The importance of staying mentally strong and supported through startup and scaleup phase cannot be underestimated, but what do you have to look out for in particular? Here, positive psychology expert Miriam Akhtar shares her top five tips on how to avoid burning out before you’ve begun.
1) Being stress-free is impossible, but you also don’t have to be maxed out all the time. There’s a fine line between optimal functioning and maximum functioning. To function at your best, you need to perform like a sprinter. Run the 100m then pause to recharge before sprinting again. The mistake a lot of people make is to keep going and going, treating work as a marathon, until they eventually burn out. Resilience during startup phase is partly your psychological strength and the way to develop it is to treat it like a muscle. You stretch it beyond its normal capacity, then pause to renew before stretching again.
2) Perfectionism is the enemy of progress. Often the challenge with driven people is a tendency to perfectionism. Aiming for the best is great but when something doesn’t go their way, they’re more likely to beat themselves up and blame themselves. The way around this is to adopt a “growth mindset”. If something goes wrong, then treat it as feedback rather than failure and look for alternative routes to achieve the goal.
3) Know the difference between ‘being in the zone’ and ‘zoning out’. Entrepreneurs and founders are intrinsically motivated to succeed so you invest a lot of themselves in your work. On the positive side this means you can experience ‘flow’, that delicious state of being ‘in the zone’ when you’re totally engaged with what you’re doing. To be in flow you need to have a match of challenge and your skill in a specific area. A bit more challenge than skill will induce a flow experience, but too much challenge risks spilling over into anxiety and triggering the body’s fight, flight or freeze mechanism which means you ‘zone out’ and are not present.
4) As founder, don’t make your stress cycle part of the business culture. You perform at your best when you manage your energy wisely – and so does your team. While you might thrive on higher levels of stress, you must refill your reservoir and that of your employees so that your business is not running on empty. As a recruiter, you also know that talent is hard to find and building a strong work culture can help you recruit the best possible candidates.
5) People buy from people. Feeling good at work also helps people to be more creative and resilient. Positive emotions act as the “inner reset button” undoing the effects of stress when bad things happen. If you have a workplace culture which is positive, then that will help to build trust. Emotions are contagious so if you are feeling good then you’ll pass that onto your clients.
Miriam’s number one tip for start-ups? Craft the work around your strengths. Your strengths are your assets. Your greatest potential for growth comes from developing your strengths rather than fixing your weaknesses. Applying your strengths drives high performance and they can also be leveraged to help overcome issues.
Miriam Akhtar is the founder of Positive Psychology Training and works as a resilience trainer with clients in the media, medicine and military.