There is a very pervasive problem in technology leadership that goes unaddressed despite all the ways the technology industry dominates the business world: Mental exhaustion and possibly even burnout of technology leaders. Especially burnout puts a sizable dent in sustaining a tech company in a highly competitive and fast-changing market.
Mental health had become one of the biggest threats to business even before Covid-19. The Lancet journal of medicine reported in 2018 that mental disorders are on the rise worldwide and are expected to cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030.
It is not surprising that the pandemic has only worsened the situation. Although the pandemic may be winding down, the impact of more than a year of isolation will almost certainly linger. If companies do not provide their teams with the resources they need, there will be a decline in productivity and retention.
Due to tremendous amounts of pressure, it is not surprising to see mental exhaustion or even burnout among technology leaders.
Many tech leaders experience an overload of new priorities, information, and deadlines.
At some point, they experience performance drops, cognitive abilities exhaust, and they invest more energy in one thing only to achieve fewer outcomes.
What is the root of this negative feedback loop?
It turns out that the culprit behind this is your "monkey mind."
The following aspects characterize the monkey mind:
A busy mind that's always on and unable to relax even when at home.
An overwhelming feeling from the constant high pressure of new priorities, deadlines, and information overload.
Having a negative mind: constant negative thoughts and worries, leading to emotional stress.
Lack of focus: You are easily distracted, and it is not feasible to become productive.
Passion lost: You are disoriented; you have no clarity anymore on your goals.
This is the beginning of a downward spiral that will end in mental exhaustion, which is one of the biggest challenges you will ever face as a person and leader.
How to overcome this?
Over the past decade, as a scientist and leader in tech, I have experimented with various approaches to "tame" my own money mind and achieve the "high-performance mind."
The high-performance mind is characterized as:
A calm and tranquil state of mind with the capability of "mental flexibility" that allows you to adjust your mindset on demand (e.g., work, relax) within minutes.
Easy to get into a state of flow and focus for a long period of time to get stuff done.
This will enable you to have a high energy level to focus on creative and productive tasks. You also can be fully present with your team, coworkers, and, most importantly, your family.
Now, I will share with you a strategy that I have spent 10+ years building. I have been working with experts in the areas of neuroscience, mindfulness, neurofeedback, micronutrients, and epigenetics, also experimenting and devising a system that works wonderfully to achieve a high-performance mind.
There are three pillars that I have identified, and that are crucial to learn and combine effectively:
1. Measurable Mindfulness: Increase Your Awareness
Based on my experience working with tech leaders over the years, this one is fundamental to success.
When your awareness rises, you become the observer of your mind and create distance to your thoughts. Even when surrounded by chaos and stressful situations, you won't be disturbed by them anymore. A calm and peaceful mind makes you less reactive and improves your decision quality. And those are only the beginning of the upward spiral to a high-performance mind.
The goal is to increase your level of present awareness (LPA) significantly with a systematic and measurable approach. I put together tools and methods to achieve this, which I refer to as mind-management.
However, how to put this together with a mindfulness practice using a systematic approach based on clear KPIs to evolve your mind - measurable mindfulness - is the result of this work.
2. Mind Management: Upgrade Your Mind
With increased awareness, you will be able to upgrade your mind systematically. This means "taming your monkey mind":
Identify your limiting thoughts and false beliefs, and replace them with more helpful ones
Identify your reactive patterns and transcend them
Letting go of old emotional baggage that no longer serves you well
Increase your mental flexibility and switch to different mental states on demand
Increase your focus and easily get into states of flow for a prolonged period of time
3. Epigenetics & Biohacking: To Support and Achieve Optimal Brain Health
Epigenetics is the study of how your genes, certain lifestyle habits, and environmental factors impact your health, specifically related to your DNA. Your genetic makeup, what you eat, where you live, and your exercise can affect how your body interprets your DNA sequence.
Think about epigenetics as the software that manages your genes. You can upgrade your software with Epigenetic hacks around the area of sleep, nutrition, and exercise. In a recent podcast episode with epigenetics subject expert Dr. Manuel Burzler, I shared an overview of this fascinating topic. Check it out.
All in all, a simplified formula for a better functioning mind is quite simple:
Better body = better brain = better mind!
You need a healthy brain and body to reach the state of a high-performance mind.
These three pillars are fundamental, and the art is in mixing and combining different methods from each in an effective way.
How can this be implemented within a company context?
I will share more details in subsequent posts - stay tuned!
Employers can help the team overcome this challenge, and a business that invests in mental health will benefit more from this era of uncertainty. Nowadays, mental health is no longer just a matter of personal wellbeing; it's also a metric for business success.
First thing to do is to stop the downward spiral and identify the most urgent aspects of the "monkey mind" as key objectives: What aspect of the monkey mind(s) do you want to tackle first?
Work in parallel on the three tracks of execution: Awareness, Mind Management, and Brain Health & Epigenetics. Without a healthy brain you can’t have a healthy mind, and without awareness, you will not be able to push through the process to achieve a high-performance mind.
I encourage you to consider joining the Fellowship of Mindful Tech Leaders - a community that can support you in this or related topics.
I have also developed a data-driven 12-week training program, "The High-Performance Mind," leveraging the latest science and technology to assist senior tech leaders in optimizing their mind and brain performance to thrive in high-pressure environments.
You can reach out and contact me for a (free) initial get-to-know meeting, where I can outline some strategies, based on your unique situation and objectives.
Take action, make your mental health & wellbeing a priority and take the first step now.