3 Ways Mindfulness Can Improve Startup Founder Performance
Mindfulness expert Dr. Elise Bialylew explains how the practice of mindfulness can help startup founders manage stress, maintain wellbeing and become better leaders.
Dr. Elise Bialylew is a coach, meditation teacher, and social entrepreneur who trained as a doctor and psychiatrist. She is the founder of the world’s largest online mindfulness campaign Mindful in May, and author of #1 best-selling book The Happiness Plan, a one-month guidebook to mindfulness.
In 2012, Elise left the hospital wards to create Mindful in May, a global online meditation campaign that teaches people how to meditate and raises money to build clean water wells in developing countries. The idea came to her one day whilst sitting in meditation. She imagined there were many people in the world who wanted an easy, accessible way to learn how to meditate. Her campaign has inspired thousands of people from around the world to learn how to master their minds while making a huge difference through raising funds to help the one in nine people on the planet gain access to one of life’s most basic needs. Mindful in May has raised nearly $1M to date to bring clean, safe drinking water to those who need it most.
What exactly is mindfulness?
According to Elise, “mindfulness is a form of mental training that supports the mind to be more focused, effective, and present to what we are doing, as we are doing it”. In the simplest terms, mindfulness means dedicating your full attention to the present moment.
We are often so preoccupied with planning for the future or reflecting on the past that we miss out on fully experiencing the present. Elise says, “When the mind gets caught up in loops about the future or the past, we increase stress, which over time has a corrosive effect on our mental and physical wellbeing.” Past research has shown that 30–45 minute sessions of mindfulness meditation a day can have a multitude of positive effects on physical and psychological wellbeing.
Excitingly though, it seems that shorter stints of mindfulness practice can also yield positive benefits. In Elise’s pilot research published in the Mindfulness journal, her team discovered that just ten minutes a day of mindfulness meditation over one month was enough to support increased positive emotions, reduced negative emotions, increased self-compassion, and greater focus in daily life.
How can mindfulness help startup founders?
The founder journey is filled with long hours, unexpected challenges, and prolonged stress. It’s no secret that this can take a toll on the health and wellbeing of founders. Startup founder research conducted by KPMG High Growth Ventures found that 41% of founders believed that their mental wellness and stress are negatively impacting their startup’s success.
As an entrepreneur herself, Elise is familiar with the ups and downs of running a business and knows firsthand how powerful of a tool mindfulness can be. Mindfulness can both improve the overall wellbeing of founders and enhance their ability to lead their startups. Here are 3 important ways mindfulness can help startup founders.
1. Enhance creativity.
Mindfulness meditation cultivates a more peaceful state that allows the mind to decompress at a time of information and technology overload. By switching gears from stress mode to a more thoughtful mode, meditation opens the mind to new ideas. Elise cautions, “meditation is not about actively trying to make something happen” however, she says that while meditating, “ripples of thought, sensation, and emotion can creatively collide and result in innovative ideas and solutions.”
2. Prevent burnout.
The amount of blood, sweat, and tears that startup founders pour into their businesses makes burnout a strong risk. Our minds and bodies are not designed to handle stress for extended periods of time. According to Elise, if our stress response is chronically switched on, “it puts us at a higher risk of diabetes, infertility, obesity, anxiety, and depression to name a few.”
Mindfulness meditation can protect startup founders from the long-term impact of prolonged stress by counteracting the stress response, lowering levels of cortisol, reducing anxiety, and bringing our bodies back into a balanced, healthy state.
3. Lead more effectively.
Communicating clearly and making good decisions under pressure are two key leadership skills startup founders need to have. A founder must be able to steer the ship through rough waters while keeping their team aligned and informed. However, under stress, our communication and decision-making skills significantly decline. There are neurobiological reasons for this; when faced with psychological stressors, our amygdala, which drives the fight or flight response, hijacks the prefrontal cortex, our higher functioning brain. This clouds our critical thinking, making it difficult to communicate and problem solve.
Practicing mindfulness meditation regularly has been shown to increase the thickness of the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with such higher-level brain functions as calming ourselves down in the heat of emotion and being able to communicate and problem-solve more effectively.
The personal performance of founders is the determining factor for the success of their business. In order for startup founders to best serve their team, their customers, and their friends and families, they must first look after their own health and wellbeing. Learning the practice of mindfulness is a strong first step towards a measured, balanced, healthy life.