Stress and Small Business

by Timothy R. Walker, Ph.D.

Running a small business may sometimes feel as if you are in the midst of a swarm of furiously buzzing bees threatening to sting you (so many things to do so little time). Most people when surrounded by a swarm of bees will react by flailing their arms in a panic which in turn causes the bees to become more agitated and more likely to sting. In contrast to this we can imagine being able to respond by remaining calm and still in the center of this buzzing mayhem to find that soon the bees have disappeared and the buzzing is replaced by peace and quiet.

Dealing with stress and problem-solving in business and life is like being surrounded by buzzing bees in that there is always a feedback loop between our approach to problems and the problems themselves. Or in layman’s terms, problems and solutions are both part of a vicious cycle. With careful analysis we often find that the root cause of our problems is embedded in our way of thinking and behaving. Einstein made a very keen observation when he wrote “the world we have made as a result of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level at which we created them.” The question then becomes how to make the leap to a different level of thinking.

Our physiological/psychological balance can sometimes be pushed to the breaking point of disregulation, when the issues buzzing around us at work and home seem to escalate. Our health and productivity are undermined by ingrained behavior patterns (also known as bad habits). These automatic “knee-jerk” reactions to stressors occur when we are not mindful, not aware of ourselves as part of the problem. Old habits prevent us from seeing and solving problems creatively and expressing our emotions clearly.

Communication breaks down and little problems grow into big problems. When we react blindly and impulsively, we stress our inner mind/body system and our outer work, social and family systems more and more.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the mindfulness based stress reduction model and bestselling author of Full Catastrophe Living and Wherever You Go There You Are, makes a profound distinction between reacting to stress and responding to it. Mindfulness training, which means continuously bringing your mind back to the realities of this present moment, helps one to integrate the full power of mental, emotional and physical abilities toward a skillful response to external stressors. Reacting to stress and problems with old habits can make things worse. Responding involves choosing to use the energy of stress the way a sailor uses the energy of the wind and water to stay on course.

The second and third habits of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People: “Begin with the End in Mind” and “Put First Things First” are wise overarching principles for time and stress management. If our personal ambitions, mission statements and business plans are all aligned with a higher purpose, such as benefiting our local or global society, then there is greater meaning in the work that we perform each day. This sense of meaning uplifts our spirits, counters stress and depression, and inspires us even in adversity or through the drudgery of the most dull and detailed daily tasks.

Some other helpful points for small-business managers include:

  • Set your sights on your higher purpose, write a mission statement.
  • Plan your work then work your plan.
  • Set goals that are clear, concrete, and achievable.
  • Prioritize all work in relation to your goals and overall mission.
  • Break your ultimate goal down into yearly, monthly, weekly and daily goals.
  • Make daily to-do lists and stay on track.
  • Handle each piece of paper only once.
  • Finish what you start.
  • Plan separate time for solitary concentrated work and interactive group work.
  • Learn to say NO! Say no to anything that distracts you from your priorities. Say no to managing by crisis, to procrastination and to interruptions.
  • Delegate.
  • Support others, build them up, guide them, bring them along.
  • Promote and celebrate the success of others.
  • Know yourself, be honest, don’t blame, don’t defend, don’t explain.
  • Admit it promptly when you are wrong.
  • Enjoy your sense of responsibility and integrity.
  • Learn to be a good listener. (seek first to understand then to be understood.)
  • Lead by setting the best example.
  • Allow some time (20 mins) each day to let go of tasks, to open your mind and be creative.
  • Relax your muscles, relax your mind.
  • Practice being in the present moment, alert and confident.
  • Exercise 2 times a week minimum.
  • Have fun, enjoy the little things in life.

Remember that being stressed is a state of mind and that you have a choice. When the bees buzz around you, you can react by flailing your arms or you can chose a wise and mindful response.

“We must BE the change we wish to see.”
– M. K. Gandhi


Friday, March 30, 2012

This interactive one day retreat will introduce you to a variety of applied mindfulness tools allowing you to be less reactive, communicate more calmly and definitively, and maintain mental focus in a workplace setting.

This program is ideal for people interested in creating greater ease at work, improving relationships with co-workers, or exploring new ways of being effective.