How Dr. Jon Finn became a ‘Habit Mechanic’ – the Tougher Minds story

This episode is a special interview with Tougher Minds founder, Dr. Jon Finn.

He explains how he and his colleagues developed the unique and award-winning Tougher Minds programmes.

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Podcast Transcription

Andrew Whitelam  

Welcome to the Tougher Minds podcast. I’m Andrew Whitelam. This episode is a special interview with Tougher Minds founder, Dr. Jon Finn. I asked him how he and his colleagues have developed the unique and award winning Tougher Minds programmes. I began the interview by asking Dr. Jon to explain what first attracted him to performance psychology,


Dr. Jon Finn  

Well the first recollection of thinking about performance psychology was actually in my dad’s bar. And I think we must have been driving to the driving range, the golf driving range, when I was a teenager. And I just distinctly remember on the radio, it was coverage of the British Open. And it was the British Open with the American golfer, John Daly. One. And I don’t know what day of the competition it was, but he was leading or doing well. And the radio discussion was all about how John Daly reported using, I suppose what we call imagery. It explained he was seeing the shot, he wanted to, he wanted to hit. He was seeing the outcome of the shot before he hit it. And the interesting thing that got my attention was, they were discussing whether that was cheating or not, whether that should be actually allowed. 


So that’s just that’s the first time I remember thinking about, I suppose the mental side of performance. And then sport was something I was always Okay, I was okay, golf was okay, Rob Bell was okay at football and cricket. And my generation was the generation that were at 21, I suppose, was able to go to university. And we were really encouraged to go to university. But I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and the advice was, well, first and foremost, pick something that you think you’ll enjoy. And sports science was becoming quite popular back then. So I picked a sports science type course. Because the spine, I suppose the reason that I picked it, and then I, I just really connected with the sports psychology side of the car. So I was studying physiology, psychology, nutrition, motor control, that’s the science of how you learn, I learned to move. I just got really interested in the psychology side, and I had one very specific moment at university, but I’ve been selected to play international student rugby. 


And I was selected in the training squad, we’re working up to the Australia Test match, which is quite a big deal. And we were playing in the warm-up game to that match. And I was fullback and we played on a wet, cold windy day in the north of England, I think it was about 90, we were playing against the other professional men’s team. And I just remember the ball going very high up in the air. And I was pretty much stood underneath my own posts. And the ball was like almost coming to me in slow motion. And what I remember saying to myself in my head was Don’t drop it. Don’t drop it and then start to say you’ve got to drop it, you kind of drop it. And then of course, I dropped the ball. the opposition score and I did not get selected for the Australia test much. But the fallout of that was me saying to myself, wait a minute, you’re supposed to be studying sports psychology, you need to do a better job of sort of taking advice from all these books and lectures that you’re reading and attending. 


And that kind of kicked me on then, about that time as well. I had ruptured my quad, or one of my quads in my right like, but not really meant I couldn’t, I couldn’t train in a way that I needed to train to play high level rugby anymore. So I knew that my rugby career or a serious rugby career wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to really put my efforts and energies into the sports psychology side of my studies and I did a dissertation in the area. And then after my undergraduate degree, I went to work in America for a little while. And I remember getting an email from my dissertation supervisor whilst I was in New York telling me that I got a first class in my dissertation and that meant I could then go on to study sports psychology as a master’s degree at the institute of my choice which is really exciting. That’s awesome. That was the start of my career in sports psychology performance psychology. And the pathway was just really been interested in the broad concept, but also my own experiences of playing sport, I really connected this idea that the brain is driving everything that we’re doing yet, it’s not something that was ever really talked about spend an awful lot of time looking at the training on the fitness side and looking at the tactics and the technical stuff, but not really thinking too much about the mental side.


Andrew Whitelam  

So academic beginnings then, but Jon, tell us if you would about how you began your professional career in this area then?


Dr. Jon Finn  

So I completed a master’s in sports psychology. The first job I got after that was working for a company called prozone, which were which don’t exist anymore. They’re now they’re now on by a company called stops, I think. But prozone were a pioneering sports analytics company. And they had some technology, where essentially, they could put cameras into football stadiums, rugby stadiums, and those cameras will track player movements. And therefore, they could start to work out how far the players are drawn. Then on top of that, they would have people watching those videos and working out how many passes each player admit to whether short passes will or long passes, how many tackles did big people make and you provided this in in depth of information for coaches and players to use to analyse their own performance and pros on others time, you know, had some of the biggest sports teams in the world as clients, including actually Clive Woodward’s England rugby union team, and they were using that technology for for selection. They had Franklin’s garden at the Northampton stadium. So I was thrust straight into the world of elite sport. And my job was to help the coaches to use the product. And I got to work with stray away people like the South African rugby union team doing some work with the goal kicker, person Montgomerie. Then using some of the stuffs I learned about developing pre shot routines to Australia were thrust into the world of the sort of elite athletes. One of the clubs that pros have provided services for was a Scunthorpe united, there were a training club if you like. And the manager there was a guy called Brian loss. He’d played under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. He was a was a legend, legend drEF English Football Manager then I got on really well with Brian and if and his backroom staff on it ended up actually going going to work for him using my psychology skills, and also helping them to analyse, you know what was going on on the field during games. So


Dr. Jon Finn  

I went from working for the company that was providing services to professional sports teams to then starting to actually work with professional sports teams. And at the same time, I also started to lecture in the Carnegie Faculty of sport and education at Leeds. And then I also started work for the professional golfers Association as well at the same time. So I played golf and I was really interested in working in golf and I did a little bit of that, during my master’s that led to a connection with the professional golfers Association. Many people don’t know that people that are called PGA pros actually have to do essentially a degree in golf for their training to become a PGA Pro. Traditionally, that degree had three components: golf coaching, learning how to run a business, and then learning how to repair golf clubs. And Around this time, the PGA we’re adding a fourth string to the degree which was Sport Science. And they were looking for people with expertise in sport psychology to come and help them to develop that part of the training programme. So very quickly after finishing my master’s degree, I had the three strands of work one was working in the backroom staff in league football in England was teaching suppose the next generation of sport scientists and I was teaching physiology psychology and motor control and a new It all was teaching the next generation of golf coaches. So lots of exciting things going on pretty quickly and, you know, learning lots all the time. 


Andrew Whitelam

How did you then start to develop the understanding of the vital importance of the brain, of human behaviour and of habits, and hence, the specific approaches to improving things like resilience and leadership that Tougher Minds takes?


Dr. Jon Finn  

What really got the British, although my undergraduate degree, we didn’t mention the brand in any serious way. But when I went to do my Masters Institute was very research focused. And they were really keen to get under the bonnet of what was going on inside the human body and bred them to use those insights to help athletes do better. And they were certainly doing pioneering work. And there were several things going on at the Institute, which was a Manchester Metropolitan University, and then a very, very specific SPORT SCIENCE outfit there. And when I joined, they were doing, for example, research for NASA, the space agency, and they were looking at muscle, the traffic, the impact of gravity, essentially household muscles. And they had these world leading physiologists running those projects that we were taught by seriously clever people. But, you know, sometimes they are a bit dull and boring in their lectures, and I fell asleep in one of the professor’s lectures. It was the first time and the only time it’s ever happened to me, but sort of genius people but they could be a little bit boring at the same time. 


So there was that group of people and also another group of sports scientists that were working with some of the top athletes in the UK at the time like Paula Radcliffe The work with Paula, Paula Radcliffe was, you know, it was giving her that 1% extra advantage that was  helping her to become the best in the world. Another guy was working with Denise Lewis, and these people were winning gold medals. And then the sport side guys, what I’d say we’re uniquely interested in how the brain impacts performance learning and training. And sports psychology is quite a small community. You know, subsequently, when I’ve spoken to colleagues and friends that did similar master’s degrees at other Institute’s, they weren’t looking at the same things we were looking at in terms of the bread. 


So I believe what we were studying was unique at the time. And one of the things that was happening in that period was that functional MRI scanners were becoming a lot more accessible. At the time, France, I think, was a country that invested quite a lot into functional MRI scanners. So again, exposed to all this new research that was emerging from actually looking inside people’s brains in real time, because that’s what the functional MRI scanners allow us to do. So just these fascinating insights. So that really piqued my interest. And we took a deep dive in many modules, looking at, you know, the neuroscience of sports performance, etc. And then, that interest followed me in my career. So, one of the research projects at that time to tManchester, Matt was looking at mirror neurons. And in fact, we did two studies in that area. And I took that same interest with me. And I started to work at Carnegie. I set up other experiments where we’re looking at the role of mirror neurons of learning, and specifically learning how to perform under pressure. And then, I suppose I got exposed to how we were developing and training elite athletes. It became really apparent to me that we weren’t helping them to understand their bread, but their breads, we weren’t helping them to understand how they could think more effectively, using really good insights from neuroscience and behavioural science that fascinated me because it seemed like that part of that development was being left more to chance than the fitness side and the physical side. When I was working at Scunthorpe, in my second season there, we won the league against all odds, we won the league by spending 50% less on player wages than the teams that came second. 


And this was a phenomenal achievement. And it was a UK record in professional football, for the least amount of money spent on player wedges for the most amount of lead pipe scanned. I just got really interested in this. And that kicked me on to my PhD, which I’ll come on to in a little while. But one of the things that fascinated me was that Scunthorpe had this recruitment policy of going to much bigger teams, when the Premier League teams and buying their young talented players that had first in contracts, but were getting in the match day squads regularly. So there were good players, but there were only maybe 18, 19 or 20. 


So we’d often tell these players on trial to see if they were all they were cracked up to be safe, would they fit into the culture of the team? And if we liked them, we typically signed them for about 100,000 pounds. What happened to some of these players were there a few years later, they were worth millions, one player in particular, we bought him from his hometown club for 100,000 pounds. And if I’m right, and remember, in about two years after that, we sold him back to the same team for about two and a half million. But he was that product ultimately. But I was seeing other examples, not necessarily a school of thought. But I’ve seen other examples of young talented people who were, you know, the best thing since sliced bread when they were 18 1920. But when they were 2223, no one was even prepared to pay them a salary anymore to be a professional athlete. And it occurred to me that it wasn’t because they weren’t physically fit. 


And it wasn’t because they didn’t have the technical and tactical skills to be professional footballers, it was more about what was going on in between their ears. Yet nobody had ever really deliberately taught them about what was going on in between the ears, or how we’re all how to actually start to manage that in a really structured way. So that kicked me on to pursue a PhD. They explored the reason for talented young athletes. And I was examining supposed the best athletes in the UK, in soccer, and rugby, rugby, both cards league in Union cricket. Is it the mental part of their performance that actually stops them fulfilling that potential or not? Can we actually teach them to be able to get better at developing the mental side of their game? Specifically, can we get better at helping them to regulate their emotions, which for me was, and still is, the key for being healthy, happy, and at your best. Within that piece I was also interested in how we can develop these young people to become better leaders. Because that was another interesting thing I observed at school and thought was.


 So essentially leadership transition. Professional Football is quite fluid and players and sometimes staff move in and out of the first team environment. And it was very striking to me the impact that certain people have, sometimes in a really positive way, sometimes in a really negative way on the group and the environment. But again, I didn’t see a lot of very deliberate leadership development in the academy structures. So I wanted to use my PhD to learn more about how we could help young, elite young athletes to do better. 


And my sense was that if we could help them to understand how their brain works, and how to use their brain more effectively in very simple terms that would be helpful for not only them fulfilling that potential in their sport but also in life, but also in helping them to become better leaders. Because you know, leadership is about influence ultimately, you can’t influence your own behaviour. First and foremost, you’re going to struggle to influence other people’s behaviour. So that was one thing that got my interest. While I was experiencing Scunthorpe, another thing that activated my interest in the brain and habits in particular was, suppose traditional mental skills training in sport psychology, I’d seen time and again, that you could help athletes to understand that there needed to speak to themselves more helpful under pressure, or they needed to use image rhetoric to get better at controlling their thoughts. But it also was emerging that for some athletes, that was quite an intangible idea. But also, even if the athlete understood what they needed to do, so they knew what they had to do, they couldn’t necessarily do it when the pressure came. And in my master’s degree, I learned about this thing called functional equivalence. If you want to learn how to get good at taking a penalty under pressure, well, your practice has to mirror how you’re going to feel under pressure as much as possible. Something that we’ve now evolved. Actually, it’s something we call our T-tap model. But part of what I was doing at that time was I was teaching sort of mental skills training modules, both at university and for the professional golfers Association, where I’d been tasked with helping golf coaches to help their clients to think better as they were hitting golf balls, particularly on the pressure. So I knew there had to be a better way to teach people how to think we are to help people not just to know what they need to do, but also help them to build this into a habit. And this is why I created what’s called the pre shock training programme, which was essentially a tool that coaches could use our players could use if we take golf as an example. So it was a tool made up of some big coloured squares that you map out, lay on the ground. So you might have a square before you hit the golf ball, map some shots and some thoughts into some what we call focus words and focus pictures, you might have another square as you’re hitting the golf ball, again, have some focus words and focus pictures. And then you have a square after you hit the golf ball. So it was a much more tangible way to help the golfer in this case, to actually practice what they were thinking before, during and after they were hitting the golf ball. And it gave them a really tangible way just to embed this way of thinking into that practice. So that when they went to the golf course they could, they were no, they had a much better chance of having those thinking habits drilled into what they were doing. 


Then again, you know, outside of Scunthorpe and the PGA bubble, I was really extending my consultancy work. So I was, you know, working with some of the people that were deemed to be the best coaches and players of that kind in the world. And I was taking a huge interest in the best practices in athlete development support. And again, I just felt that the psychological side was lacking, and it was being left behind. Because I felt the reason for that is because we weren’t actually talking about people’s brains and how the brain worked. And we were really understanding that this isn’t about helping athletes to do normal things. It’s actually about helping athletes to build better habits, so that what they know just becomes ingrained into what they do. So I’ve learned an awful lot about how the brain works from my master’s degree. And I carried on that pursuit. And I was just increasingly interested in using those insights to help people to do better. So I pursued my PhD so I could learn more about that. Learn more about what was going on inside elite athletes brands as they were going through challenging transitions. How did Stress Stress impact their thinking? And could they learn how to think better and get better at regulating their emotions. I was involved in the pre shot programme, mainly with the PGA. But we’ve started to roll into different sports such as rugby and cricket, entertainment tennis, that time to actually give coaches and athletes the tools that they could use on the field of play to practice thinking properly and building those bad habits. That, you know, my consultancy works with. With the coaches and leaders I was working with hours, just experimenting and all the time on not how not how do we get them to know what they need to do? How do we get them to turn that into a habit to not slip into habits that led me into not just knowing about how the brain work, but actually experimenting with how can we get people to use that in their day to day athletic lives and use information to do better, both on the field of play, in training, and also in their broader life.


Andrew Whitelam 

And the experiences … the pathway… the journey that you’ve just described to us Jon, that’s part of a major part, in fact of why you describe the black box theory in psychology or black box theories and black box approaches to improving resilience, mental performance and leadership as being flawed.


Dr. Jon Finn  

Yeah, so the black box theories are theories about human behaviour, why humans do what they do. But the theories don’t actually consider what goes on inside people’s breads. Yeah, see me correctly. Because that sounds crazy, doesn’t it? So the vast, vast majority of the insights we have about why we do what we do, and how we can do better in life, actually, don’t take into account what goes on inside your brain. Because until maybe, probably 2025 years ago, we didn’t have the technology to look inside the bread in any kind of effective way, then we’ve got functional MRI scanners that allow us to do that. Then that kicked off what was called the decade of the brain. Before that, and still now, the black box is still dominant, unfortunately, just a real simple example. If you have a cup of coffee, that’s the input, what’s the output? Oh, you feel more awake and you have more energy? They’re not actually looking at? or What is going on? How does coffee do to the brain function? How does it change what’s going on in your brain? So the record of the brain allowed us to actually look inside the brain and see if someone has a cup of coffee, what goes on inside the brain? And then what impact does it have on their, you know, their physical behaviour? For reasons, I suppose, are explainable to an extent, because humans do what is easiest for them to do. Scientists haven’t necessarily adopted and taken on board all of these insights that we’ve garnered from neuroscience, and increasingly behavioural science, and they haven’t used them to inform what they’re doing. And even if they have that hasn’t necessarily filtered through to applied practice. So that’s what black box means. Our approach is that we do want to understand what goes on inside the brain.


And the reason behind that is because there’s been some huge insights that have emerged from learning what actually goes on inside our brain, and how that impacts what we’re designed to do, and what we’re capable of doing. Some people told me, I think there’s a website called neuro Bullock’s, to excuse my language about life to bleep Tarbell. It’s what it’s called. And some people still quite Yeah, but that’s just a lot of neuro bollocks. For me, that’s lazy. There is a lot of real in depth insight that’s emerged from neuroscience that can inform and help us to do better in life. So neuroscience is what we call complementary science. It confirms what we already understood, but a lot of it or certainly some of it has given us some very different insights about what we are designed to do and what we are capable of doing. One of the big ones is neuroplasticity, you know, until the emergence of functional MRI scanners, we did not understand our brain is changing, or our brains are changing all the time. Brain is like plasticy. It’s made of about 100 billion neurons, and it is changing all the time until the day that you die new neurons are growing. But the neurons are dying and have been pruned away. Up until about 2025 years ago, we thought that when you stop physically growing, your brain literally stopped changing in any serious way. That’s a seismic shift in our understanding of what we’re capable of doing. And that type of work has flipped, drowned the niche and nurtured the bet. 


We now understand that what we practice can be just as instructive to what we get good at as our genes as we as we thought our genes once were. Another huge insight we’ve got, we’ve gone from neurosciences, just how attracted our brain is to threats, and worries and problems. There’s an old management technique called the sandwich technique that says give them a positive, then a negative, give them another positive. neuroscience shows the dyes have enough because our brain is magnetised towards a threat and negative emotions, because it’s a threat detection machine. 


So therefore, the one, two to one, which is the sandwich technique, gives them two positives and one negative isn’t enough, we now know that the negative is so heavy that it needs at least three positives, very simple terms and sometimes up to 11 to 15, positives to balance it out, separate designed to pay attention to the threat. Another thing that’s emerged from neuroscience is that part of our brain Well, we have a part of our brain. This design is designed to make us pay attention to what other people think about us. So in the brain model our acronym is alive perceived energy. The piece the P for perceived is about social status. The part of our brain that makes us aware and concerned about what the important people in our life think about this is hard wired into the parts of our brain that tell us we can be hungry. There’s a muscle, I’ve got this wrong. That primary concern or one of them is what people think about me because humans are the biggest or fastest or strongest animal on the planet. But they are the best at work in intelligence in teams. So when you’re in a team survival, chances go up, not only because of the strength in numbers, and you can become better at solving problems, but also because you’ve got a better chance of reproducing.


So again, being able to look inside the brain is really important. If we want to help people to do a better look inside the brain, they are also assured us that the more an operating room is, the easier it is to do something, the more likely it is you will do it. Our brain is designed to serve energy, which is the E in APE. This means that most of what we do most of the time is automatic or semi automatic behaviour. Or in other words, it’s a habit. You know, we’ve seen these insights emerge from people like Daniel Kahneman’s work and George Lakoff’s work, but we’re running most of the time on mindless behaviour. So that’s a seismic insight if we want to help people to do better. Another thing that neuroscience has shown us is about brain maturation. And the fact that our brains are not properly wired until we’re in our mid 20s. The part of our brain that helps us to manage the limbic regions that their brain if you like, is not properly wired for men until they’re about 25 on average, or the ladies are about a year ahead of Men, and maybe they’re 2324 on average. That’s a really important insight because again, we write off people when they’re 16. say, well, they’ll never be any good at this or that they’ll never be any good at that. Yeah, their brains are not properly wired until they’re into their mid 20s. I think probably there’s other areas here we could talk about. But the final thing I’ll point towards is that neuroscience has shown us that it’s part of our brain, our prefrontal cortex and an areas within the prefrontal cortex that help us to deploy what neuroscientists call emotional regulation, or social scientists call self control what we call hoc, helpful attention control. But what the large sets of compelling data to show are the most important parts of our brain for doing well, in the challenging modern world. Neuroscience has shown us that those parts of our brain can be strengthened through training. So it doesn’t matter how well we are managing our emotions, or deploying self control or managing our attention. In other words, we can all learn to get better at it. Because these sites are like plasticine. They’re trainable. So these insights are seismic. And most people are not using them, when they’re helping people or trying to help people to do better. That’s the equivalent of taking your car to a garage. And the mechanic doesn’t actually know how the engine of your car works. They’re not going to be able to do a good job of fixing the car engine. So this is why I got so interested in it. Suppose the flaws in the traditional black box approach is because they miss out all these key insights that are so important for helping us to do better.


Andrew Whitelam 

So Jon, these really significant scientific shifts in understanding…. these new insights, the insights that you yourself developed…. the experiences you had, how did you then go about refining and channelling all this, to create the Tougher Minds programmes that we now see today?


Dr. Jon Finn   

A lot of hard work in practice. But a really opportune thing happened in my life where, you know, I’ve done the education, I’ve done the degrees and the research. I’ve been working on the application side and refining the application, innovative things like the pre shot training programme. Working with some of the best coaches, and athletes in the UK. And what was coming towards us on the horizon was the London 2012 Olympic Games, which was a huge thing for the country. That was coming towards the end of my PhD research. And there’s an organisation based in the City of London for a charity I think there’ll be called, called the Haberdashers or the Haberdashers are one of the founding livery companies. I say that correctly. One of the founding fathers if you like in the City of London, and they were originally established to look after the haberdashery tread. And suppose elves have a membership body for that in a way, like many of the livery companies, that Haberdashers have become almost educational charities and they now spend their time trying to do good. And that several different schools and one of the things that they do is they put up teaching fellowships where they want to bring in experts into the school into their skills that wouldn’t traditionally be brought into a school normal circumstances. And today’s a haberdasher to actually went to one of the parks in the Monmouth School, called Colin or circle in minor had you at a time was the, the head of the British Olympic Association, I was heavily involved in getting the Olympic Games for the UK, but also in managing that process and hosting the games. It’s a colleague of mine who had been in ministry as a Sports Minister, and he was also an Olympic medalist. As I understand, he was involved in discussions around these teaching fellowships. And he brought the point that he’d always benefited from sport performance psychology. Not just any sporting career, but in every element of his life in his professional career and in his personal life. It was making the argument why wouldn’t you teach young people these skills from an early age? And they essentially the Haberdashers create a position as the sport or performance psychology teaching fellow. for someone to go into the, among the schools with a blank piece of paper and say, right, how would you teach our young people sports slash performance psychology skills, and they chose me to, to fill that position. Because they’re like the scientific approach I was taking there, like I had these tools like the pre shock kit, I could just readily go in and start working with people. So I had the two year window, I suppose, where I could really start to consolidate into a very deliberate training programme. Lots of the ideas I’d be developing through my, my own sporting career, and through teaching, mental skills, modules, motor control modules, university, through my work, the PGA through my consultancy work with elite athletes, I can channel all that together, to start to create training programmes, not just for the young people, but for the teachers and for that parents as well. And that’s why I did, and I was really lucky to work with some really open minded people at Monmouth, who were just really prepared to back me. And, you know, give me the opportunity in the space to put these things into practice. You know, some of the results we saw were pretty phenomenal, where you would see them real times. Give a spa an example here. So in a school like Monmouth, some very, some very intelligent, academically intelligent children. Those academically intelligent children wouldn’t necessarily always be great at sport. Because in my understanding, they just kind of practice a lot and practice playing sport. 


So they hadn’t acquired the basic movement patterns, he might need to be good at sport. And the traditional thinking would be the fat kids are not good at sport, or they’re just not talented enough to be good at sport. So that, you know, it’s just not that talent, if you like, when we started to actually get these guys deliberately thinking about what they were thinking, when they were doing gymnastics, or playing tennis or whatever it was, then plan their practice and reflect on their practice. We saw the rate of improvement was phenomenal. And these very established teachers, that seeing you know, time and time again, children might miss come through the system, we just gobsmacked out quickly. These guys were learning to get better at moving and playing sport. And we saw these stories time and time again. And we still see them to today. That can only happen. But it had a much better chance of happening. Because we were actually teaching those young people how their brain worked. And how they could start to change their brain if they’re practised in a slightly different way. And then they start to get confidence because their practice is paying off. And he goes on why that becomes, you know, self fulfilling to an extent. But Monmouth, for me, was certainly very pivotal. And then that became the platform for Tougher Minds. Because what we got is lots of parents say, well, one wish I’d been taught when I was at school, and then to say do work in businesses, because this is far better than the stuff again at work. And that led us into some of the biggest businesses in the world. In The City of London, where we then got this was our second big education programme which was called School, which is a leather cellar school. And we went to establish our business training programme through the recommendation of those parents. So that’s how we pulled it all together.


Andrew Whitelam  

So Tougher Minds now is in a context today where there’s so much choice for people when they’re considering things like improving their wellbeing, their resilience and their leadership. They have a vast array of  information available to them blogs, websites, quick tips, podcasts, apps, you name it Really? What would you say to people when they’re faced with this morass of information? You know, when they’re trying to make the right choice? What’s different about Tougher Minds? Would you say?


Dr. Jon Finn   

Yeah, I agree, Andrew, that there is more than ever. And even since we’ve been in this sort of COVID, lockdown world, this is this is it’s grown, I think, more than ever.


The range of insights that are available to people. But I think in the simplest terms, we have to think, if, what do I want to achieve? Do I want to know more information? Or do I actually want to change your ID, because knowing something is very different to doing it. Let me give you an example. The vast majority of us know that we need to eat five portions of fruits and veggies a day. And that we need to walk 10,000 steps a day because the NHS has done a good job in educating us. And that’s why they’ve invested a lot of money into that. But yeah, every year, the NHS also spends billions of pounds treating diseases, lifestyle related diseases that emerge because people don’t eat five fruit and veggies, then they don’t walk 10,000 steps. So knowing and doing the two very different things. So the question you have to ask yourself is, what do you want to achieve? Do you actually want to build better habits? The difference with what we do is we actually teach people how to build better habits. A lot of the stuff that’s out there just gives you the tips and the tricks, they don’t change your behaviour. If you want to feel better, if you want to perform better, if you want to do better, the only way to do it is to learn how to change your brain. 


And what I now know is that the only way to do that is to become a habit mechanic is to be consistently working on yourself, and tweaking and refining your habits. Because the world that we live in now is so challenging, that we’re never going to get this perfect set of behaviours that see us through for the rest of our life. Being the happiest healthiest version of ourselves, we’ve got to keep working on ourselves because our life goes up and down. And we teach people to become Habit Mechanics so that when they notice themselves going down, they can recognise that more quickly. They can start to tweak their habits. So they don’t fall quite as far and they can start to get back on track. But also, when people recognise that they’re doing well, and they’re not on an upward curve, if you like that, they can recognise that as well. That if they need to, they can push themselves a bit harder if they need to, or they can, you know, step off the gas pedal if they need to. So it’s about I think what we should be looking for is not just knowing more stuff, but actually doing things differently. And the only way we can do that is to build by the Habits. And for me the big danger signs are again, would you take your car to a garage, where the mechanics don’t actually know how the engine of the car works? I wouldn’t. So if you’re working with someone or you’re taking advice from someone, the question is, do they understand how your brain works? Are they using old, traditional blackbox approaches? Or are they using new modern approaches? And what I can see in the marketplace is there are a couple of programmes out there that use good insights into neuroscience. The vast majority don’t, they’re still using old traditional platform models. But insights into neuroscience aren’t enough. We also have to use behavioural science, to help us to build new habits. And as far as I can see, Tougher Minds in the habit mechanic approach is unique in combining both neuroscience and behavioural science to actually help people to understand how their brain works, but also to systemically systematically and consistently start building you know, small new healthful habits that help they’ll be to fail and perform better. So there’ll be some of the things I’ve been thinking about.


Andrew Whitelam  

So tell us and Jon if you would, as well, what sort of experience people have when they actually take up and engage with a Tougher Minds programme for either resilience or leadership development.


Dr. Jon Finn

What we always want to do first and foremost is help people to understand how their brain works or not, so that they can label every single little bit of the brain because that’s not that helpful, we just want to give people a good functional understanding of what goes on inside their brain. And why that might make their life more difficult. But also what parts of the brain that can change to make our life easier. So that’s how we always start. And then what we do is we train people to become habit mechanics, so they can start to finalise their habits, then build new ones. And to do that we teach them to be able to do Me Power conditioning, then we have a, we have a structured programme, so we have level one, have a mechanic, which anyone can sign up for free. Then we have a level two habit mechanic programme, which is where we teach people how to do the power conditioning. Once you can consistently understand and put ideas into practice that help you to beat your best more often than if you want to, you can start to learn how to help others to be at their best more often. In other words, you can become a leader or what we call a Chief Habit Mechanic. So once you’ve done Me Power, we then teach people how to be called Team Power leaders or Chief Habit Mechanics. And we have tools that we’ve developed, that allow people to analyse t team’s habits, to analyse their leadership habits and help themselves and their team to just to consistently keep building bad habits that makes it easier for the team to do well. And for you to keep improving and learning as a leader, we have a coaching programme for that. And we also have an off the shelf programme. So at the heart of what we do is we teach people how their brain works, we teach them how to become habit mechanics, so they can first of all, learn to analyse their own habits to be at their best more often. And then we teach people how to become leaders.


Andrew Whitelam 

And Jon, of course, you work with so many so many different peoples that with individuals with many major businesses, many major organisations, what are the benefits that people and teams report to you? And how do the programmes actually help them?


Dr. Jon Finn 

You know, we’re making a transition now from the old world of work into a new world of work. And this is making the training that Tougher Minds offers even more important, because actually what we’re going to be much more dependent on now is people being even better at managing themselves in a very challenging world. Because we’re, we’re asking people to work more flexibly remotely. So we’re asking people to work outside of the company’s traditional culture every day, because when you’re not in the office building surrounded by people, it’s harder for the culture to actually influence your behaviour. So fundamentally, the first thing for most programmes do is they help people to get better at managing themselves, starting with their sleep, their diet, their exercise, their stress, their confidence, their productivity, performing under pressure, whatever it is, I think the simplest way to explain this is that there’s only 24 hours in a day, that’s all that we’ve got. And you can imagine that your day is like a barcode. So, but you still have a black and white barcode, think of it as a red and blue barcode. So the red lines represent times of the day when you’re doing and thinking things that are not very helpful for you being at your best. The blue lines represent times when you are thinking and doing things that are helping you to be at your best. So in the most basic, the most basic thing that Tougher Minds programme helps people to do is get rid of some of those red lines. And the cool thing that we hear people reporting when they learn how to analyse their habits and build new ones become habit mechanics, is that they save at least one hour per day. Because we all spend and it’s broadly invisible to you not to see ourselves doing unless we go looking for it. We’re all spending lots of time every day worrying, beating ourselves up, you know, getting distracted. Not prioritising getting enough sleep, not prioritising getting out for a walkway or whatever it is. And that stuff quickly adds up, you know, and programmes are proven to help people to get rid of those unhelpful things. So that’s one level of how we help people. The next level is that leadership is more difficult than it’s ever been before. Because we live in a world called the vuca world where the only constant is change. And actually, it’s just been made more difficult because now we’re asking our leaders to lead remotely. Most people have been promoted to leadership positions, because they could get into a room with people and bring energy and positive influence, well that  “superpower” has been taken away from them. So we help leaders to become much more rounded. So that they don’t only need to be in a room with people to get good at influencing their behaviour, they can do that from a distance as well. So we help people to also understand how their brain is working, but also how their people’s brains work. 


And we help them to build better leadership habits so that they can create cultures that make it really easy for people to do what they need them to do to help teams work well. And our leadership model has four core parts. It’s got the role model, the action communicator, the cultural architect, and the SWAT coach. We help coaches to build better habits and all four of those areas. And then, was the third thing connected to those first two things that we help businesses to do. And sports teams etc. to do is to function better as a team. Again, in the business world, teamwork just got more difficult as we move to more agile ways of working. So we have some tools that help teams to analyse their team habits, and ultimately build better ones. So that they’ve got their very best chance of being a high performer in a world class team, even when they’re working remotely. So we help people to get better at managing themselves, we help leaders to be better leaders, and we help teams to function better. You know, I think that one of the things that’s quite invisible to most of us is that culture is just a collection of habits. You know, habits drive everything we do, they’re so fundamental, that actually, we can analyse them, and we can help people to build better ones. And if we take our approach, it’s much easier to not only improve our individual performance, but also to improve our collective performance. Not only in teams, but also across entire organisations. And we’ve seen that time and again, if we can just help people to understand how their brain works, teach them to be careful how it mechanics, part of the organisation full of Chief mechanics as well, then, you know, happiness and performance just just come. Because everyone is doing the right things every day to be a better version of themselves, and also to help the team fulfil its potential.


Andrew Whitelam 

Well, Jon, some fantastic experiences that you’ve relayed to us some amazing stories of scientific insight and development. What can people do now to find out more and start to benefit from Tougher Minds programmes themselves?


Dr. Jon Finn

You know, I think that what we need to understand is that if, if you want to feel better, you want to perform better. The only way to do that is to learn how to change your bread. And the only solution to doing that is learning how to become a habit mechanic. And I want as many people to learn how to do this as possible. So we’ve created a level one Habit Mechanic programme, which is absolutely free, anyone can sign up, just go to the homepage of the website, and you’ll get shown why that is. So if you want to be a better version of yourself, you got to start to become a habit mechanic. And anyone can sign up for level one for free. So do that. If you want to help your people in your team to fulfil their potential in what is a very challenging world, the only way to do that is to help your people to get their brain working properly. And the best way that you can do that is to learn how to become a Chief Habit Mechanic. Again, I want to help people to do that. So if you go to the homepage of our website, we’ve created the three party’s leadership sites to become a world class leader workshop, where you can learn more about how you know how you can become a chief Problem mechanic and usually the ship science to help your team to fulfil that potential. So go to the homepage of the website and start accessing the free resources. I think it’s the first good step.


Andrew Whitelam  

That was Tougher Minds founder Dr. Jon Finn, bringing this podcast to a conclusion. Remember, if you want to feel better and perform better every day, learning how to change your brain is the key. But the only way to truly do this is to become a habit mechanic. To learn more and to access the Level one Habit Mechanic course for free, visit 


Thanks for listening


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