EP55: How to Scale Without Burning Out

Award-winning reporter, expert, speaker and author on burnout, longevity and happiness Sophie Scott shares insight on how to prevent burnout.

Founders have massive reserves of energy and resilience.  But it’s not infinite.  So how can you tell when you’re starting to hit burnout? What should you do about it if you are? And what can you do to reduce the risk of it emerging in the future?

In this week’s episode on the ScaleUps Podcast we interview Sophie Scott, award-winning journalist for the ABC, speaker and author on burnout, longevity and happiness.

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[00:00:00] Sean Steele: G’day everyone, and welcome to the Scale Ups Podcast where we help first-time Founders learn the secrets of scaling so they can fulfill a potential of their business, make bigger decisions with greater confidence, and maximise the value and impact they can have in the world. I am your host, Sean Steele, and my guest today is, the lovely Sophie Scott. How are you today, Sophie?

[00:00:18] Sophie Scott: I'm well. Thanks for having me, Sean.

[00:00:21] Sean Steele: I am thrilled to have you on today. Now, you have a quite an extensive background. There's a lot of things that you've got going on, so maybe I'll do a little summary and you tell me if I'm missing anything, just to give people a bit of context as to what you're doing at the moment. So, you're teaching people around the world how to prevent and manage burnout, reduce stress, and thrive in uncertainty. And I'm pretty sure, we're all in a massive period of uncertainty at the moment. You are an award-winning Medical TV Journalist for the ABC, you do a lot of work for them. You've authored two books - Live a Longer Life and Roading Happiness, and I know you've got a popular blog on the Science of Positive Psychology. You're also, obviously advisory boards are close to my heart given I chair a number of them. And you're on the advisory board at the National Mental Health Commission amongst others. And an Adjunct Associate Professor at Notre Dames Medical School and fundamentally, you are helping people take better care of their mental health through science back techniques, so they can build emotional resilience, sort of fulfill their potential and thrive both at work and at home. Did I miss anything?

[00:01:24] Sophie Scott: That's a really good summary actually, because I do do a number of different things, but at the sort of centre of everything, it's how can you be happy and healthy and productive at home and at work using the best of what science can show us works in terms of technique.

[00:01:45] Sean Steele: And you know, when we're talking about Founders, and we're going to create a bit of context for today's conversation, but Founders always when I get into conversations with them around the way they're managing their personal life and the boundaries between personal and business and energy and all the rest, which absolutely creeps into many conversations I have when I'm supporting clients. They're usually asking, well, what does the science say? Because lots of them, they make lots of decisions on gut feel, but when it comes to this they don't want to just guessing, you know, because they're time poor and they want to know stuff that's going to work and stuff that's being proven to work. You are clearly doing… Sorry, go ahead.

[00:02:18] Sophie Scott: I think the reason that's so useful as well, Sean, is because you know when you look into the science of what makes a difference, whether it's wanting to be calmer or wanting to be productive, yet, you know, maintain some sort of semblance of work life balance. When you look into the science of what makes a difference, it means that you are leveraging off, you know, not just someone's gut instinct or what they think might work, but actually w science shows does work. And what does change your physiology, what does change how your brain works and your brain chemistry? And so, for me that's very motivating because you realise that if you do these practices that will talk about and put these things into place, that you will feel better and you will be more productive and you will be able to achieve what you want achieve without feeling burnt out and worn out and everything else that you want to avoid, particularly when you are trying to scale up a business.

[00:03:13] Sean Steele: Yep, a hundred percent. Well, Sophie, you are clearly doing a lot in your life and you know far more than all of us, listening about what to do. I'm sure you'll probably be playing at the sort of champions league level when it comes to diet and exercise and sleep, eating your own, what do they call eating your own dog food or whatever, whatever the saying is. But I've got to know, do you have any vices that you keep just so that you've got something to keep working on?

[00:03:39] Sophie Scott: Well, I would've said alcohol in the past, but I've had to give up drinking, Sean. So, in the past it was probably alcohol and like, you know, glass of bubbly or whatever. But I've had to give up alcohol recently, so it's probably not alcohol anymore. Look, I think I'm a believer in everything in moderation, so I think you don't want to be too strict about anything because it doesn't work in the long term anyway. It's only going to backfire. So, you're better off to find out what works for you and just stick with it rather than thinking you've got to be really good all the time and not have things that you actually enjoy. So, I'm not about deprivation in the slightest. I think you should. You know, and find out what you like to eat, what you enjoy doing, and also what's good for you as well, and find where those two things connect. And often you'll find that there is a crossover between what you might like to eat or practices that you might like to do, and the things that are good for you as well. So, I'm definitely not about being too strict upon about anything and certainly about moderation. So, I wouldn't say I have any supervisors anymore, but I'm also not too hard on myself as well. So, for example, if I'm traveling, you know, you want to experience the different cultures and places that you're going. So, I'll just eat whatever is around and make sure to try different foods and if there's dessert, we'll have dessert. And so, you, because feeling deprived, whether it's with your mental health or your time, your energy, you're going to feel start feeling resentful. And then that's when, when resentments seeps in, then that's when your mental health can really suffer. And that doesn't matter whether you're talking about your diet or whether you're talking about the amount of time you get to spend with your family and people that you care about. You know, you've got to carve out the time for things that you really enjoy and the things that. Bring you that sense of connection to really feel fulfilled. And you're not going to do that. And you'll start to feel resentful if you don't have the time to do that. And so that's where, um, when I talk to groups about preventing burnout, I do talk about boundaries being crucial, boundaries that you can set and enforce so that you can manage your time and your energy and your focus so that you do have time for things that you really want to do and rather than things you feel you have to do. And, you know, a really important mindset shift can be, if you write a to-do list, just recognising that even if you get to the bottom of that to-do list, there's just another one's going to start. So, it doesn't really matter whether you've reached the bottom of that list or not. It's much more important to prioritise, you know, what are the key things that you really want to achieve, and even just do that on a daily basis, you know, in the mornings. It's really good way to set an intention for the day is to think to yourself first thing in the morning before you start scrolling on news sites and social media. But just sort of say to yourself, what's the most important thing that I really want to achieve for myself today, whether that's a personal thing you want to achieve, whether it's something in your business that you know you really want to get done today. And just making sure that that's at the top of your list and it doesn't get sort of shunted down to the bottom of every, and it doesn't happen. Because then that's when you can start to feel a bit frustrated. 

[00:07:07] Sean Steele: There's a bit of magic there in the grey, isn't there? Like sort of, when it's black and white, it feels like, and this might just be me, but when it's black and white, I can become, I can feel like I'm failing very quickly because the moment I've said a really hard and fast thing, and then if you don't achieve it, it's like, Oh, well I guess that thing's over, like, you know, I clearly can't do it. Or clearly wasn't successful as opposed to there being some flexibility. And my wife's actually very good at in fully in or fully out and a bit, you know, harder rules for herself. It works for her. And for me, I find that great, really important. But, you know, it's kind of, as you were talking, I was thinking about Tony Robbins who, I've loved watching his journey over the last 30-40 years because he's had such, you know, in the early days everyone was like, is this guy for real? Could he possibly be that positive? And, you know, he's got all these strategies and now he has got $6 billion company and, you know, thousands of employees. And one of the things I loved that he said was, well, if I'm waiting for everything to go right on any given day before I can feel like I'm succeeding or I feel like I can enjoy my role as the CEO of the group here will never, ever be a good day. Actually, every single day will suck because guaranteed right now somebody is screwing something up in my company. They're doing it in the way that I would absolutely hope they not do it. There's coaching opportunities. I just cannot wait for all those things to align before I feel like I can actually enjoy myself. So, that's sort of being okay with the grey, but to your point, it's that balance, isn't it, Between having boundaries and also still being okay, where sometimes they may need to flex a little bit, to your point.

[00:08:39] Sophie Scott: Exactly. And also, I think with that as well, Sean, it's about celebrating the small wins as well, so recognising when things do go right, even a small success or a small win can help balance out the fact that. On any given day, there might be things that don't go according to plan as well. And so, if you're celebrating the small wins along the way, and that can be something that you know, if you are a Founder, if you're the boss, often being able to do that from the top down sets a really good culture with people. You know, some people have meetings where they. They'll just focus on everything that's not working in the team or that's not going well at the moment. And you can come away from those meetings feeling very deflated and thinking, Oh God, this is not going well. But if you, on the other hand, you can also have a some teams will have meetings where you start the meeting with like what's been the, that start with the success of the week or you know, what's been a recent success that we can talk about? Or something that's been going really well for this team. And it just shifts that mindset to focusing on things are going well, even if some things aren't, there are still some things that are going well, so let's make sure we acknowledge those first, and then we can talk about things that might not be going so well. Because otherwise, you know, that can really help build a more positive and more, a more of a growth mindset in you, in a team as well by just focusing on the successes of a team and just acknowledging. You know, one of the factors, one of the things with burnout that they're recognised particularly, that people feel more likely they're going to be more likely to be burnt out if they feel a lack of recognition for the work that they've been doing. And when they say lack of recognition, that doesn't mean a salary. That's not talking about how much people are being paid. That means actually acknowledging good work, acknowledging someone to say; You know what, Sean, that project that you led was really fantastic and it was a great example of you using the great skill that you have and showing it to the best of your ability. And one of the things that studies found during the pandemic that a lot of healthcare workers in particular, it became very burnt out, particularly because they felt that their hard work was not being acknowledged. So, if you're managing a team, if you're running a company, making sure you acknowledge good work. And that your other managers in the team acknowledge good work when they see it is so important. And it doesn't have to be formalized, it doesn't have to be, but even just on an ad hoc basis and sending someone an email or just, you know, either saying to them in person or sending them an email saying, you know what, I really enjoyed that, or that was a great project. I was really happy with how that turned out. You can't underestimate the impact that that will have on that person.

[00:11:36] Sean Steele: And in the context of Founders, and this is actually going to lead me back to, I guess, the context for today. You know, Founders also need to be able to self-acknowledge because the reality is no one's giving you feedback when you're the Founder. It's like a hay bales, you know, like going through a country and western film or something because no, like you've got no one around you. It's often a very lonely position because no one's giving you feedback. And you're guessing half the time you're like, I don't know if I'm doing this well or not doing it well, and how do I know? I just get all the stuff that goes wrong and then I have to fix that. And so often, you know, hopefully they've got a great partner that's helping them recognise the things they're doing well, but it's actually a real challenge for Founders and that kind of comes to the context for today, which is on this show we're often talking about strategy, we're talking about scaling up in the context of strategy. So, we're talking about all the techniques and all the strategies. That's all great. However, I have met far too many Founders and professional CEOs who I've known personally in my time, who whilst they might be achieving a lot financially and in a sort of business sense, are burning the candle at both ends, sleeping four or five hours a night. Diet is all over the place. Drinking way too much, no exercise whatsoever. Mindset's out the window, you know, it's like they can turn on for the work period, and then at the moment….

[00:12:53] Sophie Scott: Yeah, and look, that's just like the recipe for disaster because It's not sustainable. It's not sustainable. Even in the short term, that's not sustainable. And if people want to perform at their best, you've got to think about. How can you be both physically, mentally, emotionally, and every other way, perform at the best of your abilities? And the way to do that in an ongoing basis, on an ongoing basis is really to think about what are the protective factors that I can build into my life so that I can keep doing what I'm doing? Because if you aren't sleeping properly, If you consume with stress and overwhelm and you know, hustle culture and feeling like you are having to work these ridiculous hours, and then it's means that you're going to basically crash and burn because it's not sustainable in terms of. What happens with your nervous system with someone like that? You just described that, that overworked CEO, that person who's drinking too much, not exercising, not taking any time out for themselves, probably doesn't have the support that they need emotionally or otherwise, they would feel overwhelmed and they would, their nervous system would be in that fight or flight constantly because they've got this sense of, I just have to keep going or it's all going to collapse around me. I just have to keep going. And then what happens on a physiological level is they would have cortisol rushing through their system and adrenaline and their heart would be racing and they're probably pumping the caffeine and then they're having a few beers or wine at the end of the night to calm down, and then they just do it all together the next day and that's a classic recipe for burnout because what happens is if you keep in that elevated fight or flight state for a long period of time, and that chronic stress state, your, your body and your nervous system can't reset itself back to a state of balance in a state of homeostasis, which is where we feel the best. You know, we're designed to have like short bursts of stress. You know, something stressful happens, you react, but then you go back to feeling it's back to baseline and back to feeling calm again. And you know, we we're not going to be calm all the time. That’s not, no one can be calm all the time either. But the idea is that you're easily able to move from an something acutely stressful and respond to it rather than react and then move back to feeling calm again.

[00:15:24] Sean Steele: I just had this image, that those who like sports, even though I'm not really a sports guy, I just had this image of 200-meter races, that is flat out for 200 meters. But if you get that athlete to do that eight times a day every day ongoing for seven days a week…

[00:15:43] Sophie Scott: …for a cross country or something, They're not going to make it. And look, that's a good analogy in a lot of ways, because athletes know how to rest in recovery is crucial to be a high performer and to perform at your best, and people like us or anyone who's, you know, running a company, you need to have build in that rest and recovery to recuperate so that you can perform at your best. And athletes know it, you know, Olympic athletes or athletes at a high level, they will factor that in. They'll factor in a rest day where they just rest and particularly for people, you know, it's not just physical rest, but there are seven different types of rest. So, things like cognitive rest. If you are running a company, you know, you're probably cognitively constantly bombarded with having to make decisions and having to take in information and make decisions that have big impacts. So having a day where you can have a rest from having to think is actually really important as well, and have a day or half a day where you can just go; what's something that I really enjoy doing where I'm not having to make decisions And I’m ideally getting out and doing, moving my body and out, something that's completely removed from what I normally do so that you can switch off that fight or flight and just get back into that relaxation mode and activate your, your parasympathetic nervous system and so that you can feel much more relaxed. And that is a protective factor against burnout. So, being able to do that and the way you do that is by building in ritual. in your everyday life so that …

[00:17:22] Sean Steele: Actually, so sorry Sophie, you are beautifully taking us into some of the solutions and I'm really keen to get to those. But one other thing that I wanted to call out on the consequences, which I think sometimes is often missed by Founders is the impact of that state on the people you love around you. Like I have seen so many successful, you know, people would not imagine that when you're in the elite CEO clubs, everybody's running 5,000 million, 500 million, multiple billion-dollar businesses. You just assume that they've all just got it together. And I can tell you that is not the case. That is absolutely not the case.

[00:17:55] Sophie Scott: And that's really good for your listeners to hear that as well.

[00:17:57] Sean Steele: it’s important to know it's not. There's no sort of, you don't get to a certain level and because it's going well, all of a sudden everything else gets easier. Actually, what tends to happen is they're so focused on work, they're so focused on that financial success. They'll do anything for their team, they'll do anything for their customers, but very little for themselves. And in that process, what happens, of course, is their relationships suffer massively. And so, one of the things that I'm hoping that people get out of today in addition to their strategies, If you're a Founder who's got this kind of context that, you know, well, I'll look after myself when I exit. That is, you've got to think about it this way, at the time that, let's say that it takes you three years or five years, or 10 years, or sometimes could take 15 or 20 years, who knows. But if you are going to run that hard for that long, are you going to have a body that you can actually enjoy fruits of that labour with? Are you going to turn around and find yourself that you actually know your children still in love with your partner, still have connectivity, with yourself? Or actually, are you going to be completely alone with a bag full of cash? Because that is not a good outcome for anyone including you.

[00:19:06] Sophie Scott: There is a good example is someone that I knew actually a friend of ours, one of my husband's close friends, who was a very successful businessman that ran his own company, like a multimillion dollar company. And he had lunch with my husband a few years ago. And you know this friend he used to drive, A sports car and you know, we'd always see him flying around in his sports car and he loved the high life and drinking and, you know, but he was a very successful businessman. And he said to my husband, you know, my husband's name is Phil. He said, you know, Phil, next year's, the year that I'm going to really start taking care of myself. I'm going to really look after myself. And unfortunately, over that Christmas period, he never got to see the next. So, he, he died of a massive heart attack and he was with two doctors when he died and they couldn't save him. And so, it was a really sad story, you know, that he said, you know, next year's the year I'm going to start looking after myself. But he never got that next year. So, all the money in the world isn’t worth anything.

[00:20:07] Sean Steele: Yep. An extra million dollars I can tell you is not going to solve those problems. So, if we think about that, there's two issues here. One is, okay, when we can recognise that we're actually in a burnout or a high functioning anxiety state, I think, there's probably a lot of Founders who don't actually realise that that's where they're at and they just think everything. Like they've got a lot, you know, they have a lot of resilience. They're hustlers. They've got huge depth in terms of their capacity to take on more and more. Sometimes they don't realise that when they're in it. So, I'd love to ask, you know, what does it look like when we're in it? And then what are some of the solutions that are really current and sort of science backed? How do you know when you're in it?

[00:20:45] Sophie Scott: Yeah. So often when you're in a cognitively, you think everything's still fine, but often your body will start to tell you that things are not fine. So often you'll be like, oh yeah, it's fine. I'm coping well. But the body will actually start giving you clues that that actually things are not going well, and that can be. Often it can be things like, you know, you might find you are getting more anxiety, that your heart might be racing more. You might find that you're starting to have a whole lot of symptoms, like you might be getting digestive problems, you might be getting migraines, you might be getting, you know, it can be any number of things really, but often the body is the one that set is the thing that says, you know what? I've actually, I need a break here, I've had enough.

[00:21:29] Sean Steele: And it's easy to probably to put that down to age like, oh, my body's starting to fail because I'm getting old, I was like, well, is that the case or is it actually something else?

[00:21:37] Sophie Scott: Exactly. So, I think that that can often be a bit of a wake-up call for people. It can be that they, you know, are still happy to keep doing the really long hours and the heavy workloads, but then they're starting to get physical symptoms that suggest that you know that there is a cumulative effect. And it's starting to show up in this the stress that they've been under for all the years that they've been running their company or founding a company. It's starting to show up in how they feel, or sometimes it can be people's mental health starts to decline as well, that you might start to feel more anxiety. You might start to sort of be questioning your decisions and one of the things with burnout in particular is, for people who, you know, often people who are very passionate about their jobs are the ones who are likely to burn out. So, you have people, like in healthcare, first responders, teachers, there's a really high level of burnout in teachers because they give so much of themselves to the profession. But what happens with burnout is you start to feel like you're not making a difference anymore, and you start to sort of second guess what you're doing and think that you're not good at your job anymore. So, you sort of have this crisis of confidence because you're not feeling the way you have felt before, you're not feeling physically fantastic. You might start to feel, you know, one of the other symptoms of burnout is sort of physical and emotional exhaustion and things has become so much more difficult to do. Things that used to find easy are suddenly more challenging. And so, then you're like, the job hasn't really changed or, you know, the company's still the same, but why am I finding this more difficult and maybe it's me? And so having that sort of crisis of confidence can be a big part of burnout. And a doctor that I spoke to, an emergency doctor, said to me, you know, he started to sort of question his decision making, and that was when he realized that he was really burnt out and he had to sort of step away for a while sort of and have a break and then come back to it when he was feeling a lot better because he didn't want to feel like he was questioning his own decision making when you're in those life and death situations in particular. So, there can be lots of indications like that that things are not the way going as well as they, they should be and that you might be on the road to burn out. So yeah, exhaustion, questioning your ability to do the work that you've been doing. Feeling like you don't really enjoy doing what you're doing anymore. There's a whole sort of series of symptoms like that that can show up. And then the physical ones that we talked about as well.

[00:24:13] Sean Steele: And maybe something I can offer there, Sophie. You know, I was working with someone recently who was probably unclear and maybe not fully aware of where they were and how far perhaps they'd slipped. And so sometimes it's actually really helpful to be able to look at something and go, well, where am I? Like a sort of diagnostic tool. And if you just Google the words mental health continuum, you'll see a million different versions of pretty much exactly the same thing, which is like a four column, five robots that has, you know, down the left hand side, has your mood, your attitude, your sleep, your physical health, your activity and your habits. And across the right is what are the sort of behaviours or what are the examples when it's healthy, what does it look like when you are in a reacting, kind of you're starting to react to the world rather than move towards it. What does it look like when you're injured and what does it look like when you're ill? And it really gives you a quite, I think for some people can be quite a stark, like, oh, I actually didn't realise I was there beecause they can just see the behaviours. Oh yeah, I do that. No, I don't really do that.

[00:25:11] Sophie Scott: Some people, it might be, they really withdraw. Some people, when your mental health starts to go down, you can really withdraw and they'll be like, Oh. They stop saying yes to invitations and they'll just say, look, I just don't want to go out anymore. And that can be often asking the people around you and that are closest to you, they can often have more insight into what's going on that you might have.

[00:25:32] Sean Steele: True.

[00:25:34] Sophie Scott: You know, and so like if you're finding that you are, you know, you're arguing with or being very snappy and short with people around you all the time.

[00:25:42] Sean Steele: How do you think I'm going?

[00:25:43] Sophie Scott: Yeah. You know? Exactly. And they'll go, well, I'm really glad you asked that because not well. And sometimes that could be actually the start of a really important conversation

[00:25:53] Sean Steele: Yeah.

[00:25:53] Sophie Scott: Because it could be, you know, they could say to you, look, I've been really worried about you and I'm really glad you brought this up because I've been really worried about the impact that work stress is having on you. And let's find a way forward that is going to work better for you. And often you can feel quite like you mentioned that Founders do feel quite isolated. So making sure that you do have a good support network as well, and that you do have people that you can talk to about how you're feeling, whether that's other Founders or other people who might be going through the same thing or, you know, listening to podcasts like this and getting tips on how other people have coped with challenges, similar challenges. The more you can find that sense of support and community, then the less alone that you'll feel.

[00:26:38] Sean Steele: And we've probably talked numerous times on this show, but for those who maybe are newer to listening, we've talked about a range of different CEO clubs for, want a better of a word. You know, Club of United Business, which I think is now in Sydney, Melbourne, and entering Brisbane. EO, which is Entrepreneurs Organisation if you business is larger, YPO is the Young Presidents Organizations really for sort of CEOs.

[00:26:57] Sophie Scott: So, finding the one that fits, and it might take a while to find the right fit. 

[00:27:01] Sean Steele: Exactly right. But what you realise very quickly once you get into those rooms is actually, it's very refreshing because even though when you're having the worst day, you realise actually somebody else's day is going far worse than yours, and things are actually far more broken and their business than yours ever could be. It's actually quite, sometimes it's like, oh wow, it's not actually that bad. It can actually make it really feel better.

[00:27:22] Sophie Scott: You recognise that, you know, I think that's one of the good things about social media. There's a lot of bad things about it, but one of the good things about it is that you can find people who are going through very similar things that you are going through as well and whether that's through LinkedIn and people you might connect with there, or you know, I use Instagram to put out a lot of mental health resources. and you know, you can find people who are going through very similar journeys and it's the same thing for Founders, that if you can find people who are going through similar experiences, then you do realise that, as humans, we're much more alike than we realise. And recognising that can actually help you through difficult moments and difficult days because you realise that other people have gone through exactly the same thing and then they've got through it. And if they've got through it, then you'll get through it as well.

[00:28:10] Sean Steele: And so, I think we've done a good job, Sophie, of saying, okay, well this is why it's important. Here's maybe some ways for you to think about where am I at? And actually, do I really need to make some changes in my life? So, what are some of those changes? What's some of the current thinking on the hypotheses that this is how we should address it? What are some of the solutions?

[00:28:29] Sophie Scott: Well, one of the biggest things is if you are feeling really burnt out, then emotional and physical exhaustion are probably something that you are either dealing with or you feel like you are getting to that point. So, you have to take small steps with burnout to feel better. So, I think first of all would be finding that support, finding that support, whatever that looks like for you, whether it's support from your people that you really care about and your loved ones, whether it's professional support, like going to speak to a counsellor or talking to your GP about how you're feeling, you know, the physical symptoms you might be having. So, getting that support around you is the first crucial step. Recognising that this is not a personal failing. It's not a sign that you have failed in any way. It's just a recognition that if you are feeling burnt out, that you have a lot of demands on you, that you may not have the inbuilt or enough sort of support there to deal with it. And that might be, so it can be things like, okay, then saying, well, if I am feeling like overwhelmed, do I have too many demands? How can I then maybe look at delegating some of them? So, you know, look, and what I suggest, I've got a course that I've developed on an app called Insight Timer, where I suggest that people do a full stress order. So literally write down, brainstorm, just every single thing that makes you feel stressed and overwhelmed and write it all out. And then think about what can you delegate to somebody else? What can you get rid of? Or like I talk about delegate, ditch and delay. So, what can you delegate for start? So are there people that you can say, right, that's going to be your responsibility from now on? And that can help you, that can make you feel straight away, thinking, okay, from now on they're going to take care of this. Particularly if it's not something that you feel is something that it's your strong suit or, and you can delegate that to somebody else, what can you delay? So often if you are feeling in that stressed out fight or flight mode, there's this constant sense of urgency. You know, everything has to be done right now, straight away. But does it? I mean, really, does it? You know, I mean, I'm used to working in broadcast TV where it literally does have to be done right now you have literally hourly deadlines where you have to have file the next story within the hour. So, I do have that sense of urgency and sometimes I have to check myself to go, okay, that is urgent, but dealing with this email right now, I can wait and deal with that when I'm ready. So, checking your mindset about that constant urgency and like, do you need to be dealing with this right now? Or could you delay it until you have more time and more bandwidths? And so, delaying it. So ditching, delaying and delegate are just three things that can help you get out of that sense of overwhelm to start with. And then the thing that I also suggest for people is to really think about small steps that they can take, because when you are feeling burnt out, you don't have the physical or the emotional or the cognitive bandwidth to be thinking; Oh, okay, now I'm going to completely overhaul my life. I'm going to start this amazing diet. I'm going to start only eating organic food. I'm going to grow my, you know what I mean? You can't just, that's just going to add more stress.

[00:31:55] Sean Steele: Can't do it all. Yeah.

[00:31:57] Sophie Scott: Not do it all. So, you got to think, well, what can I do that's going to make my life easier? And one CEO that I know, she realised that when she was growing her business, and she's a single mom, she thought, you know what I love good food, but I don't have time to do, I don't want to be shopping and I don't want to be cook cooking, so I'm going to organise a really great meal delivery service for myself and my daughter every night so that we've got at least Monday to Friday, when I know that the dinners are done and we're going to have a beautiful dinner every night. And so, for her that was like, Okay, done. That's taken care of. I can put my attention towards things that are actually going to help me and my business not thinking about what are we having for dinner. So that's just like one practical way of being able to sort of think about the stress audit is really a really useful thing to do. and then ditch, delay, delegate. And then once you've done that, then start to think about what are the rituals that you can bring into your day that are going to help build your tolerance to stress and help you be able to move, like we mentioned before, up and down your nervous system so that you can, if something stressful happens, you can respond and then you can go back to feeling calm again. And these are the sort of practices. There's a whole lot of good science to show that make a difference to your physiology, to how your brain functions. And it's things like, being able to do regular meditation and deep breathing, and I used to say, I mean, I wrote a book. My second book that I wrote, which is called Road Testing Happiness. I wrote all about meditation and how good it was and all the science, but I still never did it. You know, I still really never did it. And it was only when I really had my own burnout experience that I thought, okay, now I'm really going to have to start using some of these practices that I've been telling everyone else to use for years to get through this. And I found that it actually did make a massive difference. You know? It really did. It really does make a difference.

[00:34:00] Sean Steele: But what was your …you know, I know everybody experiences meditation differently, and of course everybody tries different kinds of approaches and there's no necessarily one size fits all, but what were the things that you most noticed changed in you or that helped you when you built that into a practice?

[00:34:17] Sophie Scott: So, what I noticed is if I build it into my day, so it becomes automatic, so for me, it's first thing in the morning before I even get out of bed. So, I'll do a meditation while I'm still in bed. I found building it into that daily routine where you don't have to choose to do it, it's so automatic that you just do it every day. It means that when you are placed in a stressful situation, like it might be, for example, going through a medic procedure or having to have something done where you feel anxious and stressed, you can then call on that feeling that you feel during the meditation where you're able to slow your heart rate down and slow your breathing down. You can call on that much more easily and get yourself into that state, that relaxed state because your brain and your body is so used to doing it because you do it at least once a day. So, your body and your brain's like, oh, right, okay. We're just switching back into the way we were feeling this morning at 6:30.

[00:35:17] Sean Steele: Well, you know, maybe a frame for Founders to think about meditation, who are like, oh, I don't have time for that. All that sort of stuff is, if you think about that athlete sort of example we gave before, and I'm sure we're going to talk a bit more about sort of rest and recovery and why it's so more, so important, but it feels like that's what meditation is doing. It's like a rapid, rapid way to get your body back into recovery, even if it's for like 10 seconds or a minute or 10 minutes or something really short. But it rapidly recreates that environment where, you know, you can make better decisions. You'll be able to think better, more clearly with greater perspective, and that can only be a good thing for your business. So, if you're thinking it's like, it's time out of my business. No, no. If you were about to spend the next hour making subpar decisions because you were in such a heightened state of stress, actually that's an hour wasted when you could have spent two minutes doing a meditation and made better decisions for the next few. It's actually an efficient and effective practice.

[00:36:13] Sophie Scott: And so for example, Sean, we know with meditation when they've done functional MRIs on people, so they put them in an MRI machine and get them to meditate, and then they look at what part of the brain lights up. So we can see what parts of the brain is activated during meditation, and we know for example, that the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that's used for decision making and planning, becomes activated when you're doing things like regular meditation. So, and we know with burnout that cognitive function and you'll pre, that part of the brain can actually go offline when you are really stressed and really burnt out. So, you can't make good decisions. You can't make the best decisions for your business when you're feeling stressed and burnt out because you don't have access to the part of the brain that really helps you do that. But what does help you get that access back is doing things like meditation regularly so that you can, yeah, think about it like, it's investing a few minutes of every day just to, to sort of switch on the parts of the brain that you need to function at your best and, and you need that if you're going to be making decisions that are going to affect your livelihood and your staff, you need to be able to function at your best.

[00:37:29] Sean Steele: And, you know, gone are the days for Founders where you like the moment you go, Okay, yeah, I'm going to meditate, but then you go, Geez, I need to go and do like a whole course on meditation. It's like, there are so many apps that make it so incredibly easy. Just list, like turn it on and listen to it. You probably already listen to podcasts

[00:37:43] Sophie Scott: It’s all on your phone and you know, you…

[00:37:45] Sean Steele: So easy.

[00:37:46] Sophie Scott: There's a couple of great apps that I really like. The one that is the world's biggest and most popular meditation app, which is free, it's called Insight Timer, and it has, you know, amazing meditation teachers from all around the world. And so, I would highly recommend people have a look at that because yeah, everyone has got different ideas on what they want to listen to or what they like or what they don't like with meditation and with that app in particular, it's all completely free. And if you just go through, you'll find something that you like, you know? And if you don't like one and try another. And so that's one that I really like. Another one that I really like is called Balance. And the reason I like Balance, it's got an amazing, um, algorithm, which really personalises the experience for you, and I really like that as a youth, the experience, whoever designed the algorithm, it's an amazing algorithm, so it’s really, really good. Yeah, so find what works for you and even if you just focus on the fact that the science shows that it will change your brain chemistry, it will change how it boosts the part of the brain to do with empathy. So, if you want to be, if you want, want to get on better with your, your family and your staff, there's just so many benefits. And the thing is to make it ritualized though, so that you don't have to choose to do it. That you just do it as a matter of.

[00:39:14] Sean Steele: I know for example, for me and I sometimes fall out of rhythm and then I find myself getting back into rhythm. And actually, the first thing I know that I have to do, it's the same way as I wake up. You know, I'm a super early riser, but not because I'm got some ego to attach myself to the brand of it. I actually just really like the mornings and I'm not very productive in the evening. So, I like to get up early, but the only way I can do that is to know that I have an immediate ritual as soon as I hear my phone. And I have a very quiet alarm. As soon as I even get close to hearing it, I immediately turn it off and put my feet on the floor because I know otherwise it's very easy to go back to bed. I immediately walk in and I lie down on the floor in my front room because a moment that starts another set of habits around what I've got to do for my back. Because I've got a few lower back issues going on.

[00:39:54] Sophie Scott: Yeah. Exactly. So that's where you've ritualised that behaviour. So, you're not actively having to choose what you're going to do in the mornings. It's become so automatic because 80% of our actions are automatic, that we just do them without thinking, and that's what you want. So, you want the good habits or the ones that are going to make you feel better to be ritualised and just built in, built into your daily routine. So, you don't have to even think, Oh, I'm going to get up and do this. You just do it.

[00:40:23] Sean Steele: So we've got a Founder they've realised they need to do, uh, they've got some opportunities here to do better work. They've found some support. They've started to ditch, delegate. And what was the other D?

[00:40:33] Sophie Scott: Delay.

[00:40:33] Sean Steele: Delay. Thank you. And they've now started to bring a little bit of meditation ritual into their life, what's the next thing that you would really get them to focus on?

[00:40:41] Sophie Scott: So, there's two other parts. So, the two other things that I would do is, Is connection. So, thinking about, how much of their time is spent in just sort of work, work, work and making sure that you carve out time for connecting with people that, and activities that really bring you joy and that really feel sort of take you away from that stressed out work mindset to be just something that you actually enjoy doing. And, you know, that's going to, again, going to be very personalized and different for everybody. But it's so important because having good, strong relationships is the basis of good mental health as well. And so, you know, like you mentioned your stressed out CEO or Founder before, if they don't have, what's the point of everything that they're doing it, if at the end of it all, they've got no one to share with and they've got no one to celebrate their success with.

[00:41:40] Sean Steele: And also even the, if you're trying to find something to reinstill joy, I remember somebody asked me several years ago, they said; Well, what were the things that used to give you joy when you were a child or a teenager? That actually once you had kids and you got into a work life and you got married and all the rest, you just completely dropped and that you actually needed to start jamming back into your life in your forties.

[00:41:59] And I was like, wow. And it was so clear for me. It was, you know, volleyball, snowboarding and music and you know, playing music. And I just need to get these back in my life. And I thought, well, you know, and it's always hard cause you think, where am I going to fit it? But it's like you have to jam a wedge in to get something else is going to drop out and it's going to have to drop out because it's only so many hours in the week. But it was incredibly liberating to reconnect with these practices and these sports. I still haven't picked my music back up yet, maybe that'll happen when my kids sort of move out. But the snowboarding and the volleyball has been amazing because they actually, every time I finish that sport activity I feel filled up, like I feel like I've got heaps to give to other people…

[00:42:38] Sophie Scott: Exactly. And it's about being that sense of fulfillment and that sense of being like that, it means you can then give to others, you know? And so, the other thing to think about in motivation wise is that, if you don't want to look after yourself for your own welfare, then think about the people who really care about you, and that sort of extrinsic motivation. So, if you want to be the best version of yourself for the people around you, then you do need to build those things in. And looking back to what you enjoyed as a child is a great idea because these were things, you know, before we started to, when you were a kid, you don't judge yourself and think, oh no, I better be, when you're in primary school, you don't think, Oh, I better be doing homework. No. You just want to be out doing things that you enjoy. And so again, think back to those things. And for me, like reading is one of those things that I used to love reading like fiction when I was a kid. And so, for me that for when I have that cognitive rest that I talked about earlier, reading fiction is really the way I get that sense of cognitive rest because the sort of the thinking brain and the decision making brain switches off and you just get absorbed by whatever you are reading and the story that you're reading. It takes you sort of to another place. And so that's something that I loved doing when I was a kid was reading fiction. And so that's one of the things that I love doing whenever I go away, if I would go away for a weekend, you know, building in those little breaks as well. That's another thing Sean, we should mention is, often people will just sort of work so hard and then they'll think, oh, we've got a holiday coming up at the end of the year, or whatever. But even just being able to sort of, if you can build in like a mini break, like a weekend away or even one, even a staycation where you just decide to get off screens and just stay at home, but just do something different, be a tourist in your own city…

[00:44:32] Sean Steele: And I remember hearing that actually when you've got your holidays or you know, your mini breaks pre-planned out, that it gives you the opportunity to like the actual, it's the looking forward to the activity is as if not more important than the actual activity itself.

[00:44:47] Sophie Scott: Exactly. That's a really good example. And look, a lot of people don't really understand how dopamine works. Dopamine is the, it's not really the pleasure hormone. It's the motivation and reward hormone. And the most dopamine is released in the anticipation of something good happening. So if you think about kids, for example, this is a great example. You know, kids in the lead up to Christmas. They are so excited looking forward to Christmas and the good thing, and then on the day they get the presents, play with them for about 10 seconds and then move on. So, it's because all the dopamine's been released in the lead up to it.

[00:45:26] Sean Steele: It's done. It's done.

[00:45:26] Sophie Scott: Yeah. And as adults we're the same. So, making sure you've got those things to look forward to in rather than just waiting until like the end of the year thinking, oh, I'll just build, you know, book a holiday. Then building little, little things to look forward to, whether it's just like a mini getaway or even a weekend staycation somewhere. So, you can think, yeah, I'm really looking forward to that. And again, it's a bit like we were talking earlier about celebrating the small wins. Having those many little things to look forward to can actually really help you if you're going through challenging periods to go, okay, today is going to be, you know, I've got a few things we've got to get through, but I know this weekend we're having a weekend away or we're doing whatever and it's going to be all worthwhile. So yeah, those sort of practices make a big difference to how you feel and also, yeah, and then if, if by doing that, you're going to be a good role model as well for your staff. You know, I think it's very important as leaders that people model good behaviour. So, you know, often…

[00:46:30] Sean Steele: I always think, you want your people to know that actually they can be a hero on their average. Not always on their best day like you are trying to have best days every day. And that's really hard as a Founder or a CEO. And because you're always expected sort of to perform. And yes, you can have a couple of bad days a year, but okay, maybe not like a hundred but at the same time, you've also got to be able to show other people that you can still perform well without having to work 60, 70, 80, 90 hours a week.

[00:46:59] Sophie Scott: Yes. So, modelling that behaviour is actually really important because if you are sending emails from five in the morning, or texting your staff at, you know, after hours, what it says to them is, I expect you to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And that's not going to be good for the longevity of your staff. It's not going to be good for their productivity in the long term, because then they'll end up getting burnt out. So, I think modelling good behaviour as a leader is not only great for yourself, but it also sends a message to your staff. You value your time off, you value your work life balance, and they need to as well because ultimately it will make them better employees and they'll see you as a really great leader. And being open and vulnerable with them and saying, look, I really value you as a team and I want you here for the long term, and I don't want you to get burnt out and I want you to make sure that you do get, have your time on the weekends so that you can rest and you can rejuvenate and you can go and do those fun things like volleyball and you're not thinking about having to answer emails and things on the weekend.

[00:48:04] Sean Steele: Sophie, I'm really conscious of your time and so we're going to get close to wrapping up, but thank you so much for those tips. I think they've been super helpful. I do have one last question to ask you though, and that is, what question haven't I asked you or what haven't I asked you that you really wish that I would ask? Because actually, it's probably too often missed in these kinds of conversations about this topic.

[00:48:26] Sophie Scott: That's a good question to the, I would say the one thing. People often, if you're feeling overwhelmed and struggling and burnt and burnt out, don't feel like you have to struggle on your own. The be the most important thing you can do is to reach out for support, because struggling in silence and just thinking, oh, it'll get better without help and without action. Just reaching out for support and getting good support can is a really good first step to starting to feel better. So, don't feel like you have to keep going the way things are and just keep on carrying on. You're much better off to go, you know what, I'm starting to feel pretty crappy. I'm feeling overwhelmed. I'm not enjoying this. I'm snapping at my family. I can sense the staff are not as happy as they. Let's take some time out, reach out for support, and there's great resources available now about burnout and how to get over it as well. And just ways that you can manage your time and so that you are feeling like you have enough time for yourself and also be so that you can then feel fulfilled enough so that you can give as much as you can for your amazing company that you founded, because if you get burnt out, then you have no help, you have no use to your staff or your clients or your customers or anyone else that you're trying to serve. So, you actually need, you owe it to other people to look after yourself, because if you're burnt out, then you can't actually do what you wanted to do, which was start this amazing company and run it to the best of your ability.

[00:50:06] Sean Steele: Just a technical strategy, sort of business oriented perspective for those Founders listening out there is, you're actually also really negatively impacting maybe in the millions of dollars, your exit options. And why I say that is because if you are in a burnout stage and you need to fire sale your business because actually you just can't cope with it anymore, you're going to have a lot less options. People are going to see that motivation in the process. They're going to offer you less money if you want to leave that quickly. The more optionality you have, the longer you can stay and carry on, the greater your options and likely the greater the price. So yeah, there's a financial benefit actually for taking care of yourself in long term too.

[00:50:42] Sophie Scott: I don't know what is exactly.

[00:50:43] Sean Steele: So, this audience for sure.

[00:50:44] Sophie Scott: If you want succession planning a business that you can then sell and pass on and then start something else. Amazing. You need to make sure that you are feeling amazing and that the business is in great shape as well. And so, yeah, I just think, utilise the resources and the tools that are out there and you'll end up feeling fantastic and that will show in the work that you do and your staff will recognise it and your family will go; Wow, I can see a big shift in how they're feeling and how they're acting. And so, yeah.

[00:51:19] Sean Steele: Well, they'll actually feel like they get some benefit from your business rather than having to wait until you are finished with it, until they get you back to.

[00:51:24] Sophie Scott: Exactly.

[00:51:26] Sean Steele: Thank you so much for your generosity of time today. It's such an important topic and I really enjoyed, our conversation and working through with that today. How should people, where would you direct them to if they want to learn more about …?

[00:51:35] Sophie Scott: So, come to the website to start with, which is sophiescott.com.au and there's lots of resources there. And then also on LinkedIn, on my Instagram, which is Sophie Scott and the number two. But yeah, and I've also, as I mentioned, I've got a burnout recovery course on insight timer that people can access if they're interested in doing a really deep dive into how to recover from burnout from a very scientific and practical point of view.

[00:52:02] Sean Steele: Brilliant. Thank you so much, Sophie. Folks, I hope you enjoyed the show. Huge thanks to Sophie Scott. If you got value from today, the best thing you can do is to leave us a review on your favourite podcasting app. It just really helps the algorithms get it into the hands of more people. Of course, feel free to jump on LinkedIn. There will be short clips of this that will come out on LinkedIn and Instagram. And if you can tag Sophie or I, we'd greatly appreciate it. You've be listening to the ScaleUps Podcast. I'm Sean Steele, and I look forward to speaking with you all again next week. Thank you so much, Sophie.

About Sean Steele

Sean has led several education businesses through various growth stages including 0-3m, 1-6m, 3-50m and 80m-120m.  He's evaluated over 200 M&A deals and integrated or started 7 brands within larger structures since 2012. Sean's experience in building the foundations of organisations to enable scale uniquely positions him to host the ScaleUps podcast.

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