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99U Conference

99u Conference Recap 2: Rewiring Your Mindset & Avoiding Burnout

Stress-busting insights from Rohan Gunatillake and Kelly McGonigal.


Continuing this series of recaps from our 2015 99u Conference, in this session we tackled how a simple change in perspective can not only help you get motivated, but can make you healthier. Plus, four insights for overcoming the fears commonly associated with creative work.

When we get stressed or start to fear that the work we’re doing is falling short of its potential, the best thing we can do is to be mindful and take time to practice self-awareness. In the second half of day one at the 99U Conference this year, Kelly McGonigal and Rohan Gunatillake gave us the ways in which we can keep moving forward when faced with feelings of fear or stress.

Rohan Gunatillake

Rohan Gunatillake. Photo by Mackler Studios.

Rohan Gunatillake. Photo by Mackler Studios.

Director at Mindfulness Everywhere

At the heart of any creative endeavor often lies fear; fear of missing an opportunity, of burning out, of not scaling, or fear of failure. In this presentation, Mindfulness Everywhere Director Gunatillake reminded us that there are are specific approaches we can utilize for overcoming the fears we’re bound to encounter along our entrepreneurial journey:

  • Make with generosity in mind. A common fear many writers, artists, designers, entrepreneurs, and others face is the fear that the thing we’re making will be made by someone else first. “This fear is very tiring and corrosive to yourself,” says Gunatillake. To overcome the fear requires that we “get in touch with the bigger sense of what you’re doing and being aware of what you’re making is for other people to experience.”
  • Prioritize human metrics. Gunatillake reminded us that the work we do isn’t about numbers in a spreadsheet, it’s about the real, human responses we get as a result of our efforts. Including that of those we work alongside, things like personal life goals and dreams. “What would it be like to put human metrics on a whiteboard with the same level of importance (as sales numbers)? To name the well-being and development goals of team members?”
  • Seek full frontal feedback. What’s full frontal feedback? It’s the feedback we get in the form of emails, testimonials, phone calls, etc., that we should reference whenever we start to experience fear around scaling our ideas. Gunatillake stated: “Recognize these are human beings that are using your products…When you can hear the feedback on a human level, what does scale mean? Scale has no meaning, it’s the sense of ‘that’s enough.’ How much is enough in this moment? One email could be enough.”
  • Decouple self and work. Lastly, Gunatillake reminded us all that we are not the work we do, even though it can be hard to separate us from it. “If I fully identify with my product and then it falls over, then just through classic logic I have fallen over. And that’s a really dangerous place to be in the volatile world.” To overcome this fear, Gunatillake recommended a thinking exercise: “It’s not about believing the words, it’s about taking on the words and then noticing what comes up in the mind in response…I am not my Twitter bio. I am not my resume. I am not my company. I am not my work.”

Kelly McGonigal

Kelly McGonigal. Photo by Mackler Studios.

Kelly McGonigal. Photo by Mackler Studios.

Author, professor at Stanford University

In her new book, The Upside of Stress, McGonigal asks, “If you could choose how stressful tomorrow will be, would you hope for a great deal of stress?” Our natural response is likely a resounding “No.” Yet, as McGonigal shows, a subtle shift in perspective around stress can be incredibly empowering. Here’s how:

  • Recognize stress as an indicator of a purpose-driven life. Researchers have discovered a surprising correlation between feelings of stress and feelings of joy, happiness, and even life expectancy. This is the Stress Paradox, as McGonigal explained: “The same circumstances that give rise to stress also give rise to positive experiences…Even though we experience stress in the moment as distressing, stress can actually be a barometer for how engaged you are with the things that bring love and growth into your life.”
  • Utilize a positive stress mindset. There are two mindsets around stress, McGonigal pointed out: negative, where stress is viewed as hurting, and positive, where stress is thought of as an opportunity to improve ourselves. “Research shows that when you tell people about the importance of stress mindset and choose to embrace the positive approach, they actually become healthier and happier and more productive at work, even in very difficult and stressful circumstances,” McGonigal said.
  • Turn stressful moments into opportunities for growth. “Recognize that a meaningful life is also a stressfull life,” McGonigal exclaimed, “And you can use that stress not as a signal that there’s something wrong with you…but to actually use that same stress as a sign that something you care about is at stake. Take that stress as an opportunity to think about what you care about, to view the situation as an opportunity to learn and grow, to trust you can handle the challenge.”

We’ll be publishing more insights from #99conf over the coming days. Stay tuned!

More 2015 Conference Recaps:

Part One: How to Fuel Collaboration & Innovation
Part Two: Rewiring Your Mindset & Avoiding Burnout
Part Three: Self-Awareness is Key
Part Four: How to Build a Business

Part Five: Tap Into Your Creative Genius
Part Six: How to Change the World

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