It’s common practice among founders and entrepreneurs for wellbeing and health take a back seat as the needs of their fast-growing start-up take precedence. The pressure to deliver, for the success of the business as well as the team is intense. Too often, health is what gets sacrificed. Entrepreneurs are 50% more likely to have a mental health condition and twice as likely to suffer from depression (Start-up Founder Mental Health: Why It Matters And How To Boost It, Forbes, Feb 2020). That’s a startling statistic and a message to all founders out there who are battling through the various signs and stages of burnout.
One person who’s championed that message by sharing his story and illuminating the warning signs is Dan Murray-Serter, co-founder of Heights, who develop smart supplements. We spoke to Dan about his own journey to health and guidance around digital detox as well as establishing good wellbeing hygiene measures.
Why do you believe it’s important to highlight the idea of digital detox for start-up founders?
Founders tend to be pretty extreme all or nothing types (speaking of myself at least). Going on a digital detox for a total reset is an amazing opportunity to get a clear head and come back stronger full of ideas and energy to go again. When you operate consistently at a heavy pace, high adrenaline way of working you eventually burn your reserves. And with phone notifications, Slack etc. it’s just hard to have the discipline to totally remove yourself from these addictions, so removing yourself entirely from the environment itself is something I found to be truly magical!
How did you find yourself in need of putting some wellbeing practices in place as a founder yourself?
I suffered from burnout and insomnia so I was forced to the hard way. I now spend most of my time advocating for founders to avoid these outcomes by focusing on what we, at Heights, call Braincare. Simply put, these are activities that help you take care of your brain, don’t take much time, and make sure you are stronger, for longer. Your brain is the CEO of your body - if you don’t take care of that how can you be CEO of the company?
Where would you recommend that people start their wellbeing journey?
Simple - a daily walk. 10 minutes is fine because its 100x better than not doing it, but I go for 60 - 90 minutes equipped with Audible or podcasts and sometimes I just listen to nature around me. I pretty much just go round and round in circles – it’s actually a great daily reminder and metaphor for start-ups themselves - the journey is the point, not the destination.
How important is it for founders to allocate a digital-free time and space?
It’s the kind of thing you don’t realise how much you needed it until you do it and then it’s a Pandora’s box. I went on one in September, came back so full of energy, ideas and inspiration, I booked my next one for November and I’m going in 2 weeks and can’t wait. It's life changingly worth doing.
What advice can you give about identifying whether your wellbeing is suffering?
The age-old adage - listen to your gut. The gut brain axis is something we study a lot at Heights (we have a smart probiotic coming out in January, available to smart supplement customers already) and your gut is usually giving you a lot of signs that you are not operating at full capacity. If you experience bloating or struggling with sleep or anxiety, it’s time to wake up! You are being given warning signs, listen to them. Feed your brain the nutrients it is probably craving for, take care of your daily wellness habits, invest in simple Braincare activities, go for a walk, switch off, drink lots of water, go to bed earlier. Start small, see how small changes might help - if they don’t...it’s time for a doctor. “
Wellbeing on your start-up journey
The rigorous, challenging journey for start-up founders and entrepreneurs with the mounting pressures of delivery, managing shareholder expectations, leading employees and driving the business can all lead to a decline in health, mental wellbeing and overall burnout.
Taking the time to decompress and detox to find some equilibrium and balance is essential to continue the tasks ahead on the start-up journey.
Have you thought about a digital detox?