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How can startups keep up morale in difficult times?

12 May 2020|Psychology

How can startups keep morale up in difficult times
How can startups keep morale up in difficult times

For startups the threats created by the Covid-19 crisis may feel like their worst nightmare.  Even tough-minded entrepreneurs may be feeling usually high levels of anxiety which can become a downward spiral. Given the realities of the lockdown period and the uncertainties of opening up the economy is very important that, as business owners, we boost our resilience, finding ways to keep our spirits up.

Two principles are particularly useful for entrepreneurs to be aware of. First, managing anxiety takes mental strength and energy, if we don’t actively recharge, we will become depleted.  Secondly the state of our morale affects the state of our immune system (At this point I have to say this doesn’t mean that anyone who becomes ill wasn’t positive enough!). So, if we pro-actively attend to our morale, we are also pro-actively attending to our health.

Here are some tips for entrepreneurs to help manage anxiety, keep your spirits up. Share these with your team as well.

Count your Blessings

The new science of positive psychology has proved the benefits of the old adage of counting your blessings. There is an exercise known as the ‘three good things’. At the end of each day, identify three good things that have happened during the day. It’s good practice to write them down. Doing this regularly helps train your brain to look for the positives amongst the gloom. As many entrepreneurs are optimists by nature this may be particularly good for getting you back on track.

Get into flow and out of yourself

Try not to think about the crisis and business issues is hard. As entrepreneurs we need to find things that take us out of ourselves. When we are completely absorbed in something we are in a state of ‘flow’ and when we are in this state, we are not focused on our feelings. It’s like getting a holiday from your worried self.

For me gardening and writing offer me productive escape time. It can be hard to get yourself over the initial hump into the activity, but once you’ve started to apply yourself, time falls away.

The book, ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ explains flow and other positive psychology concepts that might be useful for entrepreneurs at the moment. ‘Positive Organizational Development cards’ take twenty of the key positive psychology concepts, including flow, and give you questions to help you explore them and brief ideas for action. Or you can go straight to the master’s voice and get Csikszentmihalyi’s classic book, ‘Flow’. 

Access Humour 

There is lots of evidence that laughing is good for us and for our immune system. Whatever rocks your funny bone. Remember, coronavirus may be no laughing matter, but we don’t have to be solemn to be serious. Laughing is a good coping mechanism. My favourite YouTube video, which seems particularly apt at this time, is Tripp and Tyler: A Conference Call in Real Life. It makes me laugh every time.

If you need to worry, have a worry diary appointment

Some of us are born worriers. A time-honoured technique is ‘allowing’ yourself a specific allotted time to worry as much as you like. So, if you need to, spend a specified 0, 20 or 30 minutes allowing yourself to name all your worries. Write them in a journal if you like. Or arrange a strictly focused and time limited phone call with another ‘worrywart’. And when your time is up, it’s up. Allocating this time and allowing yourself a good worry, should reduce the likelihood of doing your worrying in the early hours of the morning, which is the worst possible time to do it.

Exercise regularly

Exercise is very important to both mental and physical health. You know the rules about keeping your distance. Put your face mask on and get out there and yomp for an hour somewhere green.

I’ve started doing a morning workout with my almost daughter, through the wonders of the internet. She has Jo Wicks ‘Seven days of sweat’ (and I can tell you, she didn’t tell me it was called that before we started!) on the computer her end, then we link up over face time and she instructs me. It’s exhausting, I puff and sweat. It’s social time and I get a great feel-good buzz afterwards. The point is, I would never do it without her company.

Have longer-term projects on the go

‘Wise people’, someone once said ‘prepare for the worse while hoping for the best’. Once you’ve done what you can to prepare for the worse, then turn your energy to hoping for the best.

Starting projects suggests an optimism about the future that becomes self-reinforcing. Uncertainty can act to paralyse us. By pro-actively starting a project we can break out of that paralysis. I am sure this is a concept that will resonate with entrepreneurs.

The hardest part is getting started, but once you do it will draw you forward. Apart from total house rearrangement, I’ve started a new tapestry kit. These take me years to complete. But every evening I can admire the couple of square inches I’ve completed and feel I’m making progress.

Positran do another great set of cards called ‘Positive Transformation Cards’. They are resilience building cards, full of uplifting quotes and insightful questions to help you boost your optimism, hopefulness, and self-confidence in a mindful way.

Keeping in contact

Social contact is another thing that is very important to our wellbeing. I am fortunate that I am marooned with dear beloved. Even so, I am resolved to talk on the phone to at least one person who isn’t him every day. You might want to talk about the crisis and the difficulties your business may be in, that’s fine. However, I would suggest you also ask them about their plans for the day, what they are hoping to achieve during this period of lockdown. In other words, try to help them see a silver lining. Ideally you will both come away from the phone call feeling slightly better not even worse!

Be your own coach

If you are feeling really stuck, and your thinking is just going round-and-round in circles then you may need to take a more structured approach to pull yourself out of the mire. Usually we can rely on informal chats with colleagues to stimulate our thinking or for ideas that haven’t occurred to us. Sometimes we just need to be asked a question that gives us a different take on the subject or causes us to make a new connection. You may already have a coach who can help you, but if not, people often self-coach. Self-coaching helps move you into a more productive self-talk, that allows you find unexpected ways forward.

‘At My Best’ offer an excellent selection of forty-eight coaching questions in their ‘Good Question Card’pack. Alternatively, there is a set of six Coaching Cubes with thirty-six questions, based on the PRISM coaching model, that you roll like dice, introducing an element of randomness and chance into the questions you’re asked.

Learn the lessons of Appreciative Living

This tip takes us almost full circle. Appreciative Living, which is based on Appreciative Inquiry, is all about seeing and seeking out the best of life. We can’t deny the reality of a worldwide threat to our whole way of life, but we can still appreciate the things that make life worth living, today. Developing an appreciative eye, especially in times such as these, takes practice and isn’t always easy, but the benefit to our health, well-being, state of mind and ability to remain pro-active in the face of threat, in fact to our resilience, is beyond question. Keeping doing all the things you need to do to stay safe, and start living appreciatively at the same time.

Jackie Kelm is the guru of Appreciative Living, you can find her videos on YouTube and her latest book, Appreciative Living, on Amazon. Or you might find Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management by Lewis, Passmore and Cantore of interest for a more work orientated explanation.

In conclusion, the key during the current challenges is for entrepreneurs to take care of themselves and encourage their team members to do the same.  I hope the ideas here will help you look after your physical and mental health and that you and your startup will weather the storm.


Sarah Lewis C.Psychol., is the principal psychologist at Appreciating Change, a strengths-based psychological consultancy that is committed to applying well-researched positive psychology ideas and interventions to workplace challenges and opportunities at an individual, team or whole organization level. Sarah is an associated fellow of the British Psychological Society, a principal member of the Association of Business Psychologists, and a member of the International Positive Psychology Association.

She is an acknowledged Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Psychology expert, a regular conference presenter and author of ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ (Wiley), Positive Psychology and Change (Wiley), ‘Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management’ (KoganPage) and Positive Psychology in Business (Pavilion). Sarah also collects great positive psychology resources to support consultants, trainers and coaches in their work which are sold through the Positive Psychology online shop. https://www.thepositivepsychologyshop.com/

Web: https://acukltd.com
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