5 Strategies for founders to improve mental resilience


Nicole McCallum

May 27, 2020

We were thrilled to have experienced clinical psychologist, Alysha Coleman, from the Institute of Healthy Living, chat to our founders about mental resilience.

At Folklore, we take founder and team wellbeing seriously. Mental resilience is a key attribute of great leaders, good decision-makers, creative thinkers and motivated team cultures.

However, team wellbeing is no easy road when you’re building the next ‘impossible’ company. As founders know, the journey to success is a constant test of mental strength and filled with uncertainty. But what may not be as widely understood, is that the human brain is wired to perceive uncertainty as a threat, which can lead to some pretty ugly feelings like stress and anxiety.

In this post, we share the 5 clinically-backed strategies that will help you feel empowered in the face of uncertainty.

1) Differentiate what you can and cannot control

Perspective helps us feel grounded in the face of uncertainty. One way to gain perspective is to differentiate what you can and can’t control. You may have come across this strategy in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a business and self-help book written by Stephen Covey.

This exercise has 2 steps:
Step 1: Draw a large circle and title it the “Circle of Concern”. In this circle, write down everything you’re worried about — the things that are causing you stress or anxiety, whether it’s at work, at home, your health, or maybe in the broader world.

Step 2: Draw a circle in the middle and title this the “Circle of Influence”. In this circle, reflect on and write down which of the identified concerns you are able to control or influence.

In doing this exercise, you build a more accurate picture of the present situation, and give yourself the license to focus your energy on the things that you can actually do something about. This can be an empowering and positive process of realisation and acknowledgement that puts you back in the driver’s seat, during a time when it feels like everything is out of control.

2 ) Tune into your values

Your values determine how you want to behave as a human being — how you treat yourself and how you engage with others around you. Values are different from goals in that they aren’t specific objectives you strive to achieve; rather, values are fundamental beliefs that you choose to live by. When faced with circumstances that are not in our control, values can act as a compass. We can control how we act on our values no matter what the situation.

For example, if you are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, it is likely you will face uncontrollable circumstances such as bad weather that may impact whether you make it to the top. But there’s no point in wasting your energy on bemoaning bad weather. What you can do is re-connect with your values along the journey — divert your energy to having the courage to persevere to the summit in spite of the circumstances, or take a pause and engage fully in the natural beauty that surrounds you.

Values give us a level of satisfaction and fulfilment even though events can be out of our control. Take time to think about your values. So the next time you feel overwhelmed with uncertainty you can use them as a guiding compass.

3) Practice gratitude

Now some people might find this a little wishy-washy, but it’s essential. The benefits of practicing gratitude are well-researched and show that doing so increases psychological resilience, self-esteem, quality of relationships and sleep quality. It also decreases stress, physical aches and pains, and reduces the risk of PTSD following a traumatic experience.

Next time you’re spending time with your team, instead of asking how their day was, considering asking them what they’re grateful for. Or what did they appreciate this week?

4) Mindfulness

Our brain is a hyperactive machine pumping out over 50,000 thoughts a day! These thoughts are powerful as they help us solve problems, be creative, generate new ideas, and tune into our intuition. But they can also be troublesome when they go into overdrive, instigating our deepest anxieties about the future, overestimating the likelihood of a catastrophe, or over-analysing risks we’ve been weighing up.

At times, we give our mind too much power so we need to find clarity through the chaos. Mindfulness is a method of bringing purposeful awareness to our emotions, thoughts, body, and surrounding environment. Practicing mindfulness improves concentration, memory function, as well as how we interact with our thoughts and feelings.

There is no shortage of mobile apps that can guide you through mindfulness exercises so it’s just a matter of finding the one that works for you. Our team has tried Calm and Headspace and rate it! #notsponsoredcontent

5) Manage emotional reactivity by breathing

Our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is what controls our survival response, also known as the fight or flight response. It’s activated to help enable our body to respond quickly to danger. When we’re in a constant state of uncertainty, our SNS remains engaged and our body can sometimes forget to turn it off. This can result in impaired executive function, increased risk of developing anxiety or mood disorders, and even shorten our telomeres (the caps at the end of our DNA that protect our cells from ageing).

It’s important to turn down your sympathetic nervous system to improve mental performance. And the best way to do this is by taking deep breaths! Deep breathing exercises slow our SNS, giving us the mental capacity to process our emotional reactions, and can combat against anxiety and insomnia.

Try scheduling time in your day to practice deep breathing. Managing Partner Alister recommends trying the Wim Hof method.

Last but not least — Coach your mind

Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. Just like an athlete employs a coach to enhance their performance, seeking support for wellbeing improves psychological resilience and enhances your mental performance.

Special thanks to Alysha Coleman, clinical psychologist and founder of the Institute for Healthy Living for hosting this workshop.

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