In this Webinar, we want to bring the attention to YOU – how are you coping? How are you dealing with the many levels of stress?
We have invited Mr. Goh Hong Yi, who is a practising Occupational Psychologist, to share with us two topics:
1. Stress & Thinking Traps
2. Building Resilience through Optimism
Check out the session in the video!
Transcript of Webinar
Shao-Ning: Today we have Hong Yi with us. He’s a very experienced consultant as well as occupational psychologist, he focused a lot working with big companies and advising the executives. So we first met him in one of our angel investing masterclass, a couple of months back. Thereafter, he has been very interested in working with founders. So we thought that this time, we could invite him to come and share with us, especially during this very challenging time, on how to build resilience, and how to spot our own thinking trap to help us tide through this period. With that, I will pass the focus back to Hong Yi.
Hong Yi: Hi, everyone, my name is Hong Yi. Zoom is not always the best way to conduct a session because it has one dimension missing and in terms of seeing the individual as well. The psychologist in me is always a bit concerned about that. So, do raise your hand if you have a question. If you’re asking a question, do state your name first so that when I answer it, I can address you by your name as well, that will help me along the way as well.
Let me start by introducing myself. There’s many ways I can introduce myself. I think the best way to introduce myself since I’m talking to founders is that I am a founder myself. I have founded two organisations or two practices depending how you look at it.
The first is my own practice as an occupational psychologist – what I do is that I work with organisations to make them better at what they do. So I’m not a clinical psychologist. Just in case you’re wondering, what’s the difference? A clinical psychologist, as we always joke, helps make mad people better and our job is to meet normal people better. That’s basically one difference between the two of us. Here’s another joke – sometimes when I take a taxi to my clients place and the taxi driver finds out that I am a psychologist, he would say, “Well, the place must be very stressful that needs a psychologist”, and I have to tell him that I work not just with people under stress. I work with leaders and HR to build up the organisation too. So, that’s one area that I started on my own. It’s not your traditional tech start-up. I started that 12 years ago in the midst of the financial crisis. So this crisis is just another crisis to me because I think it’s something that we just need to work through from a business point of view.
Second area, I started out with is, I work with a group of friends in the area of NLP, doing translation work. What we do is that we are trying to use AI to translate the Bible. It’s just another area that I like to work on and it’s obviously a more interesting area in terms of tech start-up as well. So if there is something that you all like in terms of NLP, we can talk more about it along the way. Back to my topic today, it is called resilience. What I like to do is I like to have a feel of how you would like the session to be conducted and what is it that you’d like to cover as well? So I’m going to launch a poll, help me to fill up the poll, so it gives me an idea about what you’re thinking of.
Hong Yi: Okay, so here is the result – not much preference on interactive. Nevertheless, I’ll still try to make it as interactive as possible. If you have any questions, feel free to raise your hand and then post the questions along the way. I will also have time in between my session so that anyone can ask questions. I think it’s more important for you to ask questions. The content can always be modified based on the questions that you have asked as well. So that’s one thing we will be doing.
The second one is why did you sign up for it? So, more than half of you are thinking about skills for yourself and also to help others. What we will be covering today is to provide you as an individual on some skills that you can take note of yourself. And also some skills that you can use in helping someone if you see that they are in need of help. Obviously, if the situation is very serious, I will recommend that you seek professional help, especially if they’re on the verge of committing suicide.
So let me go through the content. Two objectives again – the first objective is about knowing yourself. And the next one is how do you deal with the stresses in work and life. In general, stresses in work and life; Stresses are like viruses, it doesn’t really differentiate whether you’re in work or life, it just affects you both.
Now, let’s try this exercise. I want all of you to do this exercise – recall a stressful situation that you have faced – It could be a recent one, it could be a previous one. Ask yourself, as you’re recalling the situation, how were you feeling when you were facing that situation? And what were you thinking when you were facing that situation? So I give you around 2 to 3 minutes to think about this.
Hong Yi: So based on the situation just now when will talk about the most stressful one. Which one was easier to recall? Was it the feeling, thinking or no difference to you?
Hong Yi: Looking at the results and it’s very consistent regardless of which group that I conducted. Thinking has always been the hardest to recall. Feeling or no difference has always been the same, roughly the same but thinking has always been harder to recall. So my question is, why do you think then? Why do you think so? Why do you think that thinking is always harder to recall, whereas feelings are, you know, much easier to recall?
Shao-Ning: Actually, Der Shing and I, he is beside me now. I think it depends on the individual? Like for me, my answer is feeling but for him, the answer is thinking. It’s a personal way of processing information and memories?
Hong Yi: Thank you for taking the chance to be interactive. Maybe it’s good to ask Der Shing, why is it that thinking was easier for him?
Der Shing: It is what came to my mind when I read the question.
Hong Yi: Will you be able to share that stressful situation or it is too confidential for you to share?
Der Shing: Cannot, too confidential to share.
Hong Yi: Okay, Let’s see the rest. Why is it that a feeling is always easier and then thinking is the hardest one to recall when you’re in a stressful situation?
Okay, Sam has a question – You can reframe your thoughts later but feelings about an experience typically subconsciously stick with you. Okay, Sam, that’s a good one.
In general, let me go back to my deck of slides again. So some people argue that one of the reasons why feeling is so easy to recall is because when you are in a very stressful situation, your emotions take over.
Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and journalist has written this statement before. He termed this thing as emotional hijacking. That means that when you are in a very stressful situation your emotions take over. That’s why your feelings come first before thinking. However, the key to dealing with stress is not the feeling part because that is more obvious but the thing to deal with stress is the thinking part. The issue is if you can control your thinking, you most probably can control your feelings. I’ll give you another example to explain that as well. Imagine you are queuing up to buy your favourite char kway teow. As you are queuing up, somebody pushes you from behind. The first reaction for most people would be frustration, thinking, you know, what, why is it or who is it that is pushing you from behind?
However, when you stop and turn around, and you see that the person who pushed you from behind has actually not pushed you. He has actually fallen down, and you actually have been kind enough to break his fall. What will your thinking be? So this is an example whereby if we let our thinking take over, it’s more likely that we can control the stressful situation. But it’s very common for feeling to be the first to come and take over your emotions.
What is easier to do in a stressful situation is that you need to stop the thinking process. In the next part, we will talk about the concept of stress. Stress arises when an individual perceives that they cannot adequately cope with the demands being made of them or with threats to their well being. The key words are when we look at this, that is actually the word “perceive”.
The concept of stress is a very interesting one. The stress, the word stress has never been used for human emotions until the 1960s, around the 60s. The word stress has always been used as an engineering term, where they use it when in engineering when the engineers want to stress test something around and make sure that the thing is able to survive a certain level of stress as well. However, in the 60s, this concept of stress moved from object things to human beings.
So, there’s a professor known as Lazarus, in 1966, that redefined stress to define it as a perception. It’s not just whether you have the risk, It’s not just whether you have the resources or not. It is whether you perceive you have the resources to do.
This is quite common when you work with some individuals; I’m sure you worked with individuals whereby if you give them a lot of tasks, they will still be able to cope. Whereas there are some individuals, you give them one task, and they will freak out in front of you. So the concept behind it is, do they feel that they’re adequately equipped to deal with the demands of it? Whenever we deal with stress, we shouldn’t be just looking at the stressors, the things that stress you, instead, we should also be looking at the resources that we have and the things that you should also be considering very important – How do you perceive that stress? If I’m the type of person that does not like to do a webinar, because I feel that webinar is very impersonal then I will be stressed when I have to conduct webinar. But if I’m the type of person who is very comfortable doing webinars, if you asked me to do 20 webinars at home, I’d most probably smile at you and say, let’s go on with it as well. The issue of perception is an issue of thinking. And so that’s why one of the most important things that we need to take note of when we deal with stress is the perception. What is it that we have? And how are we as an individual? How are we assessing the situation?
Hong Yi: We are into our next topic now, which is thinking traps. So, thinking traps are something that individuals need to be mindful of, especially when you are dealing with stress and some of these traps are quite prevalent. As I shared with you, you may like to think about it and see whether you are facing stress, whether you are falling into some of these traps as well.
As per the first poll that I did, some of you are interested in picking up skills for yourself. So, the first thing that you need to do when you pick up the skills is to first identify whether you are falling into one of these traps.
The first trap is actually, I. Basically you believe that you are the sole cause of every setback and problem and you experienced a lot of guilt and a lot of sadness. So this thinking trap happens when something has happened, and you keep on blaming yourself. So for example, one of the ways is that, “It’s my fault, you know, I should have done A and because I don’t do A, now we are facing a problem as well.” So if you are a startup owner, it could be that I should have pitched better, so that I can get the resources for my organisation. And because I didn’t pitch better, and because my pitching was so horrible, now my organisation is in a state that we are in. Or I could have foreseen some of the issues. So a lot of I, me and myself in this thinking trap and you carry the burden yourself and because you carry the burden, there’s a lot of guilt and a lot of sadness. So that’s one of the traps that people face. You put yourself at the centre and that causes some of the stress that you have as well.
Second area of the thinking traps is them. In this area, your trap is that you think that the problem is other people’s problem. It’s always a blaming thing. One of the traps will be that you know, if during this COVID season, maybe If the government had done better in enforcing everyone to wear masks in the beginning, we would not be in this crisis. We will not have a circuit breaker. So it’s always other people. Or, if I asked John to get the job done, why didn’t he get the job done? If, you know, he could have gotten the job done. If he has requested or written a better paper or presented in a way that, you know, convince the stakeholders, we will have the deal done as well. It means the fault is not with the individual, the fault is other people. So while the first thinking trap deals with the individual, the thinking trap deals with the people around you.
The third thinking trap is recurring. Now, recurring is like a downward spiral, which is what I drew in the picture down there. Basically, what you do is that every time you keep on thinking about the scenario, it gets worse and worse. So one possible thinking trap, there is one example in terms of recurring could be this. You know, the worst case scenario is that I’m going to lose the company, if I’m going to lose the company, I’m going to lose my income. If I’m going to lose my income, I’m going to have issues with my family, you know, my wife is going to divorce me, then I’ll be alone along the streets as well. So this is the recurring thinking track. That means you start thinking about it and every time you think about it, the situation gets worse and worse along the way, as well. So basically, this issue of recurring is that you have overestimated the track and you underestimated your ability to cope with it. And you’re also assuming that every time it happens, it will be the worst case. So from the time you couldn’t get the money to now, you no longer couldn’t get the money, to now you’re thinking that you are divorced and you are now walking along the streets along the way. So, this is another issue of thinking traps.
Next one is assumptions. Basically in this thinking trap, you make the assumption that the other person knows what you are expecting. So it could be that I worked with my partner for many years and in this project, I thought that he or she would have got the write up done ahead of time, or I thought that he or she would have arranged for the meeting to meet the stakeholders. Unfortunately, this is another thinking trap because you assume it is the case. And because it’s not being done, it adds to the stress that you have as well.
The last one that we talked about, the thinking trap, is passive. Passive is a bit extreme compared to the others. Passive is basically the feeling of helplessness and feeling loss. That means basically in passive means that you are given up. So one of the thinking traps is that the situation is so bad, there’s nothing I can do about it anymore. I cannot get a single sale anymore. People are pulling out on me. There’s no one who I can trust anymore or no one is listening to me anymore and you just sit there and just give up. This is actually a very close stage to depression, whereby you really give up and you really do not know what else you can do to solve the problem as well.
In summary, what I’d like to do is that if you look at these five – I, that is you deal with yourself. That means the thinking trap is to deal with yourself, your own self, your own thinking, thinking that you are the cause of the problem. To them, thinking that the issue is out there, thinking that other people are an issue as well. To keep on recurring, keep on thinking about it and each time you think about it, making a worse and worse case scenario. To assume, you are assuming that people know what it is that you are thinking of. To passive, passive is just basically giving up along the way. So, I put them into a simple way for you to remember. I call it ITRAP. So, these are the most common traps that you face. And if you do not deal with some of these traps, you most probably will face a lot of stress.
Shao-Ning: Hong Yi, there was actually a question from Sam. He was asking if you could talk about balancing the concept of Extreme Ownership versus the thinking traps that you’re talking about?
Hong Yi: Extreme Ownership and thinking traps. I will need Sam to elaborate a bit more if Sam is willing to. Well, what does Extreme Ownership mean?
Shao-Ning: Yeah, he’s talking about mainly, I. While Sam is unmuting his mic. Job has a question on the Q&A. His comment is that the first two I and them are actually common so why are they thinking traps?
Hong Yi: Common doesn’t mean it’s not a thinking trap. It is because it’s common that’s why it is a common thinking trap. So, it is the thinking trap because if you start thinking about yourself, that means you think that you are the sole cause of all the setbacks, then there’s no way that you can reach out to others to help you.
Because you’re caught up in the world that you’re in, you’re not willing to open up to others. So that itself is a trap. And because you’re not willing to open up the others, there’s no way that you can solve the problem properly. Because most problems are quite complex problems and you try to solve it yourself, you most likely will not be coming up with an efficient solution or you may not be able to come up with an effective solution. So that in itself is the I part of the thinking trap.
The other part is them. When you start having a blaming attitude, when you start blaming people, then you’re not solving the problem. Because it’s always other people’s fault. And that itself, you can realise, is also a trap. And because he is blaming that it is other people’s problem, right, you have no control over other people. And because you have no control over other people, it becomes stressful for you and that itself is a trap. Stop blaming, that’s what it is and start doing.
Shao-Ning: But I’m wondering whether it goes back to expectations? I expect me to be the problem solving, I expect them to do some of the problem solving and when the outcome is not meeting my expectation. So the thinking traps can actually interfere with each other right? It then goes to the recurring.
Hong Yi: The thinking trap is not something that happens individually or mutually. It could be that in the incident that, remember in the beginning when I asked you to think about a stressful incident, that stressful incident could have several thinking traps operating at the same time. So it doesn’t mean that when I put it this way, ITRAP whereby there are five of them means that your issue must lie very nicely into each of these boxes. It is not true. In real life, several of these are happening at the same time, and obviously if more things are happening at the same time, you most probably will be in extreme stress. It could also be that some of them are causing each other. For example, you make some assumptions and because of your assumption, you started blaming people and then because you start blaming people, you now have this issue of recurring, making the worst case scenario or you know if John should have done this properly. Because of all that, it is John’s fault. Now, because of John, now I’m going to be out of job, I’m gonna be out of family etc along the way as well. So, you can see that the thinking trap is not just nicely fitting into itself, it most probably should be operating together.
Sam: So the concept of Extreme Ownership is that you should take ownership of anything that you can in your life, because if you take ownership of it; you make a change and adapt. And I just find it kind of hard to contrast that with going too far. I think you, you do kind of touch on it already, because you’re saying it’s all right to take ownership of problems. But then at the same time, you have to realise that you don’t have all the answers, that you shouldn’t be afraid to reach outside. I just find it hard though, kind of thinking about how to balance it. When you think like, Okay, if there’s any if there’s any issue in the company that you’re dealing with, you should take ownership of it and say, yes, that is my issue to deal with. But at the same time, where do you draw the line or how do you really think about it?
Hong Yi: I think to do that, you just need to differentiate between responsibility and solutioning. One of the challenges that I face when I deal with some of the leaders is the issue of being the Saviour. I call it the Saviour mentality. That means there are people out there who feel that they are the Saviour of the world. So they feel that, you know, whenever there’s a problem, they must be the one to try to solve the problem themselves. Now, we have to be careful that we do not fall into what we call false responsibility. So I give another example to explain that. So a leader told me before that everybody depends on him. You know, it’s my responsibility to do my work. Well, wherever there’s issues, I need to be online, I need to address the issue. And I looked at this leader, and I asked him, “Hey, when was the last time you took a rest?” And the reason why I was asking the question was because he was texting me on a Sunday at 12 noon. And I continued to ask him, “So what have you been doing?” and he said that “I’m trying to address some of the issues. You know, I woke up at 4am and I’ve been trying to address it and now at 12 noon, I finally got through to you and I need to ask you this question.” And I asked him, “Have you had your breakfast?” He said, “What breakfast?” and i said, “By the way, you know, what time is it now? Is it that you lost track of time?” So I told him that you know, you need to reframe it. And that’s an example, that’s a solution that we’ll talk about later. You need to reframe this. If you continue doing it, which I think is good, you are taking responsibility for the issue.
But the other trap that you are facing is that when you fall, and I’m sure you will fall, because of the way he’s talking, he’s gonna face burnout, then you’re actually more irresponsible because when you fall, no one else can pick up the pieces for you. So I think that one of the things he needs to understand is that, if he really believes that he is responsible, then all the more he needs to make sure that he takes care of himself so that he can still be there to make the decisions when the things get tougher. Does that answer your question, Sam?
Shao-Ning: So actually just just to chime in a little right, because looking at the current list of attendees, I think we have an equal number of founders and investors. Coming back to the COVID-19 situation. In this situation, sales is definitely not going to be rosy and morale is not going to be good. Founders would have the stress either from himself, herself, from the management team or from the investors. When things got tough, you’ve got to get past this period of time. So that expectation on the founder is not going to go away. So what is a healthy way to help the founders frame this situation because they are going to make decisions- I would expect my founders to be the one to make certain key decisions to make sure that there are proper solutions going forward, right? And, of course I wouldn’t want to stress them that much that you know it goes wrong. But on the other hand it will be quite difficult for a founder to say that, “No, it’s not, I cannot be the only person solving this.”
Hong Yi: The acknowledgement that you cannot be the only person to solve this is itself half the battle won. That’s my encouragement to most people.
When you are in a stressful situation, try not to carry the burden yourself. It doesn’t mean that you must share with your staff because sometimes some information cannot be shared with your staff because you will freak them out even more. You will need to have social support which is a key ingredient of dealing with stress. I can’t stress enough that it’s very important to have a network of people that you can talk to. And the broader the network that you have, the better it is. Don’t try to carry the burden solely yourself. And that’s why some people collapse under the stress because they carry the burden themselves.
So why am I telling you this? Because Shao-Ning, what you’re saying is this, the issue is always out there. There will always be issues. The issue is that there will always be stress, there will always be things that will come along the way – but what can you do to help yourself and that’s even true for most people now who are working from home. How many people can you speak to in confidence in your social support and your social contacts? Actually, social support is a good ingredient regardless of whether it’s in COVID season now or in good times. The correct way is that in good times, you should be building up your network so that in bad times you can rely upon them. Does that answer your question?
Shao-Ning: Yeah thank you! There was one more thing I was thinking about. I was looking at the list of attendees again and I realised some of the founders are actually single founders. So, what Hong Yi mentioned just now, when you have a group of people that you can talk to is actually very important. And of course, sharing in confidence, find your investors whom you can trust to share your worries, somebody who has similar wavelengths.
Hong Yi: So I would like to build up on that. It’s not just investors that you need to speak to because sometimes the only best way to get out of a trap is to talk to people outside the area that you’re working with as well, because they can inspire you to look at other things.
So for me, I have several social support groups. I’m a Christian so I have my Christian Fellowship group that I talk to when I have issues as well. I have my clients group because my clients, I group them together based on the areas of concern that they have and can talk through some of these issues as well. I have my previous working colleagues. I have people that I play soccer with on a regular basis as well. So keep the group as diverse as possible and the more you have, the stronger you can draw upon the group as well. Don’t just depend on the investors. Actually, I’m a bit concerned because if you just depend on the investors, there is a tendency for you to feed yourself negatively if you’re not talking to the right people. You know, Misery can beget misery.
Shao-Ning: Maybe I should sell a little bit of COVID-19 services we are providing to the startups. The reason why Hong Yi is doing this is because he saw us doing the COVID-19 chats with the founders. We actually started it about last week. So far, I’ve had three sessions with three different groups of founders. These are founders I do not know at all and they responded to the offer that we have on the platform. One of the cases that came to mind is whereby the founder has been stuck with some issues and he was just going round and round with himself. So I guess you would want to find somebody who actually could understand the situation you’re in.
In this sense, I was a complete stranger to him, but because of that I could also afford to be very direct with him. And I felt that for his case, it’s really about him just not willing to make the decision. He worries too much and I think it was because of assumptions, he was always thinking about the worst and is not willing to act. So, if you guys want to chat, you can just sign up via our COVID page. Teck Moh, Der Shing and myself – We have blocked out, two to three hours a week to chat with people so you can book through that.
Hong Yi: I want to build on that as well. So during this COVID season, yes, there are two groups of people. There is one group of people who are extremely busy because they need to react to all the changes that’s coming out from the government. And then there’s another group who has nothing much to do because there’s really nothing they can do. For example, your yoga instructor who can’t do yoga classes anymore. But recently, I just found that they tried to do it virtually.
Likewise, when I saw the announcement by Shao Ning that they wanted to help the founders, I thought, hey, might as well make good use of my time, what can I do to help? And that’s how we started the session. So it’s really the ability to think, to adapt, and to think outside the box to make sure that you get yourself out of this situation.
So, a quick recap. There are thinking traps. The thinking trap is one of the most common ways that end up causing people to feel more stressful, because they are trapped in this spiral, this cycle that they’re in as well. So I repeat again, I is because you think about yourself, you think that it is your sole responsibility and you take on the burden yourself without even thinking of alternatives as well. Them is when you start thinking about others. You know, the problem is out there, you have a blaming thing. Recurring is you keep on thinking, the more you think about it, the scenario gets worse and worse, you know. Assumption is you assume that people do something and when they don’t do it, you get very stressed by it. Passive is the other extreme, all the way to the extreme whereby you give up totally, because, you know, you feel a sense of hopelessness along the way as well. So what I want you to do is this, I want you to think about the stress. Remember, we started the session by saying think of the most stressful situation and ask yourself which thinking trap you fall into. So let’s try a poll and I want to see which one is the one that is the most common one as we move forward?
Hong Yi: Let’s look at the results. So assumption is the most obvious one. The thinking and thoughts of thinking trap, followed by recurring, I, them and passive. So assumptions – let’s talk a little bit about that. Anybody in the group wants to share an example about the assumption that we can talk about?
So one of the most critical things you can do when you fall into the trap of assumption is actually ask for clarification, ask clarifying questions. One of the challenges when I work with leaders is that too many leaders feel that they are the person that needs to provide the answer. That means that every time someone has a problem, you are the solution and you must have the answer to a solution. I must make a statement that you have to be very careful that you are bordering on being an egoistic person. One of the best things that you can do as a leader even, we’re not talking about just responsibility. I think as a person, you need to be responsible, every final decision, you need to take ownership of it. But what we’re trying to say is that when you are trying to solve a problem, it is always good to open up.
I just want to build up on what Shao-Ning asked previously. When you look for support, there are usually two types of support that most people look for. One type of support is I just need someone to be there to hear all my challenges. The other type of support is I need someone to be there to help me solve a problem. I would like to give you a story based on that as well. Whenever my wife comes and shares her problem, I have a tendency maybe because I am a male, to go into problem solving and try to solve the problem for her. But every time I do that, I get scolded by my wife, because I forgot that all she needed was someone to listen to her, instead of trying to solve the problem.
So likewise, as an individual, when you’re facing a problem, you need to be clear and you need to challenge yourself, you know. Do you need just someone to talk to? to listen to you? Then that person that you need to talk to and listen to is very different from someone that you need to go through to solve a problem.
Likewise, when you’re trying to solve problems and people come to you to solve problems, right? It’s always good to also ask that person questions. So, we have John come to you and say that, hey, this is an issue and all these types of things. The first question I usually ask is, “What do you need of me?” Do you need me to solve the problem for you, or you need me to be a bouncing block for you, or you just need me to listen to you. One way to deal with assumptions is basically, whenever a problem comes or wherever people make a comment, stop yourself from trying to answer it. Always start with a question. That usually helps in the deal with the thinking trap of assumption. Always start with a question. If you always start with a statement, there’s a tendency for you to go into solving problems or that means you have made some assumptions. So it’s better to start with a question. So that’s just my answer, because most people say that assumption is a key thing as well.
Shao-Ning: Job posted another question. He asked, other than social support, Is there any other ways of addressing the I thinking trap?
Hong Yi: The I trap is a very tricky one. The challenge with I actually is that, the root cause is actually pride. Somebody has asked me before, Hong Yi, I want to deal with pride, and I stare at the person as I really do not know how to answer him correctly. Because imagine if I were to teach you and then you are dealing with pride, and they say, “Yeah, man Hong Yi, I have dealt with pride.” You’re so prideful that you have dealt with pride. That doesn’t sound very right.
Pride is something that is a very tricky thing to do. And I tell you that the best way to deal with pride actually is to open yourself up, is to be vulnerable. But it’s not something that is easy to accept but that’s the best way to do it. Pride. That means to open up to be transparent and to be willing to be corrected or willing to know that, you know, to be given feedback that really matters. I don’t think that is something that is very natural. I think it’s something that you need to first and foremost have a sense of humility, and mix with this humility, we need to constantly seek feedback.
Many years ago, I had a very strong leader, and he gave me feedback which I felt was very, very good. One of the things he shared with me is that never, never kill the feedback provider. He said he is a privilege to receive feedback. So whatever I do, whenever I complete a project or task, I always try to get feedback. Even though I know that sometimes it may not be the best, at least you know you to gather feedback, and you start working on it.
So for some of you; Start early, the earlier you start seeking feedback, the earlier you will make it a habit and the earlier you make it a habit. The earlier you realise that, you know, the best solution out there is not just by yourself the best solution out there is in a collective group. Yes, that’s a long answer to a very tough question. Even though it sounds so simple.
Shao-Ning: Actually, my feedback to Job was also that actually, in a social support group that you have, right? If you’re not able to frame your questions, in a very clear communication way so that they really understand where you’re coming from. That will be no help because I noticed this. I mean, a lot of social groups, the near fact of social is that the people you hang out with, you actually don’t talk about what is really deep down. You are just, you hang out in good times and hang out over food, you hang out over drinks. But how often do you really talk about what’s really bugging you? I think it is the ability to really be, is what Hong Yi say is to be really very willing to be vulnerable and very willing to share the deepest worries that you have.
Hong Yi: But all said and done, you have to be careful who you share it with. You do not want your information to be posted publicly and, you know, along the way.
That’s why I think that this is a very tough question to address as well and that’s why social support is one of the key ingredients to deal with the I part. It has many dimensions to it, and the ability to find people that you can trust, someone in your own organisation. I mean you if you can someone outside the organisation too because hopefully they can provide another perspective for you as well.
So let’s move on. What do we do when we have thinking traps? So there are a few ways that you can deal with thinking traps. Again, these are not conclusive, but I think these are some of the ways that you want to deal with it. We talked through some of the other ways when you ask the question, but these are some of the common ways you can.
One way to deal traps is to collect evidence. So use data to prove to yourself. So if you have assumptions, then you use data to prove. One of the things you’d like to do is that there is always what we can consider; You may be like, whenever a thought comes to your mind, you may like to stop the thought and one of the things you’d like to articulate out. One of the things is, if I feel that, you know, I realised that I’m in this thinking trap, I will force it out and say, that’s not true because of what? Because data shows it this way. For example: That’s not true, because John has always been a very responsible person. In the last few projects that he has done, he has always delivered on time. So it cannot be that, you know, he is not able to do it. Use evidence to convince yourself and you start it by articulating. And the key word I want to explain to you is this. When dealing with thinking traps, because this is a thinking thing, one of the best ways to deal with it is to articulate. Articulate means that you literally voice it out. So starting statements like, “That’s not true, because…”,will help you as well. You’re forcing your mind to not, to break out of the thinking cycle by articulating. That’s one way to deal with thinking traps.
The other way to deal with thinking is to reframe it. Look at the picture here. The Chinese corrector is very interesting when it’s a crisis that is made out of two words. One is danger, and the other is opportunity. So likewise, whenever we are faced with a situation, we need to see the positive out of it. I know I’m talking to founders and investors, and so generally I find that talking to entrepreneurs or founders, this is not an issue. The very fact that you have started your organisation and you are doing something is because you have chosen to reframe it in another way. And that’s why you’re able to solve a solution. So this shouldn’t be a problem for you in terms of business, but I found that men are not able to, what we call port over things. So while you could be extremely able to practice this, reframing in your work, it doesn’t mean that you’re able to reframe this when you’re dealing with something personal as well. But make it a point. So the concept is basically this. When you are facing an issue, you articulate outward and say “A better way to see this will be…”. So that’s reframing, choosing to see from another perspective. For me during COVID season, when the business is down whatsoever, a better way for me will be…a better way to see is that, this is what we call enforced rest. It’s time for me to pick up on some of the things that I have dropped along the way and start picking it up. For example, I need to pick up my habit of reading a book every day as well or reading some chapters of a book every day. It forces me to relook at life from another perspective and reframe it as well.
The next part that you deal with, to deal with the thinking trap is to plan, have contingency planning. So if x happens, I will do y. So I think this comes with practice. And you have to ask yourself, what are the options. When you’re trapped, you have to force yourself to take a step back and say, what are the issues that can happen. This is especially useful when you have the thinking trap of recurring, because whenever you have a recurring, you tend to go towards a downward spiral. And so what happens is that you force yourself out every time you try to go downwards, you offer an alternative and contingency plan. If this happens, this is what I can do. It doesn’t mean that if this happens means that I will, I’m gone. For example, if John was not able to do his presentation, it’s okay. I will take over the presentation. It doesn’t mean that because he’s not able to do the presentation, you’re not able to get that money, because we’re not able to get the money, the company will go down, there’s a recurring part happening. So you’re forcing yourself to come up with an alternative to deal with it as well. So instead, in layman terms, I create a term called ERP. I’m sure ERP is quite familiar to most of us. You collect evidence, you reframe it, and then you plan.
So these are three areas, three strategies that you can take note of when you want to deal with a thinking trap. Again, as I mentioned, these are not all, there are many others like what you have asked me before. But these are quite good ways for you to deal with thinking traps.
Hong Yi: These are some of the areas that we have identified to talk in 90 minutes, but more importantly, practice those outside this 90 minute session. So I just want to go to this, this is a very interesting concept. Indeed some people have not seen it before. Basically what we are trying to say is that not all stress is stress. That means basically not all stress is bad for you, some stress is you stress, means there is good stress as well. So for optimal performance, we actually need stress. So, do not treat stress as an enemy. Actually, stress is also a friend. That’s basically a well researched model. You need to use stress to help yourself. Because sometimes you get energised by it. And I’m sure most of you, if you are founders, will understand what I mean by it.
When things start moving, even though there’s a lot of work to be done. you are high in energy and getting things done. It is only when things stop moving, you cannot get things going, then you feel that you’re stressed. So this itself is a concept that you need to appreciate. So whenever you feel stress, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad. You know what you need to remember, about the examples right? You need to reframe it and use it as energy for yourself. So this is stress vs this performance, something for you to take note of as well.
The first section, we talked about stress, and also the thinking traps and how to deal with thinking traps. The next section is resilience. Resilience is how you deal with it. And resilience has many factors. So just now somebody was asking about, what can you do to deal with some of the thinking traps? Social support falls into one of them. This is the connection part of the social support. There are many other things that you can do. So start to build up skills. Once you have the skills, you’re less likely to feel stressed by it. Positive intuitions, that means things that you can go to help yourself, go for happiness class or whatsoever. It could be a biological thing, it could be some of the chemicals are reacting and so that’s why you have adrenaline going through you, flight and flight. Self Awareness is also very important. You need to know yourself, you need to know what the triggers of your stress are, so if possible, avoid them. Okay, self regulation, when you’re stressed, are you able to be aware and are you able to regulate yourself? Mental agility is a very technical word. Basically, are you adaptable? And the last one is optimism. Why do I choose optimism as the last one? Optimism has been found to be a quite good complement to resilience. If you’re an optimistic person, you most probably is a very resilient person. So I’m going to focus, not on all of them, I just want to focus on optimism. So what is optimism? Basically what optimism is trying to say that you are more likely to see the good in the future instead of the bad things, that’s basically the layman terms. Okay, so optimism is being able to see the good in the thing. It doesn’t mean that you’re unrealistic. It’s just that you choose to see the good things as well. So in general, this is optimistic behaviour.
Hong Yi: Optimism can be anything that is built up. You just take discipline and you just need to be consistent. That’s why I started this session by saying that the issue is not trying to pick up everything, the issue is just pick up one thing and practice it well.
Shao-Ning: I actually have one question. You started off by talking about, you know, during this period of time, people may feel very cooped up and stuff like that. I’m just wondering, is there any way that, you know, of course, people around us, we know them, we can see them whether they have certain behaviours that we think it’s starting to show signs of overly depressed or things like that, but is there a way to try to see that in yourself? Try to spot that for yourself?
Hong Yi: Self Awareness is very important. And sometimes when you are so caught up in some things, in very extreme examples, you most probably are not aware, because you’re not interested in yourself, you’re interested in the situation, in the past that is at hand. One of the ways to break the cycle is to literally set aside time in your schedule for what we call “me” time.
That means set aside time that you really force yourself to spend time, just drop everything and then just walk away. So for example, my “me” time is every night, I read the Bible. So that’s my “me” time. Or every morning I made an effort to go and take a walk. So it becomes a routine in my schedule. So once it becomes a routine and a habit, I can also hopefully use it to break the cycle. But these things cannot be done when you are in the vicious cycle downwards. This thing needs to be done now. If you’re not even at the stage, you need to start building it now in preparation for it. When you’re in it, then the best thing you can do is actually nothing. The best thing you can do is actually good friends that can tell you in the face.
Shao-Ning: Chris has a sharing on the chat. He said he read from the Dale Carnegie book on how to handle stress. If you can handle the problem, then there’s no need to stress. If you cannot handle the problem, stress also can’t help you to solve the problem. His point is no need to stress, is it Chris?
Recently I was reading this book on habits and because to echo Yue Ming’s point on building optimism and positivity as a habit over time. The writer was sharing one practice. It was that this person, this friend of hers actually likes to over worry, but because over worrying is a very unhealthy practice. So what this person does is actually every day or every week, he will schedule 15 minutes for himself on his calendar. So in this 15 minutes, he will allow himself to worry like crazy and then outside of the 15 minutes, he would not worry. It’s like giving himself an outlet to do what he wants, to enjoy doing what he has to do. But outside of that he will have to control his mind so that he doesn’t do that too much. Does that work?
Hong Yi: Yeah, it works, that’s one major assumption. The other major assumption is that you know you have a problem. That’s why you come up with a solution. Unfortunately, sometimes when you’re in a problem, you don’t know you have a problem. That is the problem. I mean, if you know it’s a problem, and you don’t deal with it, it’s called stupidity.The challenge that I find with most people is that you don’t even know that you have a problem.
Shao-Ning: And Job mentioned that giving thanks helps. This is a lot more religious thinking right Job?
Hong Yi: Yeah, actually, the word I want to use, it is gratitude. Gratitude is also another ingredient to buff, to build up resilience and buffer against stress. I mean, everything you should be able to give thanks and because why? Because you can reframe it. Like, what i said. During this period of time when there’s, for me there’s low or almost no business, it’s time for me to spend some “me” time and also to catch up on some of the books that I’m supposed to read. Previously that I told myself, I would set aside time to read. So I’m having a spirit of gratitude to say that, at least I have an enforced rest and I can do something else instead of rushing from one project to another.
Maybe I’ll just end off with a last thing for everyone to consider doing as well. So one of the things that I’ve prepared but didn’t use, it is this thing called True North. I think each of us needs to be clear why we exist and why we exist for us well.
True North is what some people call the internal compass that guides you successfully through life as well. So one of the things I did when I started the company was simply that I wanted to set aside time to work with NGOs on a pro-bono basis. So that means that I consciously set aside time each month to do pro-bono work in the same work that I work with clients to earn money as well. So why did I do that? Because I believe that that is what I want to do in my life, not just earning money, but also making sure that I enjoy what I do and I know that what I do makes a lot of difference as well. It’s very important for each of us to know what is true, not why you set out to do what you set out to do. I used to have a client who to whom I asked before, “Why do you set up the company?” And the person told me that, “Oh, I set up the company because I wanted to earn money.” I laughed with the person and say that, “Hey, looking at the challenges that you will face, maybe the better thing if you really want to earn money is to dissolve your company, pass the money to a fund manager and I think he will earn more money than you and you get less stress up than trying to earn the money yourself.”
But basically I was trying to remind the person that whatever company that you started, you cannot just be earning money only. I think money is just a result of it. Whatever company you started out because you have a dream. It’s very important to know your dream and why you want to set out to do that dream. If you do not know yourself, there’s this instrument called the VIA character strength instrument, you can Google it and go and do it and it will give you an idea of results of what are the things that you are passionate about. So on the left side will be the top four areas that you are strong in, value in and the last four on the right hand side will be those that you really do not appreciate as well. It’s a good thing if you do not know yourself. Do it and then you know. If you know yourself, you will be able to cope better with stress. Maybe I will end here and pass the time to Shao Ning.
Shao-Ning: Thanks, Hong Yi. During this period of time, AngelCentral is really trying to focus, to help as many founders as possible. But we would like to talk about topics that you want to talk about, no point talking about what I think you want to talk about. So, let us know what you want to talk about. Thank you very much for spending the 90 Minutes with us. Thanks everyone!
At AngelCentral, we have put together a list of resources: https://www.angelcentral.co/covid19 (some from our own efforts, some from the ecosystem players), to help the startup community push through this tricky period! If you have any resources to add, please email us at email@example.com!