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From criminals to corporate leaders: A psychologist's view  

Clinical psychologist Chantal Hofstee sits down with Wellness Daily to discuss working with convicted criminals in the Netherlands, coaching corporate leaders across the globe and why we need to avoid overstimulating our brains. 

Why did you decide to become a psychologist?

I've always known that I wanted to be a psychologist. Even as a child, I was interested in people and why they do the things they do and what makes them tick. I can still remember as a child just observing human behaviour and being very fascinated by it. 

When I went to university, it was never a question what I would study. It was always what I wanted to do. I studied in the Netherlands, where I'm originally from. 

How did you end up working with criminals?

My favourite lecturer was an excellent clinical psychologist called Jan Bernard. He worked at a forensic rehabilitation clinic. I managed to get an internship there and was able to work with him and learn from him. We ran lots of groups together and I learned a lot. That's actually where my career started, working with convicted criminals. 

What did you get out of the experience?

With criminals, what you see is what you get. There is no beating around the bush. They were really straight, really direct and to the point. During that time, I got people to think about their actions, about what they want from life. And very slowly helping them understand how they could achieve those goals and what they needed to change. 

What type of criminals were they?

I worked with people with aggression issues. Most of them don't want to be doing what they're doing. They don't want to beat up their wife. They don't want to constantly be in conflict with the justice system. So our approach was to ask them, what is it you want? Are there better ways that you can get there?

That is what I'm doing now. I'm just working with different people.

How did you move from criminals to corporate executives?

I moved to New Zealand and after a few years working there at the Department of Corrections, I quickly realised it wasn't what I wanted to focus on. There was a lot of report writing and what I really wanted was to work with people.

I made the leap and started my private practice, Renew Your Mind. It grew very quickly and now we've got five people working with us. These days I work mostly in executive culture, helping business leaders with different problems and different goals. 

Are there similarities between working with criminals and working with executives?

At the end of the day, I'm still working with people trying to figure out with them what they really want and what they need to change to actually achieve that. I think that's just part of being human. We all have goals of how we want to be. We all have things we want to achieve. 

But most of us are not going about it in the most effective way. As a psychologist and as a coach, that's really my job - to help people identity what it is they want and then to help educate them and coach them into finding the best and most effective way of reaching those goals. 

Why do you think people aren't great at achieving their goals?

We go to school for all sorts of things. We learn how to drive a car, we take courses, we go to university, but when it comes down to actually trying to figure out our big life goals, that is something that most people don't do. We tend to just get on with things the way we always have and that's where part of the frustration comes from. The same New Year's resolutions each year. 

People don't take the time to take a step back. We tend to keep hoping for different outcomes, but we don't get them because our approach doesn't change. 

There is a better way. It might take some work to find that way and begin to put it into practice, but for most people, when they see the logic behind it, it no longer becomes a mystery why some people succeed at things and others don't. 

Why do some people burn out?

There are several factors operating on different levels. There is no simple answer to that question because everyone is different. But some of the main patterns I see are poor self-care, which directly leads to poor resilience. 

Being able to keep going at all costs doesn't necessarily mean you are very resilient. Actually realising you are heading for burnout, and putting on the breaks or changing something to prevent that, is a sign of resilience in itself.

How can people avoid burnout?

There are simple things that we all intuitively know but rarely act on. 

One is making sure you get enough sleep. Another is making sure you have good fuel in your system, so a good healthy diet. It doesn't have to be perfect, but your body needs fuel. Your brain needs fuel to operate effectively. 

Exercising, or even just moving. Your body is built to move, not to sit down all day. 

The final thing is stress management. The biggest weapon against stress, in my opinion, is avoiding overstimulation. That's really bad for the brain. When you overstimulate your brain, it begins to work on more and more basic principles to keep up with what's going on. What we really want is high-level functioning of the brain, which doesn't happen when we are under resourced.

Chantal Hofstee's book, Reach Your Goals Without Stressing Out, is available from and wherever great books are sold. 

Chantal Hofstee is a clinical psychologist, executive coach and mindfulness expert, who has worked in both the private and corporate sectors. She uses the techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness to provide her clients with easy-to-use skills that can be quickly and effectively implemented to change their lives. Through her company, Renew Your Mind, she provides mindfulness courses and business training to enable people to take control of stress, improve focus, solve problems, achieve their goals, boost their productivity and become more creative. Her first book was the very successful Mindfulness on the Run (also with Exisle Publishing).

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