Up until now, most of us have never thought of ourselves as something that can be hacked. A computer? Yes. A smartphone? Definitely. Ourselves? No. At least not in the way that you traditionally think of hacking. (In this context, hacking refers to taking control of an operating system for your benefit.)
Patrycja Slawuta, a behavioral scientist and founder of SelfHackathon, spoke to our founders during a recent Sprint Week. She explained that the human operating system consists of the software (your head), electricity (your heart), the hardware (your body), and others (your network). Factors like culture, religion and family help program your operating system. “You can hack, rewire and upgrade the ultimate supercomputer – our mind,” she says.
Many startups struggle with their response to stress. According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, U.S. entrepreneurs are three to four times more likely than other workers to report experiencing stress or worry. Entrepreneurs have a lot to be worried about. As managing director of URBAN-X, Micah Kotch has seen founders struggle with “failure to get product market fit, team dynamics, competition, and the fear of the unknown unknowns.”
Entrepreneurs are 2X as likely to suffer from depression, 3X more likely to suffer from substance abuse, and 50% of entrepreneurs suffer from at least one form of mental health condition during their lifetime, according to the World Economic Forum.
Entrepreneurs need tools to survive tumultuous times and prevent breakdown or burnout. Books like “Reboot” by Jerry Colonna, and other resources focused on leadership, work-life integration and mindfulness are becoming part of the startup toolkit as founders look to reduce work-related stress which comes with the territory but can lead to anxiety and depression or exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions. Despite the proliferation of wellness options and meditation apps, most founders still haven’t found their balance, or taken the time to build a regular regimen for physical and mental wellness.
Stress affects your executive function, Patrycja says. It can affect your self-control, working memory, and mental flexibility — all skills needed to be a leader of a thriving company. This is when hacking your mind becomes useful. Meditating actually shows you the source code. By focusing on slowing down your breath, you can experience how you are actually wired. By manipulating your breath you can manipulate the source code.
She recommends the following breathing exercises to try anywhere and anytime:
Try meditating. Sit still with your eyes closed. If you are sitting in a chair, make sure your feet are flat and grounded. Continue for at least five minutes.
Try the triangle. Create a triangle with your hands by pressing your middle three fingers of each hand together. It is a self-soothing move that Patrycja compares to picking up a crying baby. Breathe in. Hold your breath. Breathe out. Complete the triangle at least five times.
Try square breathing. Breathe in. Hold your breath. Breathe out. Hold your breath. Start with a hold of a four count on each side of the square and work your way up to an eight count.
Try the ego eradicator. This is an exercise for more difficult days. Clinch your fingers, leaving your thumbs free, and raise your hands straight above your head. With a closed mouth, take quick breaths out of your nose. (It will sound very similar to a dog panting.) Continue breathing in this manner with your arms extended for three minutes. After three minutes, take a deep breathe in and bring your arms down on the exhale.
Patrycja recommends using these hacks to widen the time between a stimulus and a response. This helps to recharge the mind and allows the body to recover. It can help founders make tough decisions from a calmer, less agitated state. “At hackathons you create solutions,” Patrycja says.
“Ultimately, we are code. All skills are hackable, learnable and upgradeable. If we don’t hack ourselves, someone else will.”
Written by Jennifer Jefferson