What to Do When You are Having a rough day?

Premise:

Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint hearted. As entrepreneurs, we are constantly trying to juggle things, fighting fires, digging wells, selling ideas and influencing people. IN the midst of doing all of these, there are days when nothing seems to move in the direction that we want them to move in. Worse still, things move in the opposite direction. Every meeting, every phone call, every email leads to a response that is exactly opposite to what we were hoping for. We miss an important deadline and in the midst of all of this, our spouse or the significant other or an employee calls up and we end up taking out our frustrations and anger on that person. This is so uncool.

We all have these days. So, the question is what can we do about these days? How can we deal with the anxiety and the frustrations that these days bring to us?

These are a few things that we can do:

Acknowledge:

The first thing that is critical is that we acknowledge that we are having a rough day. Then tell ourselves that this too shall pass. We need to practice empathy towards ourselves as much as we need to practice it with others. Once we acknowledge this feeling of frustration and anger, we can start work towards managing this stress levels.  One thing that has worked for me in the past and is recommended by Benjamin Zanders in his book “The Art of Possibility” is to practice telling ourselves – “How fascinating” and then go on to see what is so fascinating in the scenario. It can help even better if we see the entire thing with a third person view (view as if this is happening to someone else and not us).

Slow down:

Once we have realised and acknowledged that we are having one of those days, we need to stop working, slow down and start breathing. One of the physical aspects of being stressed is that our body starts reacting to the stress physiologically by releasing certain specific harmones. The way we deal with these harmones is to slow down the release of these stress harmones and then release the harmones which will help us in dealing with stress.

We can do that by slowing down and breathing. I dont know if you have noticed this but everytime I am stressed, I start pacing around, the speed at which I talk increases, everything about me seems to be faster. This includes the speed at which I can think of everything else that could go wrong as well.

So, it would be a good idea to find a place where we could sit down comfortably and sit down. Then practice deliberate, slow and deep breathing. We all know that the body and mind are interconnected. The body follows the mind and the mind follows the body. So, the moment, we slow down physically, our mind starts to slow down as well. This by itself is a great step and will work even if you dont do anything else.

Or Speed Up:

Some of my friends find it extremely difficult to slow down in such moments. So, the alternative if we can’t slow down and practice deep breathing, we should find a way to speed up. We could go for a run, hit the gym or go for a session of swimming. The idea here is to get the physical body & the mind to start focusing on something else.  This activity also ensures that our body gets a lot of oxygen and has a similar effect on the physiology of our body.

Make a phone call:

One of the next thing you could do is to call someone. Ideally, this is someone whom you have already identified as the person whom you will call in moments such as this. This could be a friend, a partner, your spouce, a therapist or your mentor or a coach. The idea here is to not continue to dwell on the day and take perspective. This is where being part of a mastermind group or a coach can be a big help. You could share your frustration with them and they can at best give you a different perspective and at worst listen to you and tell you that everything is going to be all-right.

The closer we are to a problem the more unlikely we are to solve it. Stepping back gives a better perspective. Taking the mind off the situation helps in coming back to the problem with a more refreshed and active mind. The trick here is to call the right person – it is best if we already have a set of 3 or 4 people identified for such situations ahead of time. It works even better is you have already shared with those people that you will call them in situations like this and if it is ok for them to just give you the 10 – 15 mins of their undivided attention at that time and help gain perspective if possible.

Trigger a habit:

We are all creatures of habit. There are certain habits that can trigger certain thought patterns or a series of actions and behaviours. For example, if I start listening to a specific track of music, it automatically puts me in a mental frame and I relax. I also like to walk to my cafetaria and engage in the process of making tea for myself. That by default slows me down, puts me in a very contemplative mode and takes me to a very different place. Doodling does this to a lot of people. Watching news does something similar to people. Watching a scene of a favorite movie has a similar effect for some. This is also the reason why most people go out for a smoke when stressed. That is not the habit that i would want any of us to invoke.

IF we don’t have one such routines, maybe it is time for each one of us to be intentional about creating some such routines or habits that can help us in managing these situations.

Find Small Wins: 

Everything that we have discussed so far is about stopping ourselves getting stressed. That is never enough. If we dont create something that can take its place, it will return the moment we are done with all the above steps. So, it is important for us to find a way to reverse the stressors. This can be done by two ways. The first is for us to find some small wins and celebrate them.

It could be clearing out our inbox or sending a hand-written thank you note to one of our important customers.

It could be crossing something from our task list.

It could be as mundane as taking care of some of our chores that we have been procrastinating about.

The trick here is for us to find some small win that we can celebrate. This celebration is what has the potential to stop the stressors and put us in a positive frame of mind, which can then trigger other smaller wins and so and so forth.

Practice Gratitude:

The other way to reverse the stressors is to find things that we are grateful for. At times, this seems so difficult to do. Having a gratitude journal is something a lot of us find difficult to maintain. However, I have found that developing this habit of writing a gratitude journal can have significant benefits. Every time, we are in a situation where nothing is going right, reading this journal immediately puts things in perspectives. It tells us that there is a lot that is going our way than stuff that is not going our way. Just this realisation that there is a lot for which we are grateful for has the effect of reversing the stressors.

The key here is that we need to cultivate the habit of gratitude journals before we end up in a situation like this. Though, thinking about what we are grateful for, in such situation also has benefits, the real and lasting benefits come from having this practice already in place and doing this with full sincerity. We can fool everyone in the world but ourselves. So, if we are not truthfully grateful for things that we write in our journal, the entire process is counter-productive and will cause more harm than good.

Be a Philosopher Entrepreneur: 

The most difficult but the most effective way to handle days like these are by being a philosopher. In Indian mythology, we have a consistent theme, where we are asked to do our work and not expect anything else in return. The implicit and sometime explicit meaning is that what we do is in our control and we do that. What comes out of that action (every action has a reaction) is not in our hands. We just need to accept whatever comes back as is, without judging if it is good for us or not, if it was fair or not. The moment we are able to suspend judgement if the reaction for our action was favourable or unfavourable and always take it as the best that could have happened, we are not allowing ourselves to get stressed at all.

This is somewhat similar to ourselves being in a permanent beta. We evolve with every iteration (everyday) of living our lives. We get better with every iteration (everyday) as long as we learn from the feedback that we got the previous day.

In Conclusion:

As entrepreneurs, we will have always have things that will not go as we want them to. Some days, this will be much more prominent and happen multiple times. Staying relaxed and calm during this time is the key to not doing anything stupid. A calm and composed demeanour will take us in the right direction.

What we need to do is to know that this will happen sooner than later. So, it is better for us to be prepared with a specific routine that we will engage in, when we enter such a situation, This will help us deal with such situations much better and we feel more relaxed knowing that we have a routine for the bad (so called)  days already built-in.

Skills, Attitudes and Habits that Make Us Better Leaders

We all know (either by experience or by research) that people who like us and trust us are much more likely to work with us or refer us or our services to their peers, friends and social circles.

In his book “Top of Mind“, John Hall talks about some rules, skills and habits that can help us become more likeable, trust worthy and top-of-mind, as he calls.

These are:

Shift the spotlight:

This is easy to say but extremely difficult to do. A lot of us enjoy being in the spotlight and find it difficult to leave it, let along shift the spotlight to others. However, good leaders have the uncanny ability to shift the spotlight to their team members, customers or partners when it is time to praise and shift it on themselves if there is something to be questioned or blamed.

This ability to shift spotlight requires us to be engaged and mindful about us and our surroundings all the time, which is why it is not easy.

Listen More, Talk Less:

We all know that we all like to talk about ourselves, our interests, our challenges, our issues, our passions, our goals, etc. Good leaders know this and allow others to do bulk of the talking and are engaged in active listening. This means that they are attentive to what is being said and are able to keep the conversation going with others wanting to continue to talk more.

My first boss had this uncanny ability to get us all share much more than we intended to by just using questions (which in reality were never questions – and, hmm hmm…, Ok, each followed by a pause) and pauses which cause some sort of vacuum in the conversation. More often than not, the other person tends to want to fill the vacuum by adding something else and the process would continue.

Don’t Practice Selective Hearing:

We are all guilty of practicing selective hearing. My son knows this and makes the most of it. He knows that when I am working on my laptop, my full attention is on the work that I am doing on my laptop, he will come and ask me if he can watch TV or play on his tab or read something on his kindle. If I am not mindful enough, I would return to my default answer, which incidentally happens to be ok. He has used this strategy so successfully, so many times, that now I sit up and pay full attention when he asks me of something.

By default, our brain does selective screening of all our senses to make sense of the world around us. If we add to this filtering, further filtering, we will miss most of the contextual information, which is where most insights, intelligence and opportunities lie.

We are all guilty of checking our phones when talking to someone or watching TV when playing with our kids or talking to our spouse. This is what leads to selective hearing. We need to try to be fully present and gift our full attention to the people or task in front of us.

Give Before They Receive:

The very act of giving our full attention to someone is a gift that we give them. This then leads us to better understand the person we are engaging with and that is the second gift that we give them. Once we have the understanding of what is important to a person, good leaders ensure that they practice, what I call small acts of kindness with everyone that they come in contact with.

They give (time, attention, money, at times, or anything else) because they feel that it is the right thing to do and not to keep score or with expectations. This is what amplifies the small acts of kindness into joy and happiness.

Choose their words carefully:

As the old saying goes,

An arrow that leaves the bow and the words that leave our tongue can never be reversed.

Good leaders understand the criticality of this and err on saying little when they are emotionally charged rather than err on saying more.

The tone and the body language in which they speak are as important to a conversation and being top of mind as the content of what is spoken as well.

Deal with Failure (Their own and others):

When it comes to failures, good leaders

  1. Don’t discuss the failings and failures of others publicly.
  2. But readily admit their failings and failures publicly.

What they do afterwards is what makes them good or great. They talk about the learnings from these failures, their own and others.

Either ways, they don’t shy away from dealing with failures as they understand that success and failures are part and parcel of the experience called life and as Benjamin Zanders and Rosamund Zanders had said in their book – “The Art of Possibility”, everything is invented. So, lets invent something that works better for us.

Conclusion:

If you look at most of these, we can see that the ability to be mindful is the foundation on which all the other practises are built. So, apart from having a good, strong, moral character, these are all skills and habits that each one of us can cultivate within ourselves.

We need to realise and accept is that it is extremely difficult for anyone to be able to practice and exhibit all of these behaviours at all the times.

So, the first step is to take stock of our current behaviours and identify the areas where are naturally good in and areas where we need to put in deliberate attempt and effort to get better. Once we have done this, we could look at applying some or all of the following to help fasten the process of improvement:

  1. Identify and get an accountability buddy.
  2. Create a commitment device and publicly commit to improving in a specific area.
  3. Try to see if there is anything that you can change in your environment that can help increase/decrease something that you are working on.
  4. Focus on building habits using the Trigger, action, reward framework.
  5. Identify the emotion behind the act and let it be.

As long as we try to make these habitual, we will tend to go back to our original selves due to psychological and emotional inertia.

 

Personal Focus in a Word for 2015

Habits

I read on Mitch Joel’s blog about the concept of 3 words in a year that Chris Brogan started and Mitch and others have made into a tradition. I tried this out last year and decided to go with a single word instead of three – “Transformation”. I must say that this helped me a lot by being my compass in everything that i did and I grew more than I had ever did. You can find my post at the start of the year and my self-appraisal at the end of the year.

So, it is time to pick the focus word for 2015. 

And the word is “Habits“. I would like to create new habits and replace some old habits with new one’s – one’s that work. It is now scientifically proven that “Will Power” is like any other muscle and that we need to exercise it as we need to exercise any other muscle and that it is a limited resource that we can run out of if used a lot. 

This is probably the reason why it is difficult for us to do the right thing all the time. Each time we think about something and make a decision, we are using some amount of our will power.

The research has also indicated that it is exactly what habits are capable of short circuiting – if we are in the habit of exercising, we don’t expend any energy on the decision to exercise; if we are in the habit of being respectful and considerate of others, we don’t expend any energy on doing so; if we are in the habit of reading or writing, we don’t expend any energy on doing so and it becomes easier for us to do what we want to do without much difficulty and conserve the energy or will power to tackle more difficult and far reaching decisions that we need to make, decisions that we are not required to make routinely.

Charles Duhigg in his book – “The Power of Habit” talks about how to build a new habit or replace an existing one. He breaks down every habit into three key components: 

  • Identify the Cue
  • Do the Routine 
  • Enjoy the Reward

Most of us concentrate on the routine, when it is critical to concentrate on all three aspects in order to be able to build new habits or replace old one’s. 

When I say that i want to build habits, I would like to do them in the following dimensions of my life: 

Physical Dimension: 

Exercising and drinking enough water is key for a healthy body. So, I want to build both of these into habits. 

Intellectual Dimension: 

Being open to new thoughts and ideas is critical for us to remain intellectually stimulated. I want to build a habit that allows me to continue to read/listen/meet with interesting people who can open my minds to new possibilities. 

Emotional Dimension: 

Listening well and being empathetic is critical in any relationship – personal or professional. It is also key to be fully immerse yourself in one thing at a time so that you can bring your whole self into that situation. These are the habits i want to build – being fully present, listening well and being empathetic. 

Financial Dimension: 

I want to build habits around investing and financial management, ie, taking care of all the financial incomes and expenses time and completing the investments that are planned. 

Spiritual Dimension: 

I want to build a habit of meditating, self-reflection and reading spiritual texts and practicing some of what they teach us. Being helpful, supporting the needy, etc. 

Some might think that these are just too many goals that i have set for myself and that it would be really difficult for one to achieve all of these. This is where the single word comes into being. I am not focusing on every goal all the time but focusing on the one word, every single moment in the context of the moment. 

So, 2015 is going to be the year of “Habits” for me. What about you? What goals are you setting for yourself? 

 

 

How do You Start Your Day to Ensure Peak Performance?

Usain Bolt - Delivering Peak Performance
Usain Bolt – Delivering Peak Performance everyday

The following routine at the start of the day ensures peak performance for me:

Exercise:

  • For my Body: One of the most important thing that you could do first up in the morning is to exercise your body. A healthy body is crucial for success. This is one activity that i have not been regular at, however, plan to start doing on a much more regular basis.
  • For my Mind: I read something stimulating. You could read a scripture if you are religious. I read a good book something that is not from my regular field of study or work. This keeps expands my mind and keeps it healthy. I also intend to start writing morning pages to clear my mind of all the thoughts that I accumulated through the night.
  • For my Spirit: A prayer or an expression of gratitude for all that is there in my life at the start of the day keeps me grounded and away from stress.

Intention: Manifest my intention by answering the following questions:

  • How would you like the day to unfold?
  • What is the most important action that you would you like to complete by the end-of-day?
  • What would you do with your spouse & kids?
  • Whom would I delight today?

The answer to each one of the above questions is not be more than one sentence.

Delight: 

The first thing that I do every day is to identify ways in which i can delight (or inspire) an existing customer.

These have worked for me. What is your morning routine that helps you deliver peak performance? Do share with us.

3 things you can do daily to become a highly successful leader

I have come to believe that the things that matter most in any relationship, this includes your relationship with your direct reports as well, is the small things that you do daily.

Here are 3 things that you can start doing today to improve your relationship with your team:

  1. Talk to everyone in your team at the start of the day. Everyday. This can be for a minute or 5 minutes. But do this as a ritual. You can say hi or ask them how did that meeting go or how was their day yesterday or even inquire about their family if you know them. Talk about anything, but talk to them everyday in the morning.
  2. Coach one person everyday: Identify one person in your team whom you would like to coach. Decide if you would like to reinforce and polish one of their strengths or work upon one of their improvement areas.
    • Give them a hypothetical scenario relevant to what you want to coach about. This could be a customer situation or a inter-personal situation or anything that is relevant.
    • Ask them to think through and provide their response.
    • Ask them why they chose that response and not any other response.
    • Reinforce the response if it was the right response. If not, talk to them about what you think could be improved in their response.
    • Don’t criticize. Just provide your feedback. Talk to them about how you would approach the situation and why. Don’t necessarily force your approach on them, but let them decide for themselves.
    • When such a situation arises, notice how they respond. Provide feedback based on their response.
  3. Catch someone doing something right, everyday: Make it a ritual to do this every single day. It can be about how someone handled a difficult situation or about how someone stood up for the team when it mattered or about how as a team they found a solution for a nagging problem. Find something to praise your team.  It is unbelievable what this one habit alone can do to the morale of your team. This will also reinforce the culture that you want your team to exhibit. You will start getting more of such behaviors that you recognize and praise. Just make sure that the praise is genuine, honest and prompt.

There are a lot that you will still need to do in order to become an effective leader – like being fair to everyone, living the values that you expect your team to live by, be consistent and open to feedback, to state a few.

However, the 3 activities that we have discussed today, will go a long way in creating a foundation of trust on which you can build on.

What other daily rituals you have that result in creating a high trust environment.

Let us know by sharing your thoughts in the comments section below or by tweeting to me at @rmukeshgupta.

PS: A very different take on leadership by Friedman