Profile: Andy Gibson, ‘Head Gardener’ at Mindapples

Andy2_20150320Andy Gibson is a man on a mission: to make mental health sexy. His organisation Mindapples has spent the last seven years working to encourage everyone to take better care of their minds, in the same way as we look after our bodies.

“The idea really came from various conversations I had about why no one was doing anything about mental health. We’re always investing all this money and time into talking about and looking after our bodies, and yet no one even mentions minds; people just take their minds for granted,” he says.

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Mindapples began as a grassroots online campaign in 2008, asking their followers to identify five things they do that are good for their minds – the ‘five a day’ of their minds, so to speak, Andy explains. These ‘breathers’ and ‘restorers’ range from solitary activities like taking a bath, reading or going for a walk, to more social activities like calling a friend, or spending time with your mum.

Many ‘mindapples’ are simple things that we’re already aware of but, Andy explains, “it’s partly about giving yourself permission to do the things that you know actually will be good for your mind. It’s about recognising what you find helpful and feeling ok about doing it, rather than seeing it as time wasting; acknowledging that looking after yourself is very important.”

It’s about giving yourself permission to do things you know will be good for your mind.

The mental ‘five a day’ aspect of the campaign still continues to this day but, since those early days, Mindapples has evolved into a much broader organisation, which now offers mind training to some of the world’s leading multinational businesses.

After two years as a solely online campaign, in 2010 Mindapples celebrated their launch as a company by holding a pop-up health farm, Big Treat, in Covent Garden. “We were getting a lot of interest, and we realised that in order to achieve the ambitions that we had, and that people who were volunteering for us had, we needed to expand out and become a company. We incorporated at the point where we had become sufficiently large as a campaign that we needed to sort ourselves out,” Andy explains.

Today, a major part of Mindapples’ work is around training and education, using their specially developed, evidence-based training programmes to help people better understand the inner workings of their own minds. “The programme teaches you how your mind works in a very practical sense,” Andy says.

Unlike counselling or psychotherapy, he explains, “We’re not dealing with illness, or trying to help people understand mental health problems, we are very specifically about trying to understand the functioning of your mind, why it does the things it does, how to relate that to other people’s minds – generally a kind of user’s guide for your head; everything you need to know about a human mind in order to use one.”

We are very specifically about trying to understand the functioning of your mind.

Currently these programmes are primarily aimed at people in business, with Mindapples offering ‘lunch and learn’ one hour intensive master classes to a range of corporate clients.

These master classes cover “a huge spread of stuff across health and wellness on one end of it, to cognition and collaboration on the other,” Andy says. What Mindapples offer is not therapy but a crash course in the psychology of how employees can function more effectively at work; modules on offer include looking after your mental health and wellbeing, managing emotions, motivation, managing stress and pressure, decision-making, creativity, and an introduction to personality traits.

What’s key for Andy is that Mindapples’ work is all grounded in well-established, evidence-based research from the psychological and neuroscientific communities, the aim being to take what is already known and make it available and accessible. “Rather than it being buried in a lab or a scientific paper, let’s get [that research] out into the community and start applying it to how we live and work,” he says.

Large, high pressure companies really understand the value of the minds of their staff.

Mindapples’ regular clients include global giants like News UK, L’Oreal, and JP Morgan. “All of our best clients are the top companies in their categories, so the interest in this stuff is overwhelmingly coming from the people who are farthest ahead, best at what they do, making the most money, and hiring the best people,” Andy says.

“These are the people who really get it. Our clients have been the top banks, the number one media outlets; the people who’ve got money to invest but also know their competitive advantage comes from hiring the best people and keeping them, and those people being in the best shape possible to do their jobs. Those people are essentially their number one assets, so companies can’t neglect the minds of their staff.”

That said, Mindapples have seen this market begin to grow, as companies lower down the ranks realise their rivals are investing in mind training. “The business case is absolutely water tight. Our argument is invest now and you will save a huge amount of money later on in lost productivity, illness, and lost talent, and it’s completely obvious that companies should be doing this,” Andy says.

It’s off the back of this work that Andy recently published A Mind for Business, a book that brings together the best of Mindapples’ corporate training techniques. “It’s the first step towards actually having a consumer product, so it’s aimed at individuals, but it also supplements the training as well, so people who’ve been on the courses will get a lot out of reading the book,” he says.

We all have mental health, and good mental health is something to be celebrated!

But Andy is also keen to stress that Mindapples, and A Mind for Business, are not just for high performing business people; his techniques are aimed at “anyone with a mind!” Since launching Mindapples in 2008, he says the biggest misconception he comes across time and time again is that mental health is only about illnesses and problems; that it’s an inherently negative concept. “Actually, mental health is a good thing, it’s a positive thing. We all have mental health, so we can all look after our own, and if we have good mental health that’s something to be celebrated!” he says.

Andy Gibson’s book A Mind for Business: Get Inside Your Head to Transform How You Work is out now, published by Pearson.

Photo: Bex Singleton

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