As a business owner, you have a lot to think about. If you don’t take the time to take care of yourself, it is very easy to become overwhelmed and burnt-out, therefore affecting the very fabric and culture of the company you’ve worked so hard to build.
We recently interviewed Dr. Emily Anhalt, a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and Psychological Consultant pioneering a new approach to help high-growth technology companies invest in their employees, about how entrepreneurs can use “emotional fitness” strategies for avoiding burnout, communication and collaboration difficulties, and the infamous ‘imposter syndrome”:
Why is it so important for entrepreneurs to be emotionally fit?
The entrepreneur lifestyle is a unique brand of emotionally taxing and stressful. In addition to focusing on one’s mental health and having healthy coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety, depression, and self-doubt, an emotional fitness regimen is an imperative asset to entrepreneurial life.
Emotional fitness is an ongoing commitment to looking inward, processing through difficult emotions, and working toward self-awareness and self-improvement.
Good emotional fitness will help foster more genuine and symbiotic relationships, which is truly the crux of entrepreneurship. It will increase an entrepreneur’s ability to handle the ups and downs of starting a business, help them communicate more effectively, increase their capacity for empathy, and allow them to use their emotions to make informed and positive decisions.
What effects have you seen on entrepreneurs and executives who do not pay attention to their emotional fitness?
Entrepreneurs who have not done the necessary (and often difficult) work on themselves to understand their triggers, biases, and areas of struggle will transfer many of these issues into their company and onto their employees. We have seen plenty of examples recently of entire companies being negatively affected by lack of self-awareness of the people at the top. Emotional fitness has to be invested in. Like physical fitness, if a good regimen is maintained, it will prevent greater issues down the line.
What are some of the traits one might expect to see in an emotionally fit entrepreneur?
Emotional fitness is not something that can be achieved. Rather, it is something to work toward. An emotionally fit founder is someone who is committed to an ongoing pursuit of the following traits:
1. The capacity to identify and manage their own emotions. Emotionally fit leaders are self-reflective. They have taken the time to understand their triggers and biases and continuously check in with themselves. They are patient, resilient, and willing to be vulnerable with others. They can tolerate frustration and manage their effect. They understand that the feelings they have about others have a lot to do with their own selves.
2. The capacity to identify and tolerate the emotions of others. Emotionally fit leaders can (and do) put themselves in other’s’ shoes on a regular basis. They recognize that what they feel about things might not necessarily be what others feel, and they strive for empathy even when it is difficult. Although they must sometimes make unilateral decisions, they consider how those decisions will affect others.
3. The capacity to play. Play sparks spontaneity and creativity, and is a crucial part of emotional health and interpersonal cohesiveness. To play with an other means trying on thoughts or concepts to see how they feel. It means having a free exchange of ideas and a meeting of the minds. Emotionally fit leaders can and do engage in this type of interaction regularly, and encourage others to do the same.
4. The capacity to face and handle reality. Although being an entrepreneur sometimes necessitates a willful suspension of disbelief, emotionally fit leaders understand and tolerate the difference between what they want to be true and what is true. They have awareness of their limitations in affecting and changing others, and they endure this without denial or defeat.
5. The capacity to tolerate discomfort. Emotionally fit leaders can sit with and process through discomfort. They know they will survive it, and thus do not take impulsive or destructive action to escape it. They are able to have tough conversations, be transparent about uncomfortable information, share complicated feedback, and sit with a problem until it has been fully thought through.
6. The capacity to take criticism and feedback. Emotionally fit leaders know that more is learned from failure than success. They are not defensive (or recognize and can admit when they’re being defensive). They are willing to accept that they have blind spots, and give genuine consideration to points of view other than their own. They are secure in their own value, and thus do not need constant external validation.
7. The capacity to communicate effectively, even during disagreement. Emotionally fit leaders are able to put words to their needs and expectations. They understand that conflict within any relationship is co-created, and they are able to talk through issues rather than reacting with denial or exertion of power. They can balance flexibility with maintaining their authority and appropriate boundaries.
What are your top 5 tips for entrepreneurs to start getting emotionally fit today?
1. Attend to your emotional health even when things are going well. Just as it’s much easier to get physically fit when you’re not sick, it’s important to tend to your emotional health even when things in your life feel stable. The entrepreneur lifestyle is unpredictable, and thus proactive self-care is key. Emotional fitness helps you shore up your mental resources to prevent and mitigate difficult times.
2. Get into therapy. Many people think that therapy is only for those with psychological disorders or huge life predicaments to process. In reality, therapy is for anyone who wants to better understand the way they conduct themselves in the world. As a founder facing countless stressors, therapy also provides a space to process anxiety, frustration, and other feelings so that they don’t leak into the business and onto employees.
3. Play more. According to psychologist Michael Parsons, play functions to sustain a paradoxical reality where things can be real and not real at the same time. Let yourself and others “try things on,” approach problems in unusual ways, be silly, make space for yourself and others to change over time. Get involved in the creative aspects of your company, and have an open mind whenever possible.
4. Get more comfortable being uncomfortable. If you are making a decision or taking an action purely to move away from discomfort, take a moment to reflect on whether the discomfort is really so intolerable. Sit in it for awhile, take a deep breathe, and prove to yourself that you can handle it. You do not need to break every silence, fix every issue immediately, or avoid difficult conversations.
5. Find your community. Having a community of like-minded people is a huge asset when starting a company. Meet regularly with people who understand your experience as an entrepreneur and who are also working on their emotional fitness. Join a founder group, commiserate, support others, and reach out for help when you’re having a hard time. Connect with people for who they are rather than what they can do for your business.
What else can company leaders do to make sure their own employees stay emotionally fit?
Integrating emotional health into the culture of one’s company is a hugely important facet of emotional fitness – after all, being fit is much easier if you exist in a fit environment. To do this, add emotional fitness to your company’s mission statement. Start meetings with a check-in. Institute postmortems, fireside chats, and AMA’s. Have a meditation space. Express gratitude. Invest in the emotional fitness of your employees. Reward employees’ desire to improve themselves. It will pay off.
For help with all of the above, head over to dremilyanhalt.com or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.