Building Psychological Fitness with Dr. Karen Doll, Licensed Psychologist, Consultant, and Author

Dr. Karen Doll is a Licensed Psychologist, Consultant, and author of the bestselling book, Building Psychological Fitness. She has spent 25 years partnering with industry leading organizations and coaching high achieving professionals. She works at the intersection of personal well-being and professional development and is committed to improving workplace mental health.

In this episode, Dr. Karen and Cindra talk about:

  • How we have agency over our mental health
  • The ACE Pillars and why are they important to psychological fitness
  • How our brain can change when we train it
  • Why fear fuels self-doubt
  • Top cognitive training principles to build psychological fitness





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“The message underlying all of this is the necessary part of taking action… so, we can learn about stuff, and that’s helpful but in order for it to create change we have to take action on it.” -Dr. Karen Doll @Mentally_Strong
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There is no “one size fits all” solution. There’s no equation or magic bullet or algorithm that is going to snap somebody into perfect mental health. So, it’s definitely a verb… it’s something that we need to practice. ” -Dr. Karen Doll @Mentally_Strong
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Cindra Kamphoff: Welcome to the High Performance Mindset Podcast, Karen Doll. Thank you so much for being here. I’m so excited to talk to you about your book Building Psychological Fitness. I read it a few times and was reviewing it again before our conversation today, and I’m just really excited and pumped to talk to you about it. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. That’s music to my ears and thank you for having me. 

Cindra Kamphoff: You bet. Well I think that this topic of psychological fitness is so relevant right now, particularly as we… maybe recover from COVID and all the, you know, mental health increases… the disorders and issues that we have seen as a result of COVID. So maybe just kind of get us started Karen… tell us a little bit about what you’re passionate about and what you’re doing right now. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Great. Yes. So, I’m a psychologist, and I’ve been a psychologist in the workplace for 25 plus years… and I would say… so what I tell people is, I’ve always been involved in mental health at work. I just wasn’t able to call it that until the last… and so, the last years with COVID and the increased rates of depression/anxiety and the struggle that is out there, and the overwhelm, and the burnout… really, I just began to have like this tension and passion around, wanting to enhance awareness about that, and really to talk more about it, so that people don’t need to feel alone in their struggle. In my coaching conversations throughout COVID, I was hearing about it from people all day 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah. 

Karen Decesare Doll: …and then with that… which I felt was really sad, people just felt very alone. It’s easy to assume everybody else has things figured out, and I’m the only one that’s struggling or suffering. So… my passion in the last few years has really just been around enhancing mental health awareness, helping us talk more about psychology, and the promotion of thriving and flourishing at work. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, I love it, and I think our work is more relevant than ever before, because what people experience during COVID and what we’re seeing is as a result of it. And I think there’s more athletes, you know, that’s… I work with a lot of athletes… there’s more athletes who are speaking up about mental health issues. And so, there’s just like a growing awareness of why it’s really important. So, this topic of psychological fitness, maybe to get us started, Karen, define it for us. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Sure. So, I use the term really just to refer to the whole person’s wellbeing – so mental, emotional, cognitive health… and I landed on the term psychological fitness and ended up using that in my cover, or in my title, because I really want to reinforce the message that we have some agency over our mental health. It’s dynamic and fluid… and there… there’s a whole mental health continuum. We’re not mentally healthy or not. We’re not mentally ill or not, just like physical health – I’m mostly physically healthy, yet I have ailments. I’m not suffering from a chronic disease, but my knee hurts, and I have arthritis and all the things that come with being 50. So, I was… I’m really trying to promote that message around the idea that we have agency over our mental health, and just like we train for our for physical fitness. There are interventions and things we can do to enhance our mental health. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, I love that word agency, because that means to me that I have some impact and control of it… and even if maybe I have a history of depression or anxiety in my family right, that I still have some agency over how I show up.  

Karen Decesare Doll: Yes, and with that, I think, comes a lot of hope… and I think we need to foster hope. With that also comes, you know, a sense of responsibility and accountability, and I always really feel the need to, you know, put it disclaimers out that… you know, the practices that I note in my book are really about the promotion of thriving and flourishing, and that the practices that are evidence-based and science-backed and proven to be effective to enhance mental health are not going to be a full, comprehensive intervention and cure if somebody does have mental illness or mental disorder. So, this idea of the mental health continuum is just that we can be in the green zone, and one day… we can be in the orange/yellow zone, and the red zone would be like… experiencing, acute clinical symptoms of mental illness… and it’s also important to note that there are plenty of people that have diagnosed mental illness that is well treated, and they are thriving and flourishing themselves. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, so helpful… and this mental health continuum… you write about in your book, and I love the idea of, you know, it goes from mental illness to flourishing… and then you have these different categories of mood, sense of self, focus, attitude, social habits… tell us about how we might use that mental health continuum. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Yeah so, there are all kinds of different models and frameworks out there. I just the one that I put together is really just sort of general… it can map against anything, but why I think it can be helpful is just to take inventory. And to have some very specific quadrants to react to… to check in with ourselves. Where am I on this, and what are my pain points? Where am I struggling so that I can understand what to do, moving forward, or what interventions might be right sized? So, if I’m in the light green zone, the interventions of how I might move into the flourishing zone are going to be different than if I’m in the red zone. So, we look at, you know, general habits, sleep, nutrition, physical activity, kind of… the common components of well-being, and then sense of self – What is our attitude like? What is it our mood? How our connections with people? So, they’re just ways for us to get… a little more granularity into our mental health experience.  

Cindra Kamphoff: And if people are interested in getting the background of that, you talk about this in your book, that the mental health continuum started in 1937 with psychologist Gordon Allport… and then the one that you use is kind of based on Dr. John Travis’s work.  

Karen Decesare Doll: Yeah, yes. The whole concept that mental health isn’t binary, started… you know, that many decades ago and really followed… the practice of medicine, which is, you know, traditionally, was so focused on pathology and illness, you know, which, of course, is important. Yet there’s also more recent understanding of the importance of the promotion of health, rather than just the reduction of ill health or disease 

Cindra Kamphoff: So, let’s talk about how do we build psychological fitness. And I love the title of your book, because I think about it is like a muscle that you build, right? LIke you go in the weight room every day… and we can do the same by building our mental strength. And where should we get started as we’re thinking about building our psychological fitness? 

Karen Decesare Doll: Well… if we break down some of the practices or the interventions. And first of all, what I try to suggest to people in any kind of personal development pursuit is that we’re all unique… our needs to all unique. There is no “one size fits all” solution. There’s no equation or magic bullet or algorithm that is going to snap somebody into perfect mental health. So, it’s definitely a verb… it’s something that we need to practice. So, I, what I’ve done is just spend a lot of time researching what the science tells us, of what practices are effective. And then I think it’s up to everybody just to do their own observation and experimentation… and practice, to figure out what levers to push and pull… that will be most impactful for them. So, you know. Here are the ingredients everybody put together their own recipe for what’s going to be most effective to enhance their mental health. So, broadly speaking, we have what we would call, you know, top-down strategies… so those would be things like cognitive reframing, and the mind training activities. There are bottom-up practices where sometimes, when we’re under stress… and we’re getting into some negative thinking and thinking traps, sometimes more thinking about our thinking is not helpful, and at that time, we want to go to more of like a somatic or body-based relaxation technique. So, there are… inside out practices like those, and then also what I would refer to as outside-in practices, and that’s when we’re more getting engaged with our relationships and connections and community and family and friends, and we’ve all been hearing in the last few years the power of connection, and how important that is for the promotion of health… and the big longitudinal study at Harvard, which I think lots of people have been hearing about, it’s been getting a lot of really great press… is that the power of connection, and in predicting longevity, and that they’re understanding that that is the number one predictor of long-term health.  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, wild.  

Karen Decesare Doll: And what’s so incredible about that, is that’s actionable for everybody, and all of us today, right now…  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, it is… and it just shows you the importance of, you know, people might say or think it’s maybe my diet or my exercise, or how much sleep I’m getting… but just this idea that connection number one predictor of long-term health. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Yes, not only that, I mean the Surgeon General came out with this with his report recently, too, about the loneliness epidemic… and how loneliness damages our health and leads to disease and illness… and they’ve equated it to smoking, and similar damage to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah. yeah. Wild. Yeah. And what I like about what you said about the mental health continuum is that I can use this to like check in with myself every day, right? That it can change, and I’m curious about, you know… when would you recommend someone using like a top-down strategy versus a bottom up versus more of that… outside-in, I think you referred to it as 

Karen Decesare Doll: Well, I think there’s plenty of information out there, and knowledge that we all have about kind of mainstream wellbeing practices. So, we all know the things that we should be doing and not be doing like don’t smoke cigarettes, and we should be drinking water, and getting good sleep, and all those fundamentals. So, without good sleep, everything’s harder. So, I mean, just reinforcing the basics… and that’s what’s complicated about us as humans is… we generally know all the things we should be doing, but it’s easy to not do them also. 

Cindra Kamphoff: It is.  

Karen Decesare Doll: So again… I think once you address those foundational principles, and you’re getting decent sleep and reasonable nutrition and whatnot, then the psychological stuff can really have a compound impact, and I think that can really catapult people, you know… into that thriving flourishing desired state where we’re feeling fulfilled. 

Cindra Kamphoff: And I think we should focus in on this cognitive training, because I think that’s really tangible, and everyone who’s listening can utilize it… and tell us a bit about you know, in the book you talk about neuroplasticity, and I think that’s a really powerful idea to share with people… and tell us why, you think that might be really important for psychological fitness.  

Karen Decesare Doll: Yeah, so you know, in recent years, as we learn so much about the brain and get more… a detailed look into what’s happening in the brain real time with scans and such, we’re able to understand so much more… and the premise of this, is that we can engage in mental activities, and train the brain that will then establish new neural pathways in the brain, and then our brain can actually change. So, the structure of the brain can actually change, based on the actions that we take which, again, like that this is a tremendous message of hope…  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah.  

Karen Decesare Doll: …for enhancing emotional health. 

Cindra Kamphoff: I have been reading… well, listening to… I’ve run every single morning, it’s just my way of exercising and caring for myself, and I feel so much better after I do it… and the last several weeks I’ve been listening to The Confidence Code… it’s an incredible book, but the part of the chapter, one of the beginning chapters, they talk about what exactly what you’re saying that… we can strengthen new neural pathways, and they cite different research about changes to our brain… and what actually happens when we engage in some of these exercises. So you know, there’s so much you can find about this idea of neuroplasticity… It is… just to help you really think about why you want to train your mind more often. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Oh, absolutely, and I mean, I think they’re learning more and more by the minute… and I love that book, too. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I’ve gifted that book many times, The Confidence Code. 

Cindra Kamphoff: It’s a very good book. Yeah, yeah, excellent. Well, so let’s talk a little bit about some of the exercises you provide about cognitive training… and what would you say, are… you know, the top cognitive training principles that would build psychological fitness in your opinion? 

Karen Decesare Doll: Well, I think… you know, the quality of our thinking we’ve heard a lot of the cliches of… we see things as we are, not as they are… and the quality of our thinking impacts our mood, our perception, our interpretation of events, and so, I think it can be really 

impactful to take a a deeper dive into what our thinking patterns are and our mental models and core beliefs, and assumptions that we make. Assumptions that we’ve maybe… been conditioned to have as core beliefs, and really, it’s… you know, self-regulation is about right sizing our 

our actions and interpretations to the situation, and so, looking at your mental models and understanding how to do cognitive reframing, so upgrading our thinking patterns so that they’re healthier can be useful… there are things, you know, cognitive distortions – fear can trigger 

stinking thinking, or thinking traps where you know our perceptions get filtered… and perhaps become distorted and less accurate. And so, getting a little deeper insight, and being able to 

create a little bit of healthy detachment, create a little bit of space between… me and the thought or me, and the feeling and just even modifying that a little bit can help unhook from the severity or the intensity of an experience. So even instead of saying, I’m depressed, saying, I’m having the thought of feeling sad right now, or I am feeling sadness right now, so that we don’t become enslaved by the thought or the feeling. I think that’s helpful for emotional health. So that’s you know, the idea of cognitive reframing… and then also, anything around just general attention management is really important right now…we have so many interruptions and pings and distractions and digital inputs that I think we haven’t quite… like the human, the system hasn’t quite adapted to that, and I think it’s a little more than we’re able to handle in a healthy way… with this, the rapid growth and acceleration of technology… and I, I think a lot of people are feeling that they’re flawed, or that there’s something wrong with them because they’re constantly feeling distracted, when really… what’s probably happening is they’re getting interrupted all day… which is different than feeling distractable.  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah.  

Karen Decesare Doll: So, I think attention management and working on creating external work conditions to set us up for success so that we’re able to focus and manage our attention is important.. and then, you know, there’s a I’m sure you use this a lot with… your athletes and coaches, just any mindfulness practice of being aware whether that’s meditation or just practicing simple mindfulness. There’s just a ton of research about how that’s helpful in so many levels. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah… so helpful. You provided you know just so many different ways that we can work to train our brain… and if people are wondering, okay, what… what do some of these topics mean? And we can dive into them… I think about this idea of… cognitive reframing is really like I can change my frame or my lens on the situation. I think about it was like looking through a picture frame, you know, and I can choose a different frame to see a situation, and sometimes we see it only from our perspective, or we take things really, personally, when really it’s likely has nothing to do with us anyway, right, but we think it’s about us.  

Karen Decesare Doll: Right.  

Cindra Kamphoff: I love what you said about, we see things as we are… not as they are – did I get that right?  

Karen Decesare Doll: Mhm.  

Cindra Kamphoff: Tell us a little about that, and maybe… a situation or a story… let’s say, of a client, and obviously don’t share their names, but like, you know how people really use some of these strategies, and how you help people debunk some of their assumptions that they might have. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Oh, sure, absolutely. I mean, I could give a neutral example… I mean a neutral example of a different interpretation of a neutral event would be – it’s Monday morning, and… I’ve used this example before, because it’s simple and relatable, but if it’s Monday morning and it’s raining, my family and I are all having a different relationship with this Monday morning experience. So, my response and interpretation of rain on a Monday morning is awesome. I don’t need to feel bad about being inside when I’m like getting back to work…  

Cindra Kamphoff: Sure.  

Karen Decesare Doll: …my son Stephen used to work at a golf course, so when it would rain he’d get to sleep in, so, he’d say that was great… my son Aj played baseball, and if he gets rained out he’d be bummed out… so the rain bums him out. So, all different interpretations of this experience of rain, it didn’t happen ‘to’ us… didn’t like rain to us, it just rained, and we all interpreted it in a different way, or had a different experience. You know, a common, workplace example of thinking of misunderstanding, or misinterpreting… or catastrophizing… if somebody doesn’t get a promotion. I didn’t get the promotion that can trigger, fear and discouragement and disappointment, and lead to all kinds of negative, unpleasant thinking… like my boss hates me. I’m never going to get promoted, I’m terrible, this is awful… and the challenge there is just, you know, we climb down the ladder of assumptions and look at what we know to be true. and they find another way of looking at it… so their way of looking at it might be. Well, maybe that wasn’t the right job for me, anyway… maybe the other person was much more qualified. Maybe I wasn’t sure I wanted to work for that boss, right? I mean… they’re all different… maybe the next opportunity is going to be right around the corner. So just even if we don’t believe it… I always challenge clients to just empty the bucket, come up with as many things as you can to unhook a little bit from that interpretation. And here’s an actually commonly… acommon one, too, is, you know, people have a fear of speaking up in meetings or public speaking, and we all have that fear of judgment… nobody wants to look like an idiot, and so, an example would be, I say something in the meeting in a meeting, and I speak up and share my opinion, and nobody says anything. It’s silent. So, I might think, oh, my gosh! Why did I say that? That was so stupid… now everybody thinks I’m an idiot, everybody thinks I’m stupid… they hate my idea. When really… what’s probably more likely going on… is there thinking about they’re grocery list.  

Cindra Kamphoff: That’s true.  

Karen Decesare Doll: …or whatever else they might be doing.  

Cindra Kamphoff: Right.  

Karen Decesare Doll: …looking at their phone, thinking of the next thing they’re going to say… I mean, there are many other things that are probably going on besides them just being observed with what their judgment of me is. 

Cindra Kamphoff: I think that takes so much awareness to take a step back… and I like what you said about climbing down the ladder of assumptions and making a list of all the other things it could mean, so that we really get to the truth… and we just don’t listen to, you know, the automatic thinking that we can have… and then, ultimately, we believe… and I think about the impact that these assumptions can have on our confidence, on our mental health… on our motivation, to go after our goals, right? Most of the time, what we’re thinking about is not really accurate, right? 

Karen Decesare Doll: Right? And well and fear really fuels, self-doubt… then that can just escalate. So, I also like the self-compassion practice of saying to ourselves, when we’re in the midst of that muck, saying – what would I tell a friend right now? Because the other thing is, you know the message we tell ourselves matters.  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah.  

Karen Decesare Doll: …and most of us would not speak to our friends like our inner critic speaks to us. 

Cindra Kamphoff:  


Karen Decesare Doll: I did that, I would have no friends.  

Cindra Kamphoff: Absolutely, so true.  

Karen Decesare Doll: So it’s another way to create a little bit of space.  

Cindra Kamphoff: I think that, you know… I’ve grown in my own self compassion a lot as I get older, you know… as I think about my college… I was a track and field athlete in college, and I was so hard on myself, and I felt like, the harder I was on myself, the better I would perform. But, as you could imagine, it was quite the opposite… it was like – the harder I was on myself, the worse I did, the more likely I was going to drop out, you know, and I just like my motivation dwindled… I wish that I would have… and of course, you know, our understanding of mental health and mental performance is very different now than it was when I was in college… there’s a lot more awareness of why it’s important to be kind to yourself and compassionate. 

Karen Decesare Doll: I came across a quote recently. I don’t remember the context or who it was… I want to say it was somebody named Jen Hardy, but I could be making that up, so, I don’t want to miss quote… so you might need to edit that part out…  

Cindra Kamphoff: We’re good.  

Karen Decesare Doll: But it was… something like, you know criticizing a tree isn’t going to help it grow faster.  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah.  

Karen Decesare Doll: If you think of like the idea of growth and flourishing and blooming as people and as humans that it’s not helpful. Feedback can be helpful and constructive, and learning and what not… but unnecessary internal beat downs are not helpful. Excessive judgment is not helpful. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah… I’m thinking about my kids, and just you know how kids need to hear these messages that you’re just… you’re sharing with us so much because it can be really easy for them to get in their own head… and I, you know, one of the things I love about your book, Karen, is it is like just this incredible research resource guide of all the amazing research on these different topics of psychological fitness, and I want to dive into one of the concepts you shared called ACE, because it was something unique that I hadn’t heard about like these ACE pillars… and so share with us about those pillars and why they might be important to our psychological fitness. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Sure, yeah, I just look at the fundamental importance, or the message underlying all of this is the necessary part of taking action… so, we can learn about stuff, and that’s helpful but in order for it to create change… we have to take action on it. So that’s why I think you know, training, building, psychological fitness, personal development is a process. It’s not an event. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah. 

Karen Decesare Doll: It’s not a one-time thing we have to keep. We have to keep at it. So, taking action… even if it’s, you know, very small incremental steps, and I think always the scaffolding and the fabric of social connection, helps catapult all of this, all of our mental health, and without it I think it’s… that there’s no foundation. We can’t stand alone, like we’re all in this together… and then just the message of empowerment and hope that we do have agency, and no matter where we are, there are just… little things we can do, even just to make a bit of difference… and I interviewed a a number of people about this when I was researching for my book… 

Cindra Kamphoff: Okay… 

Karen Decesare Doll: …about, you know, positive psychology – is it kind of… is it to woo-woo? Or is it sounding like a a band aid on a bullet wound? Which it would for somebody who’s experiencing an acute, depressive episode… yeah, there was a a researcher out of Harvard who challenged me on this, and I have my in my book… I have the transcript still where, she said… any little tiny island of relief is worth it. Even if somebody is really struggling, if they’re in poverty, if they’re in survival mode… any little island of relief or reprieve is better than not. So, even though these practices aren’t going to be, you know, mega solutions for all of our mental health problems… little drops of that can have compound impact. So, the empowerment piece, I just like to remind us always that there’s hope. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, awesome, and so that ACE pillar stands for action, connection and empower. How might we use this to guide us in our, you know, and growing in our mental health? 

Karen Decesare Doll: Well, I encourage us to rely on each other for any kind of growth, because what we know is personal change happens and can happen with hard work, with follow up, and with accountability with other humans. So, whether we’re taking a class, or we want to grow, or learn, or train for a marathon, or we know that we are more set up for success, for personal change if those components are in place. I love the idea of accompaniment, which is just this this notion that we’re all in this together, and we don’t all need to be therapists 

to help each other’s well-being, or to be there for each other and support each other, because sometimes that just is what people need… they need to be seen and heard, and they need to know that people care and that they matter. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, absolutely. 

Karen Decesare Doll: And it hundred percent applies in the workplace too…. and it’s so simple like this is just the humanity of it… yet I think it also can be kind of forgotten. So, the idea of accompaniment is just, you know, walking alongside each other, being in the struggle with each other, and supporting each other through it, because we all have our own struggle… 

we don’t need to compare them and it isn’t a matter of whose is worse or better or having judgment. But we all experience… emotional struggle and pain. 

Cindra Kamphoff: And I don’t know about you, but I think that I have all the tools right, and I know all the tools. I don’t always practice them… 

Karen Decesare Doll: Yeah.  

Cindra Kamphoff: And sometimes I need my sister, my friend, my husband, to say Cindra, what else could the situation? What’s another… just, you know, another way to see the situation? Or is that really true? You know, so we can all get stuck, and I like what you said about… you know, not like getting unhooked from our emotions, not labeling our emotions like, I am angry, you know, just like I’m feeling angry right now… and I think even you could use the ACE pillars tell me if I’m wrong as you’re listening to this interview, because you said many principles in this book are arranged around 3 pillars – the importance of taking action, connecting with people, and empowering yourself to do the work, to facilitate change… and so, as you’re listening, I’m just going to encourage people to think about it, you know… what do you want to take action more on related to your mental health? How can you connect with people? … because it is the number one predictor of long-term health like you mentioned, and then how can you empower yourself to do the work… and I think of, and you tell me if you agree with this, but I think like I have to practice mindset training every day, because if I don’t, I can just go down in that mental health continuum pretty easy and get stuck… but I have to really train it every day. That’s what I would tell an elite athlete. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Well absolutely! 

Cindra Kamphoff: It’s necessary to mental conditioning every day. 

Karen Decesare Doll: If you stop lifting weights, their muscles will atrophy, and our cognitive health is no different. So yes, I mean, this is all “me search”. 

Cindra Kamphoff: That’s good.  

Karen Decesare Doll: I study this stuff and talk to people about it every day, and I’m still in the slog, like everyone trying to figure it out… and we just need so many reminders, reminders, reminders. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, absolutely. 

Karen Decesare Doll: We learn about these things and our psychology offline, you know… maybe when we’re not in the midst of a crisis or in the midst of an emotional experience, the more we gain self-awareness, it’s an investment in ourselves… and self-discovery is helpful so that we can recognize what some of our patterns and trends are. And then in in real time, with practice to be able to at least more often, or have it happen less frequency, be able to get back on track and pause and say, okay, wait, hang on a second – is this me just doing this thing I do? Is this me over personalizing the situation? How can I right-size this, because if we practice it offline, it does get a little easier to access it online or in real time… but it’s the long game. 

We’re not going to get it right every time… it’s the long game, we’re human.  

Cindra Kamphoff: And like what you said is psychological fitness is a journey, not a destination. So that means to me that it’s like, I don’t have an endpoint. It’s, you know, every day working towards this on this journey.  

Karen Decesare Doll: Yeah, we don’t ever arrive… and even think of like staying clean, taking a shower and physical hygiene – we don’t just take a shower once, and then we stay clean 

most of a shower about every day.  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, hopefully.  

Karen Decesare Doll: Hopefully… and so in the psychological health that hygiene is important, for it’s important for maintenance, it’s important for prevention, and you know the promotion of health. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, maintenance and prevention… awesome. So, I know there’s a section in your book where you talk about just this idea of like talking to yourself really does matter… and I’d like to spend a little time on that, because I think it’s a powerful idea. to talk to yourself, you know, and just notice the ways you’re talking to yourself. Tell us about what your thoughts are on that and maybe any of the concepts from your book that might be helpful for us. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Well, I think talking to ourselves from a place of compassion, observation, inquiry, and curiosity… rather than judgment and evaluation and persecution is home. So, whatever that tone or affect or language is…. I think it impacts everything… and you know, high achieving people in particular, tend to air on the self-critical side and can get into the mind traps of the not enough “isms”.  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, so true.  

Karen Decesare Doll: Not productive enough… I haven’t gotten far along in my career enough. I’m not in shape enough. I’m not this or that… and that’s it’s arbitrary. and it generates unnecessary distress, because if we look, you know, upon further investigation, I wasn’t productive enough, like compared to what? Compared to who? It’s phantom, usually often… so, making sure that we’re talking to ourselves in a way that doesn’t generate unnecessary distress, I think is important. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah… and how often do we do that? A lot, right? I find myself when I really going after a big goal, and it doesn’t work out quite like I expect, you know, when something really matters to me… that’s when I have a harder time, where I’m more judgy with myself, or persecute myself. I like that word instead of kindness, inquiry, non-judgment, just like observing… and I like those words together that you used.  

Karen Decesare Doll: Yeah. And it isn’t about not acknowledging unpleasant emotions or negative experiences. It’s not… I would never be one to promote toxic positivity… yet again doing it just with a little more gentleness, and of course, with things that are important, we care more. So that is going to intensify the experience, and intensify the energy of the emotion that we’re having…  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah is there anything else from your book that you really want to share with us… and there’s so many different ways we can go. So, I’m just curious – is there anything that I didn’t ask you about that? If you’re like, oh, man, this is… you know, my favorite part of the book, or this is what I really think people need to hear today. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Well, okay, I have a couple of things. I guess… if I could say a couple? 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yes, I would love it.  

Karen Decesare Doll: One is… I just encourage everybody to embrace that vulnerability is overused a little bit, but really share the struggle with each other because there’s just power in that, and we can all help each other. You can help someone right now in the next 5 minutes… just listen, but intently… I mean, if you have a conversation with somebody who is truly listening for over one to two minutes and totally engaged… it almost feels unusual.  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah.  

Karen Decesare Doll: It almost feels uncomfortable because it’s unfamiliar… because we’re so accustomed to just going to our phones or doing other things, and that has an impact, so that… attend to each other, foster your connections… and then the subtitle of my book is How High Achievers… How High Performers Achieve with Ease, and basically the part of the message of what I am trying to create or reinforce is that we can still strive and challenge ourselves, and have healthy tension, and healthy stress, and get better, and be on that edge of growth and development without the unnecessary distress and the mal effects that chronic stress can have upon us. So, achieve with just a little more ease and unnecessary tension…  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah.  

Karen Decesare Doll: And then that’s also a dynamic verb. So… high achievers, what I would say is, take it just a little easy… take it a little easier. Like pushing forward is not always the answer and can often do more damage. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, so powerful. I think about in sport that in football we use this term called press, that when someone tries too hard they press, they push too hard, and I see a lot of high achievers do that where they’re stressed at the same time, they’re working hard… and so 

how would you… you know, what advice would you give to somebody, let’s say their client… and they say, well, you know, Karen… Dr. Karen, I really want to work with more ease – how?  

Karen Decesare Doll: Yeah… I mean, a lot of that is comes down to kind of this managing our stress, too… but I love that idea of press it, finding… like just enough so that we’re effective, but not too much that we’re pushing ourselves off the cliff, right?  

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah.  

Karen Decesare Doll: I think, loosening the grip not getting too attached to outcomes, can help reduce a little bit of that, that pressure to press… that and rest and recovery. I mean elite athletes, college athletes, professional athletes, are way better at managing their energy than corporate athletes. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah.  

Karen Decesare Doll: We don’t… value and prioritize rest and recovery like we should.  

Cindra Kamphoff: That’s true. Yeah, right… where as… elite athletes know that, hey, I need to get, you know, 9/8 hours of sleep tonight, so I can train hard the next day. It’s like we think maybe 5 hours is just fine… or let me grab this donut to give me short, quick energy.  

Karen Decesare Doll: Well, in the busyness and the hurried culture, and that can sometimes be glamorized and glorified. And I think we’re working on it. We’re trying to send other messages, but it’s still there. We aren’t rewarded for cultivating calm, like we are for hustling. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah. Well, Dr. Karen, your work is so important, and I loved our conversation today, just such easy to understand tools and strategies… and your book is just a wonderful resource for people who want to learn more about building psychological fitness and the different strategies and ways to do that backed by research… you provide a lot of research there. Tell us where we can find your book and find more information about your work. 

Karen Decesare Doll: Yes, thank you. So, is my website, and I’m on LinkedIn… Building Psychological Fitness…. my book you can buy anywhere you can buy books, Amazon or Barns and Noble… and I, I do a class every now and again, where we apply this stuff in like a small group cohort base on a site called Maven, which is really fun because it brings it to life a little bit and allows us to practice some of that accompaniment and connection and accountability. So those would be my suggestions, I love when people reach out. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Awesome, excellent. Well, I’m going to do my best to summarize what we talked about today, and there’s lots of different ideas… but I appreciate it the beginning when you just talked about the that we can, you know, have we have some agency of our mental health, so really owning that and remembering that that mental health is a verb. And we talked about the mental health continuum, and how that can shift day to day. So, you could Google that, or look at Karen’s book to find more information about that so you can kind of visualize that. You said we… we see things as we are, not as they are, so just understanding your own interpretation, and how I like the example that you provided of – it’s raining Monday morning, and how that means different things to people in your family. That we are not our emotions so just by saying things like I’m feeling sad, or I’m having blank, right? That can help us disconnect and get unstuck. And you talked about fear fuels self-doubt, and criticizing a tree doesn’t help it grow faster… so, thank you so much, Dr. Doll, for joining us today. Any final thoughts or advice you’d have for people who are listening, those high performers out there? 

Karen Decesare Doll: Well I appreciate the platform that you have, and I appreciate people tuning in… so let’s just all continue to support each other, and I look forward to staying connected with you. 

Cindra Kamphoff: Thank you, Karen.