HR & Management

Stay sane as an entrepreneur in seven steps – a guide from a psychiatrist-cum-business owner

6 min read

15 March 2016

Starting your own business can be a fulfilling, life-changing experience but also one of the hardest tests mentally – long hours, lonely decision making, financial stress, fear of failure and the endless list of “what-ifs.”

As a psychiatrist turned entrepreneur, I know a little about staying sane as a business founder and have shared seven tips from my experiences.

(1) Being obsessional can be key to survival, but learn how to be present off the job

Your business can control your entire waking mind, but one of the hardest lessons is learning to be present with those close to you. They can tolerate vacant stares and forgetting important birthdays only for so long – make time for them, they are often the key to your success.

(2) Risk is necessary – but only up to a point

Taking calculated risks keeps you on your toes and can drive performance. But how much is too much? There is a massive “success bias” of famous entrepreneurs who have risked it all to achieve lasting success and wealth, but little attention is given to the many who have risked too much and lost everything.

For me, remortgaging the house was a red line and something I was not prepared to do. I also kept up being a doctor and earned some side while building HomeTouch to its state today. That allowed me to sleep at night knowing I could walk away if everything went pear-shaped.

Read more on workplace psychology:

(3) Regular holidays refocus the mind

Allowing time to relax and switch off can have an outsized impact on your motivation, relationships and performance. Time slows down, creativity increases and your mood will improve.

Insurmountable problems become minor obstacles once you are back to work. Holidays build resilience and perspective and should be mandatory for entrepreneurs.

(4) Keep your boundaries and know your personal limits

The nature of business when starting out as an entrepreneur can be inherently chaotic. You start with fingers in hundreds of pies and end up juggling tasks that you never thought you would.

There will come a point when you realise that you can’t do it alone and actually all of the roles you are trying to embody can be carried out more successfully by someone else.

Lots of entrepreneurs I know wish that they had reached out and started to grow their team earlier but more often than not, it is normally only when we reach the absolute edge of our personal limit that this becomes obvious.

Yes, when you start out as an entrepreneur you will need to also be a COO, marketing director, product designer and accountant – but you can’t and shouldn’t be all of these forever (not if you expect to grow).

Releasing control can be terrifying but essential for you to keep to your boundaries and to continue steering the ship.

Continue reading on the next page for the risks of burnout and why you shouldn’t attempt any wild heroism.

(5) Burnout syndrome – recognise the signs

We are all human and there is a limit, mentally and physically to what we can achieve and how far we can push ourselves. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that you have gone too far but ignoring it and continuing to plough ahead will damage your health and business.

As an entrepreneur you are not above the health advice surrounding sleep, diet, nutrition and exercise that applies to everyone else.

(6) Learn the power of intrinsic motivation – the best way to motivate staff

Having clarity about what drives you to get up in the morning helps to generate a mission for your company. Staff will look you in the eye for guidance and reassurance.

Countless studies show that employees are motivated by a sense of purpose and collaboration and that instilling this is far more powerful that monetary incentives or haranguing.

(7) Don’t be a hero – no one will think you are and you’ll start to feel resentful

Setting a good example is one thing, but being a martyr where you spend more time in the office alone than with your team is unlikely to bear fruit. Relinquish control and empower your staff by sharing your expertise and stretching your team to meet attainable goals.

Being a hero isn’t sustainable and it isn’t going to help you succeed long term.

We’ve all seen organisations and empires collapse, and often, a sociopath or two is responsible – do you have one in your employment?

Dr Jamie Wilson is the founder of HomeTouch, an online platform that connects families to affordable care.

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