X Twitter because, okay. So, but you can basically find me at crystal. coach. And my name is K R Y S T L E.

coach. on TikTok, I'm the millennial coach. And then, again, my website is also crystal. coach or mentalperformance. co. za. Love it. And all you have to do search for the hot pink hair. That's it. And you know you found her. You know you found her. Excellent, Crystal. Thank you again. Really, these tools, I know people can start putting in place today and making a daily habit so it is permanent.

I really appreciate you. Oh, it's such a pleasure and thank you so much for having me. Again, this is like my dream is to talk about this stuff and I just love sharing this information. So I hope everybody, whatever sits with you the most when you leave this conversation, when you've listened to this, that's the thing to focus on.

Don't worry too much about [00:24:00] trying to do everything. The one thing that stays in the back of your head, that's the one. Tell us what that one thing is. Share it in the comments if you're watching this on social media. And if you're able to, especially if you're on Spotify, you can leave a little note to us and let us know what is the one thing you learned.

We want to know. Very good. Okay, all. Enjoy. And here's to finding our balance code.


Thank you again for listening to today's episode. As one of my listeners, I have a special gift for you. Do you ever feel like you're simultaneously doing way too much while also not feeling like you're doing enough? I have a workbook that's going to help you solve that problem and get to the root of what actually needs to be done and what matters to you most based on your values.

Check out my juggling all the things workbook below in the show notes so that you can use this special gift. To simplify your life. We all need that. And if you're interested in working with me, check in the show notes below on information on how to do [00:25:00] so. Here's to finding our balance code.