Three Tips To Help You Become A Responsive (And Not A Reactive) Entrepreneur

There are ways of training your brain to prevent stress and anxiety. Here's a primer.

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Chronic stress in the workplace is now at epidemic levels. According to the American Institute of Stress, 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress. CNBC estimates that the effects of stress lead to companies losing around US$9,000 per year per employee as stress diminishes productivity and severely impacts the bottom line. More importantly, people's health and wellbeing suffer.


For entrepreneurs, the effects of stress can be even more serious. Being the key decision-maker and strategist, all the pressure rests on them. It is a role of tremendous responsibility and isolation, and arguably more than any other type of professional, entrepreneurs should prioritize stress management. By taking control of their brain health and learning how to maximize its potential, entrepreneurs can enjoy better clarity, communicate more effectively, think more creatively, and act more decisively.

Although widely accepted as coming with the territory of entrepreneurship, there are ways in which stress and anxiety can be alleviated. When thinking, our brains operate under two systems: proactive and reactive. The proactive system uses fluid intelligence to make sense of situations and come up with an effective strategy to cope. Conversely, in unexpected situations, the reactive system is caught off-guard. It becomes disoriented, confused, and ultimately fails at problem-solving.

International researchers at the Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that a key component of proactive thinking and fluid intelligence lies in the white matter connectivity between specific brain regions. They concluded that hyper-reactive cognitive control –or reactive thinking– is linked to poor white matter organization, and is responsible for lower fluid intelligence and higher rates of anxiety.

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When faced with a stressful situation, cortisol, the primary stress hormone, rises drastically. This shuts down the prefrontal cortex, responsible for rational thinking, thereby lowering concentration, judgment, and decision-making abilities. As the amygdala continues to become activated or "hijacked," people lash out, whether at a colleague, client, or even a printer. Thankfully, there are ways of training your brain to prevent stress and anxiety. Here's a primer:

1. Practice mindfulness
Becoming acutely aware of the present moment, and concentrating on that alone will straighten the prefrontal cortex, so that if a stressful situation arises, it can maintain calm and rationality. It is about slowing down and paying more attention to each task in isolation. Practicing mindfulness on a daily basis will develop emotional intelligence and help you to maintain calm in stressful situations.

2. Work out and meditate
Regular exercise, both cardio and aerobic, is a great way to become more responsive, and less reactive. Physical exercise helps lower cortisol level, and practices like meditation and yoga help to balance mind and body. Remember that this must be consistent; try to make it part of your daily routine to feel the full benefits.

3. Brain training
Neurofeedback is the revolutionary therapy conquering stress and anxiety and is capable of making a long-term change in brain patterns. Using non-invasive brain training techniques, it teaches the brain to focus on the task in front of it at that precise moment, and not to become distracted or panicked. Imagine you walk past a mirror, and notice your hair is messy, you can then go and comb it into place to fix it- this is neurofeedback. It's like putting a mirror to the brain, so you can notice the flaws and correct them. Research has shown that neurofeedback leads to significant improvements in impulsivity and inattention, making reactionary outbursts less likely.

Related: Why You And Your Boss Need To Work On Your Emotional Intelligence