Actions > Words When Managing Stress (or anything else)
This is probably the longest article I will write, but it includes a story, a secret about me, and a fun quiz where you can learn more about yourself, so I would say it is worth reading!
Last week, we discussed how our approach to our work could predict, prevent, and overcome burnout. The final step is to look at our actions. We must address our attitude first because, without the proper mindset, our approach will not be as effective. We dig into our approach before our actions because the way we approach our work can have a big impact on our actions. Think of your approach as the blueprint you draw and the materials you purchase before taking the step of building the house.
Our actions are critical when we are working to manage stress. When we discussed our approach, we talked about planning and prioritizing tasks, scheduling time on our calendar for each job, taking a smart approach to hiring, and allocating time each day to the essential aspects of our lives. Now, it is time to take it a step further and do everything we planned.
This is the hardest part to implement because it takes us getting out of our comfort zone and implementing something new that will profoundly impact our lives and the people around us. The word profound is essential here. Whenever we decide to make a change, we need to make sure it is worth it to us, meaning the ROI is so great that we will have enough reason to put in the hard work. It also needs to be something we can turn into a habit by implementing one small action each day, and it is something that we chose to do (we all know most leaders rebel a bit when told what to do).
It is also critical to focus on one change at a time and realize that this could take months or years to become something you do naturally. I am also a big believer that we only focus on things we need to change about ourselves if it hinders us from achieving our goals. If you can focus 100% on your strengths and get to where you want to be while never getting burnt out, then keep doing what you are doing.
I will tell you a quick story about a personal training client I had for years to illustrate my point about when to focus on challenge areas and the ripple effect the change can have on everything you are doing. She was one of my first clients and happened to love working out at 5 AM (now you know why I get up at 3:30 AM still). She had a great attitude, never missed a session, loved to work out, and did whatever I asked her to without ever complaining (this was my favorite part). The first year we worked together, she did not lose a pound, and she even gained weight because of the additional muscle she was putting on because of lifting. As her trainer, I was disappointed because her goal was to lose 20 pounds. My client assured me she was happy with the training and my approach to working with her and that she was still confident she would lose weight eventually. We went through her eating habits, cardio, workouts on days she did not train with me, and her alcohol intake (yes, alcohol does make it more challenging to lose weight). As you can see, she had the proper attitude and an (almost) perfect approach to losing weight. In many cases, she was taking the right actions too.
Then, one day, I read a book called Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. In his book, he talks about a study done at the University of Chicago where participants were all put on a rigorous diet, and some were able to sleep 5.5 hours while the others were able to sleep 8.5 hours. Guess what? The group who slept 8.5 hours lost 55% more body fat. So, as her trainer, I started asking about her sleep (I figured she needed more since the crazy lady wanted to work out at 5 AM), and she told me she was only getting 5 hours of sleep per night.
Ding, ding, ding! We had something to address. During that session, I asked her questions to help her develop a smarter sleeping plan (I did not know at the time, but this is what a coach does too). By the end, she had some ideas on how to get 7 hours of sleep per night. I know this is not the ideal 8 hours per night, but we need to take small steps, or we might give up altogether. She implemented her plan, I helped with accountability, and she started sleeping 7 hours (most) nights. The result? She began to lose weight! I made that sound much easier than it was – it took about six months for the consistent increase in sleep to happen, but I did not want to bore you with too many details.
Was her weight loss success just a result of sleeping more and doing everything else the same? No, but the sleep allowed her to make better food choices throughout the day and lowered her stress, resulting in fewer alcoholic beverages throughout the week. She also had more energy that allowed her to work out even harder (this was fun for me).
I have worked with many leaders and sales teams who needed to manage stress more effectively. Once they had the proper attitude and came up with a practical approach, they could carry out the actions to exceed expectations without burning out (again).
Here are some ideas that worked for individuals on our team to manage stress:
Workout for 30+ minutes per day on most days – I prefer to exercise in the morning because it gets it done before the day gets too busy and I allow myself to come up with 100 excuses why working out is no longer a top priority.
Set boundaries with your team – when you delegate correctly, everyone should know what you expect from them, but you will need to take it a step further and set boundaries around your time. An excellent way to avoid constant interruptions is to have scheduled 1:1 time with each team member. Planning this lets them know that they have time with you, and they will save non-urgent matters for your meeting.
Create new habits – For example, if you wake up and turn on the news right away. STOP. Watching the news is a stressful start to your day and has a significant impact on your mindset for the rest of the day. Burnout is the accumulation of stress and frustration. If you want to prevent or overcome burnout, start by removing things that cause stress and are in your control. The new habit could be waking up and meditating, reading, or listening to something positive and motivating.
· Sleep more or better (or both) – Like my training client, if you are not getting enough QUALITY sleep, you will not be as effective as you would like to be, and you will feel more stressed. There are too many tips that I could write about sleep, and the one that works will be different for everyone. I highly recommend that everyone reads Sleep Smarter
· Reframe your limiting beliefs and silence your internal critic – What causes more stress and frustration than you constantly convincing yourself that you are credible to do what you want to do? Even worse, what does it feel like when you base your self-esteem on your assumptions of what other people think of you? This is a key area where a coach can help.
To pull it all together - to predict, prevent, and overcome burnout, we need to take an in-depth look at our attitude, approach, and actions. If our attitude is right, we can develop a strong approach, and with the right approach, we can effectively take action.
I am passionate about this topic because I have been a burnt-out leader more than once. At one point in my life, I was experiencing burnout and did not address it. I kept running on fumes and moved into a state of high anxiety and, eventually, depression. I decided to take medication to deal with it and hated the way it made me feel. I could not sleep, felt zero feelings, and even stuttered when I took them (all great traits for a new leader of a high-performing sales team).
I decided that approach was not going to work for me and did what I needed to do to develop the right attitude, approach, and I implemented many new actions (over time) to be able to be a high achiever while staying sane. It took a long time (2 years to be exact), but I can tell you now that I have not taken any medication for five years, I have achieved more than I expected so far, and I rarely feel too overwhelmed (even though 2018 and 2019 were, by far, two of the hardest years of my life). I tell you this because I want you to know that I know the tips from this article and the two before it can profoundly impact your life and success at work.
Now, for the fun! I created a quiz that can help you gauge if you are at risk for burnout. It is possible to be highly successful without popping pills or feeling overwhelmed most of the time, but you must be intentional about making it happen, and it is always easier with someone to support you!