The XYZed has scoured the internet for the most popular questions asked by self-starters – and now we’re answering them. Dr Mary Barrett, Professor of Management at the University of Wollongong, explains how fostering a positive mindset and maintaining physical wellbeing can get you through tough times.
Experiencing a career roadblock or an unexpected blow to progress can be tough when you’re working for someone else, but staying resilient is extra difficult when you’re going it alone. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to help your mind and body stay fit and healthy.
“The ability to recover and keep going after difficult, life-changing events is largely a learned skill,” Dr Barrett says. “In particular, it is possible to learn four skills that really help.”
First, she believes you need to be able to make realistic plans when circumstances change, then take the steps to carry them out. Next, it’s important to maintain a positive view of yourself and your abilities. Developing communication and problem-solving skills is a third essential. Then you need to manage the feelings and impulses that spring up in difficult moments.
Barrett says that “the most crucial factor – having caring and supportive relationships – is not something one can learn”. She believes healthy relationships that foster love, trust and comfort can provide a bedrock for resilience.
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“Self-employed people – more than people in salaried work – put themselves out there in terms of financial risk, loneliness and balancing family life,” Dr Barrett says.
To stay strong and flexible in the face of adverse conditions and events, it is essential to ensure you’re being a good boss – to yourself.
“Are you creating your own toxic work environment by failing to give yourself a mental pat on the back occasionally?” asks Barrett.
Treat yourself as you treat others. People are often toughest on themselves, and self-employed people often adopt that work-style because they set high standards. Remember to give yourself a break once in a while, both in the sense of taking time out, and forgiving your own mistakes.
Barrett suggests fixing negative self-talk by turning negative statements into questions that allow you to explore possibilities instead of rushing to negative self-judgements.
Fuel your fire
It can be easy to neglect diet and exercise when you’re building a business, but your capacity for work is stronger when you’re physically and mentally healthy. Physical exercise and eating do wonders – so sleep well, prepare fresh meals and drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Dr Barrett recommends integrating exercise into the business day where possible. When you leave your desk to do some exercise, don’t tell yourself you’re taking time away from work.
“A lot of meetings work well as ‘walk while you talk’ events. Perhaps the person you need to talk to has the same needs – so invite them to a walking meeting,” Dr Barrett says.
It’s also a good idea to schedule fitness sessions like meetings. Barrett suggests putting the gym, a swim or a brisk walk in your diary like any important commitment.
“After being a bad boss to yourself, the next best way to undermine your well-being as a self-employed person is to allow your clients’ expectations to ‘get to you’,” says Dr Barrett.
Self-employed people can set dangerously high expectations for themselves and assume their client will be unforgiving when mistakes occur. Dr Barrett suggests to keep things in perspective.
“You understand and find reasons to forgive others when things go wrong, and you don’t interpret every unexpected event as a negative,” Dr Barrett says.
In most cases, your clients are simply trying to get through their day, just like you. “They’re probably not paying you – and your imagined slip-ups – as much attention as you think,” Dr Barrett points out.
If things really do go wrong, it’s important to apologise and see if you can make up for their loss in some way, then move forward. We all make mistakes. Learning from them rather than dwelling on them can help bolster your resilience.
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