The pressures of small business are like no other. There is the immense sacrifice and stress that goes into keeping the lights on, keeping your staff happy and well-fed, and balancing the pressure and expectations of clients and family. While you can keep your cool in front of clients, it’s often your family and staff that bear the brunt of overly emotional and irrational outbursts when things don’t go to plan. This can lead to all sorts of emotional and psychological turmoil, which compounds the stress and robs you of the very life you are working towards creating.
But is this such a bad thing? What does the research say?
The Dunedin Experiment
The Dunedin Experiment, which has tracked and measured 1000 Dunedin residents from all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, found that the only correlation to success in your finances and health is your ability to control your emotions. Not IQ, family wealth, language, exercise, education or school prestige – just your ability to understand and manage your emotions.
This seems counter-intuitive when considering the romanticised and mythical titan of business that is obsessive, neurotic and sometimes sociopathic (the myth of Steve Jobs comes to mind). However, the reality is often different from the myth, and the research is very clear: keeping your emotional reactivity in check will make you more successful.
Neurologically, our fight or flight mechanism and memory, the primal parts of our brains that we also find in our cousins the chimpanzees, flood our brain with chemicals and we start reacting on instinct. This is why we call it “going apes#!t”. The more you can tame your ape, the more successful you will become.
Practice makes perfect
The key to taming your ape is practice. Train your ape in times of low pressure, and then your automatic ape can work for you when the pressure is on – similar to a soldier when under fire. Soldiers must stay calm under pressure in order to make good decisions and keep those around them safe. In these moments, they rely on their training.
It’s no different in business. Practice keeping things in control in times of peace, and you’ll be more likely to tame your Ape when triggered and under pressure.
Here are four tips to help you keep your cool when work gets a bit crazy:
- Write a diary. Ten minutes every morning and ten minutes each night is all you need to clarify your thoughts, release mental pressure and focus your energy on what is important.
- Practice mental switches, like box breathing. Mental switches help you ‘switch’ from reacting at the moment to responding more constructively. Box breathing is the idea that you breathe in for four, hold for four, out for four, and hold for four. Repeat until you feel like your reactive pe has calmed down.
- Create a “safe bucket of thoughts” so you can switch off and sleep. Create some safe questions such as “What would my ultimate holiday look like”, or “What will Christmas day look like this year”, or “What will my kids will be like in 10 years”. Commit to only thinking of these questions to stop the unhelpful and anxious ruminations that keep you up at night.
- Only book half your day with meetings – the rest of the day will take care of itself. Balancing meeting and doing is crucial to healthy work practice. If you have lots of meetings, maybe shorten some of them to 30 or 15 minutes.
Phil Slade, psychologist and author of “Going Ape S#!t”