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Why the Hustle-and-Grind Entrepreneurial Mentality is Unhealthy, and What Simone Biles Can Teach You About Changing It

How placing emphasis on wellbeing and quality of life is good for business.

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What does it take to be an effective leader? You might think it's about hard work and putting in long hours. The truth is that the days of pushing through and being a "work martyr" have fallen out of fashion. 

Regardless of if you're an Olympic athlete like Simone Biles, a Fortune 500 executive or a small business owner, staying physically and mentally healthy is the new key to success. 

But some small businesses resist adopting this principle by opting instead for "hustle-and-grind" tactics. They believe there's no other way forward, but research shows differently. Working smarter helps achieve higher levels of productivity without sacrificing your mental health.

How health, happiness and success are inextricably linked

A study of medical students published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that the students achieved significant stress reduction and improved wellbeing when they adopted meditation or practices. The longer the student maintained these practices, the more significant the results.

Confirming those findings, an internal Headspace study shows that 10 days of mindful practice represented a 14% reduction of stress. 

Related: Does Meditation Make You More Productive? These 5 Entrepreneurs and CEOs Think So

A Gallup study, The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes 2020, digs deeper into the correlation of wellbeing to business performance.

“With regard to composite business/work unit performance, business/work units (scoring) in the top half of employee engagement have a 94% higher success rate in their own organization and a 145% higher success rate across business/work units in all companies studied," the study cited. Ultimately the organizations that put the good of the people first were 2.45 times more likely to succeed.

Gallup continues, “The data from the present study provides further substantiation to the theory that doing what is best for employees does not have to contradict what is best for the business or organization.” 

When comparing the top and lowest performing businesses, the study shared that the best performers enjoyed the following increases in performance: 

  • 10% in customer loyalty/engagement 

  • 23% in profitability 

  • 18% in productivity (sales) 

  • 14% in productivity (production records and evaluations) 

  • 66% in wellbeing (net thriving employees) 

  • 13% in organizational citizenship (participation)

With all of this evidence, why do small business owners have difficulty prioritizing personal and employee wellbeing?

Working with small businesses in nearly every industry, I see three main reasons:

  1. They can't do what they want in the future because of what they've done in the past

  2. They're in a reactionary state, not a strategic one, because of the fast pace of change

  3. They struggle with undefined competing commitments

If you're tired of battling burnout and looking for a way to place less emphasis on endless hard work, then here are three ways to move past these blocks, prioritize wellbeing and create a better business along the way.

Related: Understanding Entrepreneurial Burnout (And How To Deal With It)

1. Practice fluid leadership

Fluid leadership knows when to lead from the front, alongside and behind your team members. 

In many situations, choosing one approach to fluid leadership works. In the situation of prioritizing wellbeing, however, using all the fluid leadership approaches is helpful. 

  • Lead by example by sharing your success and vulnerability with others around you. Remember to not only ask but also to answer questions from those with similar issues. 
  • As a leader, make sure everyone has someone looking out for them at all times so no one feels like a "cog in the wheel."
  • Engage your team to develop creative solutions that shape your company’s culture regarding wellness, engagement and fulfillment. 

Simone Biles' abilities have earned her the moniker the "greatest of all time," or GOAT. A moniker that has proven to be true even on difficult days. Yet those who follow Olympic gymnastics might have noticed something was off during the 2020-21 trials, and it got worse from there. 

This was an uncharacteristic change for Biles that would prove dangerous if she had decided to push through and ignore her mental wellness.

Biles led from the front by making her decision to withdraw from the team competition in Tokyo. Then, she led from alongside, rallying her teammates to perform in her absence. Throughout the remainder of the competition, she cheered and encouraged each performance from the sidelines — simple actions in a complex situation helped the team win the silver.

2. Broaden the definition of productivity in your business

Time management and output used to be the biggest drivers of productivity. This belief emphasizes doing more at all costs. 

Researchers suggest that today's productivity is about managing time, attention, energy and production. Combining these four elements creates an energized, profitable business and more productive employees.

When you think about your habits and business culture, ask yourself these questions: 

  • When you look at your productivity or your team’s productivity, which management category is missing (time, attention, energy or production)?

  • What easy and simple ways can you impact morale and mental attitudes?

  • How are you encouraging energy recovery and energy management as a culture?

  • What skills are you developing that build resilience, tenacity and focus?

  • How are you fostering a positive, healthy and sustainable environment?

Even with the best of intentions, we still struggle. This is no more evident than our fixation on the elusive goal of work-life balance. 

The desire for a work-life balance has been on our collective minds since the 1980s. Millions of people had the chance to correct their work-life balance in 2020, ultimately leading to the Great Resignation of 2021. The human desire for a better quality of life is palatable. 

But what if we are trying to solve the wrong problem?

When I help clients improve their quality of life and business, one thing strikes me: Why do some of the most successful people have such a hard time balancing work and life?  

This question led me to understand that the greatest obstacle to change is often the subconscious mind offering resistance. By identifying the resistance, we can align opposing commitments and bring about the desired change. Let's start by understanding the concept of competing commitments.

3. Identify the competing commitments

The idea of the competing commitment is at the heart of the book Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.

Kegan and Lahey explore why a person can commit to change but still be resistant to change they desire. The researchers define this phenomenon as "competing commitments," where individuals’ psychological forces undermine their efforts to achieve an objective.

An entrepreneur, for example, is committed to the success of their business and believes no one will work as hard as they will. The entrepreneur operates at such a feverish pace to meet that commitment that they burnout. In their minds, they know they need to make changes and would love nothing more than to take a vacation, work out regularly or even leave the office early.

No matter what they try, nothing works for them. 

It's not what they've tried — it's that their commitment to success and belief that they must work hard to make it happen is at odds with their commitment to their wellbeing and quality of life.  

Psychological forces in their minds make these commitments mutually exclusive, and the commitment to their success belief is winning.

Related Article: Your Brain Doesn't Want to Change: 5 Ways to Make It

In a 2001 article for Harvard Business Review entitled "The Real Reason People Won't Change," Kegan and Lahey propose five simple questions to identify competing commitments.

  1. What would you like to see changed so that you could be more effective or so that work would be more satisfying?

  2. What commitments does your complaint imply?

  3. What are you doing or not doing that is keeping your commitment from being more fully realized?

  4. If you imagine doing the opposite of the undermining behavior, do you detect in yourself any discomfort, worry or vague fear?

  5. By engaging in this undermining behavior, what worrisome outcome are you committed to preventing?

Identifying the competing commitment, understanding it and aligning the two commitments through practice, situational evidence and mindset shifts are the keys to honoring both desires. 

Put these recommendations into practice as you navigate your business's success and the wellbeing of the people (including yourself) in the business. 

Always remember that your team's and your own best interests are not at odds with the business. Fluid leadership, broadening the definition of productivity in your organization and identifying competing commitments improve quality of life while creating a more productive, sustainable and profitable business.

Leslie Hassler

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Leslie Hassler is a dynamic speaker and business strategist guiding service-based businesses to strategically scale their businesses, manage cash flow and get back in control with confidence.