In my work as an organisational consultant, I have met many highly successful executives.
They have achieved all those things they thought would make them happy when they first ventured out into their careers – money, status, power. But, far too frequently, they are still not happy.
There is one major problem stopping us from achieving happiness. While we need a certain amount of pressure to perform well, we are now subject to more and continual pressure. We all set incredibly high standards for ourselves, much more than any tyrannical boss would ever do.
We never feel as if we’ve done enough. When was the last time you said to yourself, “right, time to go home – my work is finished?” The problem is you. And it’s resulting in thousands of executives being “hurry sick”, irrational, exhausted and burned out.
You will know you’re hurry sick if, while microwaving something for 30 seconds, you can’t fight the compulsion to do something else at the same time. Or, if you get a buzz if you only just manage to catch a flight or a train and you check your phone every seven or eight minutes. More than 95 per cent of the executives I interview admit to suffering from hurry sickness.
The boundaries around work have exploded and work is now occupying more of our time than ever before. At the heart of the stress is lack of control – at work and even in our personal lives, we are spending too much time on things we are not passionate about. Some chief executives confess to spending as little as 1 per cent of their time and energy on the things that will really drive the future success of the business.
Fifty per cent
The ideal is more like 50 per cent of their time. Great careers are built on passion and focus – precious commodities being fast eroded by seismic shifts in the work environment.
Enabled by technology, it is now possible to spend your entire career doing absolutely nothing of value for your organisation. We spend our days battling emails and sitting in meetings, losing the ability to stop and think – a fundamental skill. The first thing we do when we wake up in the morning is check our email. It is also the last thing we do at night.
Emotional resilience allows you to choose how you respond to stress, and how you manage it. Here’s how to build your resilience.
Focus on what really matters to you:
• Take control of your time and energy.
• Create boundaries and “non-negotiables”. Spend as much time as you can doing things you are positive about.
• Have the courage to confront the difficult conversations – with yourself and with others.
• Praise and thank people in your social network. Expressing positive feelings has a powerful effect on your stress levels.
• See your friends (the people that energised you) – those with few social relationships have a 50 per cent higher mortality rate.
• Aim for clear, realistic goals – never set yourself up for failure. Take some risks once in a while – don’t be paralysed by fear.
• Remember that you control how you respond to what happens to you.
Mark Twain once said: “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do, than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour.”
When you look back on your life, what will have been important to you?
Richard Jolly is adjunct professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, who teaches on its interpersonal dynamics elective.