For fear of sounding smug and intensely boring – still very much an impulsive, thirty-something emotional nomad – I just want to share something with you. One of my oldest friends recently returned from a weekend “life coaching” course that I like to tease her was a cult recruitment camp. Once her sales pitch for the course was done, I started to notice that where she had once been deeply analytical and self-critical, she seemed to have become more accepting of herself and everything around her. When I was once criticising a boy for being a loser (for no other reason than he didn’t fancy me back), she turned to me and said “he’s only a loser because you say he’s a loser”. After feeling a little hurt that she wasn’t backing me up, it dawned on me that she was right. Every story we tell is our mind’s perception of events and by saying it we add meaning to it – we make it so. The following nuggets arose from a realisation that our minds don’t always know best. These pointers may go against the grain but I have found them immensely useful for coping with stress. Of course, there are always bad days, which are a feature of life, but I hope this little survival guide will be of some help when your going gets tough.
When I started HøFSisters, I quickly realised that if I couldn’t forgive myself for getting something wrong, letting something slip through the net or failing to meet some kind of arbitrary target I would quickly end up self-destructing. Living up to our own high standards is not always possible, and often makes it very hard for other people to work with us. Acceptance when something hasn’t turned out as planned is the best course of action. What matters is that you learn from the event and use it to inform future decisions or “pivot” your approach (Eric Ries, The Lean Startup).
Don’t Set Yourself Up To Fail
After ten years in finance, I treated HøFSisters as a corporate entity. I set specific timeframes for every step: the business plan, branding, website, reaching a certain number of followers on social media. I believed that if I missed any of these, HøFSisters would fail; not because we would miss the boat, but because it would prove that we weren’t committed. If I wasn’t working around the clock to achieve a goal within a specified timeframe, I clearly wasn’t cut out to be running my own business. This is a mindset that is innately negative and inflexible. One of the most important lessons I have learned has been to plan less, adapt more – that way, failure isn’t an option. Always be flexible, true to who you are and never give up.
Reduce Your Obsession With Time
Not having enough time is a common affliction. We have all lain awake at night thinking of the things we should have done or forgot to do in our allotted waking time. Time is the greatest culprit when it comes to anxiety, insomnia and stress. If there were no time we would never be running late or working through the night to meet a deadline. Where possible, do small things to reduce time’s grip on your life: eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired, slow down the pace at which you walk, breathe deeply and slowly, have a digital detox, accept the situation if you are late, employ flexible deadlines, call people when you need to communicate rather than waiting anxiously for an email. Time is not your master.
Take A Break
While taking time out might seem like the worst idea when you’re fighting fire, it really isn’t. The faster our mind works, the more chaotic and less productive it becomes. Taking time out is a GOOD THING and be completely accepting of your decision to do that without harbouring guilt. The mind is only one aspect of our intellect, and any meditative activity – whether that be mindfulness, exercising, baking a cake (my particular fave) or sleeping – will allow the subconscious to work it’s magic. It’s amazing how much progress you can make on a problem by not thinking about it and you will return to work rejuvenated, creative and more productive. The age old saying “Sleep on it” is often just what is needed. And if you can’t sleep, read (or listen to) a few chapters of “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle who shares much good advice and some downright silly.
Don’t Seek External Validation
I will be the first to admit that, for much of my life, I needed everyone around me to take me seriously in order for me to take myself seriously. This mindset is neither enjoyable nor productive because valuable energy goes into the the perception of hard work rather than results. The people you seek validation from are living their own challenges – leaving your success and satisfaction at their whim is outsourcing control. External validation is often sought through working long hours (and hoping somebody notices) and raising ones profile amongst the “right people”. Ask yourself whether the work you are doing is critical to your role or purely cosmetic. If it’s the latter, go home.
Work Smarter Not Longer
Many fast-growing tech firms advocate flexible and remote working, flat hierarchy and great internal role fluidity. We can all learn from this modern approach. A good friend of mine is the Working From Home Ambassador for a global tech firm. She says if anyone feels they need to justify working from home, then they’re missing the point. Similarly, if you work for yourself, a number of aspects of working life are a given. There is no such thing as 9-5 and you don’t get to leave work in the office. But you can turn each of these things in to your greatest strength by working when you’re at your most productive and using life to inform work. But don’t beat yourself up if you’re just not in the mood.