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5 ways to hack your brain to find the inner resources of strength to retain your sanity and business through lockdown 2 and busy season

by Nov 2, 2020Leading yourself and your staff

So, lockdown 2 starts at the start of busy season with the news of the extension of Furlough for another month. What have accountants done to annoy the government this much? It really does seem so unfair. And with so many of our members talking about already being overwhelmed, tired and drained, now is the time to find mental reserves of toughness that we may not know we possessed. This article is for you if you want to understand how to hack your brain and dig deep over the next 3 months. 

What is our brain concerned about?

Our brain’s primary function is to keep us alive. It is motivated by 2 things; avoiding threats and enjoying rewards. It does this to the point where our brain is pretty much on the look out and scanning for these two things constantly. When it comes to threats, our brains are pretty much stuck in the caveman era. And one of the big threats to us way back then was getting rejected from our tribe. This pretty much meant certain death. As a result our brains have a massive toolkit of threats which arise from social concerns. Over the course of this article we are going to explore both these concerns, but what you can do to ‘hack your brain’ so that over the next few months you and your small accountancy business don’t just survive, but thrive.

The ‘Threat’ and ‘Reward’ state

When our brains perceive a threat, they become hyper focused on that threat, and move into a ‘Threat’ state. In the ‘Threat’ state our brains do this to our bodies and minds:

  • Reduces our ability to think creatively or laterally.
  • Reduces our working memory
  • Makes us less effective and more pessimistic
  • Reduces our ability to see the bigger picture
  • Becomes more reliant on our cognitive biases to help us take decisions. So we often make poorer quality decisions
  • Raises our blood pressure and breathing rate
  • Converts Glycogen from our livers into glucose in our blood
  • Temporarily increases our immune system.

As you can see, being in the ‘Threat’ state isn’t helpful when we have a pandemic on our doorsteps and a busy season to get through!

When our brains are in a pleasurable state, or the ‘Reward’ state, they are at their most effective. But also in the Reward state we have:

  • Greater access to our subconscious brains
  • More insights and clarity
  • Increased ideas and motivation for action
  • Better quality decision making
  • Easier to see the bigger picture

Therefore, if you are going to hack your brain to ‘sail’ through lockdown 2 and busy season it is important to do everything in your power to move your brain out of the Threat state, into Reward. However, with the pandemic raging around this, this isn’t easy.

The importance of self-care

You know the feeling after a good night’s sleep? How everything seems much easier to cope with? It’s not just a good night’s sleep that helps, it’s self-care generally. That means prioritising the 4 foundational habits; sleep, nutritious food and drink, exercise and recharge time. When you have prioritised self-care it makes it easier for you to find the mental strength and reserves to make the small tweaks you need to hack your brain so you move out of a Threat state.

When your brain is tired, it wants to avoid having to take considered decisions. Which means it wants to revert to decisions on autopilot. Which can often mean we take the wrong decision or allow ourselves to get pulled into the Threat state, and not have the will power to get ourselves out of it. This is why self-care is so important to our mental and physical health.

The problem is, when we talk to our Accountants Millionaires’ Club Members and others in the accountancy profession right now, we are hearing that the majority are tired, drained and overwhelmed. And that’s before lockdown 2 starts or the busy season moves at pace. As someone who has just returned from a week’s break with the family, I can testify to the importance of taking a break or some time out now to help recharge your batteries ready for the next 3 months.

Using the SCARF model to hack our brains out of a Threat state and into a Reward state.

The SCARF Model was developed in 2008 by David Rock, (see “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others.”)

SCARF stands for the five key elements that influence our behaviour in social situations. Neuroscience tells us, given the importance of social connection to our prehistoric survival, that these five key elements activate the Threat and Reward states in our brain. And given that lockdown and social distancing are powerful ‘Threat’ triggers, hacking these 5 elements will allow you to move out to Threat and into Reward.

SCARF stands for:

  • Status: Our relative importance to others
  • Certainty: Our being able to predict the future
  • Autonomy: Our sense of control over events
  • Relatedness: Our sense of safety with others
  • Fairness: Our perception of fair exchanges between people

Status: Our relative importance to others

Status is all about hierarchy and our relative importance to others. Working from home has reduced our status as an accountancy firm owner. For example, we no longer have the visible clues of our importance as an accountancy firm owner surrounding us when we work from home. It’s not just that our environment has changed, we also have threats to our current and future status such as:

  • Our firm shrinking due to clients going bust or trading down to a smaller and cheaper accountant
  • Considering whether we really need the current size of our offices, or whether we can move to a virtual office set up or really need the ‘boss’s office’
  • Clients no longer travelling to see us, but having video calls instead
  • Currently no physical conferences taking place from our institutes or the large software vendors, where we can be with our tribe and confirm our status within the profession

You may feel that as a small accountancy firm owner, that status isn’t important to you. After all, you may have taken a decision to move away from the highly paid job in industry or in a mid to large accountancy practice. But it will be important to you if your brain feels threatened. Remember that your brain naturally wants to move to a worst case scenario. For example, what would happen if your clients deserted the firm? Would you need to get a job working for another practice? That would be a massive loss in status. And, therefore, a massive perceived threat.

So, what can you easily do to help yourself avoid this Threat state?

  1. Prioritise your personal needs for self-care. Being a martyr is actually unhelpful to your firm and your team. But prioritising your self-care can help you regain a sense of your own importance and status.
  2. Create a business plan with contingency plans to ensure the survival and health of your firm going forward. And yes, we can help you with that…
  3. Involve the members of your household to contribute to the domestic chores. Particularly if you are not going to have your cleaner during lockdown 2.
  4. Create some team virtual events, aside from the normal meetings.
  5. Look to run some of your team meetings which you may have normally delegated to other members of your team
  6. Consider planning an ‘event’ at home with your household members. Such as a ‘curry’ friday or a movie night. Something which will make you feel special and wanted. (Even if eating out is not going to be an option for a while)

Certainty: Our being able to predict the future

While a vaccine is still to be approved and the pandemic rages around the world, certainty is something we don’t have right now. And that’s certainty around:

  • The health of ourselves and our loved ones
  • Our firm’s capacity to deal with the current workload from clients
  • The client demands on us as we go into lockdown 2
  • Whether we will be able to buy toilet roll and basic essentials in the shops? (Similar to the last lockdown)
  • What the new normal will look like?
  • Will there be a further national lockdown when wave 3 or 4 come along?
  • How our staff will adapt in lockdown 2?
  • How our firm will cope in busy season working from home
  • and on… and on…

One of the things I have noticed that after running out of energy about 3-4 weeks ago, I lost my sense of confidence. My sense that I could achieve anything I put my mind to. Which then made me self-doubt myself. And so some of the certainties I believed about myself and my capabilities as the owner of a small and successful business state to disappear. I become a shadow of myself as my inner demons started to win the mental battle. And I have seen this happening with our members too. The long hours over the last 8 months have taken their toll. What may have been easy, now seems hard.

So, what can you easily do to help yourself avoid this Threat state?

  1. Build a supportive community around you. Coming back from a week away to a huge amount of love from our members after I sent them all a briefing on a Sunday morning for them to share with their clients was like a tonic to my soul. The community of others experiencing the same thing can help normalise your own experiences. Which then helps you to move into a ‘Reward’ state.
  2. If you are starting to self-doubt yourself, time to double down on the self-care.
  3. Ditch the media and much of social media
  4. Stop speculating about what may be. Just focus on the present and the near future and what you can control
  5. Build into your day micro moments of certainty, such as:
    1. Booking ‘live’ online exercise classes that you attend at the same time each week
    2. Create food plans for the week. (Which has the added benefit that older children and partners can also help you with the food prep)
    3. Create a lockdown routine
    4. Plan and diarise your ‘mental health’ breaks. Whether these are 5 minutes to mediate or a 10 minute short walk. Just do it.
  6. Create a business plan with contingency plans to ensure the survival and health of your firm going forward. And yes, we can help you with that…
  7. Include daily and weekly review time to see how things are going and track your progress
  8. Book a coaching call to help you put things into perspective and look forward with purpose not fear

"I have the clients I want to work with, and a great income from my business

The club initially helped me to structure my working week, so that I was working on the right things. It then helped me ditch my low paying clients or the ones who stressed me out. And then with some tweaks to my marketing, it has helped switch on a stream of a new client every week. So much so, my team has now tripled in size. My Growth Specialist is always there for me, and I couldn't have done this without them."

Renee Wengrofsky

Financial Advisor, JSN Consultants LLC

It is great to see the club stepping up with endless resources, daily zoom calls and email updates to assist us help our amazing clients

Great to see you help us assist our client's ensure they survive, navigate and thrive in one of most economically challenging times in recent history. 

Thank you Ashley, Heather and team.

Shahbaz Hussain


Autonomy: Our sense of control over events

You don’t need me to tell you that the lockdown and social restrictions are meaning our sense of autonomy and being the masters or mistresses of our own fate are taking a battering right now. After all, the government has put all sorts of rules and regulations about what we can or can not do. What I would give to be able to take a plane, right now, to somewhere warm and hot with good wifi…

So, what can you easily do to help yourself avoid this Threat state?

  1. Focus on what is in your influence to control
  2. Create a business plan with contingency plans to ensure the survival and health of your firm going forward. And yes, we can help you with that… (I know, I’ve said this before…)
  3. If your team are good performers or even OK performers, resist the temptation to micro manage them right now
  4. Reframe your choice to obey the lockdown restrictions as being a choice, but also your choice as a responsible citizen.

Relatedness: Our sense of safety with others

Social distancing and the sense of others being potentially a threat with COVID-19, has meant that suddenly being with others is no longer perceived to be as safe. Activities which may have previously brought us joy, such as team sports or meeting up with friends and family suddenly have a degree of risk. I can’t be the only one who would be concerned to travel on the train or be in a crowd right now.

So, what can you easily do to help yourself avoid this Threat state?

  1. Pick up the phone to people you care about – and that’s phone not video call. Phone calls can be more intimate and personal. Which is vital at the moment when we need the feeling of connectedness.
  2. Focus on what you can control. So, tutting at people in the supermarket not obeying social distancing restrictions is a waste of your energy…
  3. Make an effort to talk with people when you are out and about. For example, saying hello to the Amazon delivery person.

Fairness: Our perception of fair exchanges between people

With everything going on, it’s really easy to decide life has been harsh or unfair to us. Or unfair to people we care about. For example when I spoke to my mother yesterday she admitted that they are unlikely to travel outside of the UK for at least a year. And they loved to travel. It just felt so unfair. Particularly as they have personally done nothing to cause the spread or reemergence of the disease.

So, what can you easily do to help yourself avoid this Threat state?

  1. Stop looking at the bigger picture and blaming the incompetence of our politicians (Unless of course you are living in New Zealand right now)
  2. What small gestures can you do to help others or return a favour? Such as make a cup of tea for another member of your household.
  3. How can you make sure the domestic chores are divided up fairly amongst your household members?

I am grateful that I found you at Accountex and made the decision to join the club

You always ask us each week what we are happy and grateful for each week: -

  1. Happy about the support I get from AMC
  2. Happy about the value I get from the AMC
  3. Proactivity of AMC has gone through the roof when most would be curling up and saying not today
Gareth Burton

Progress UK

What an amazing job, you and the rest of the AMC guys are doing

Worth your weight in gold and you are part of our team in every shape and form and when this time passes we will celebrate together.

Graeme Tennick

Graeme Tennick & Co

How to move your brain back into a positive state, i.e. Reward state

Everything I have covered so far in this article has been practical suggestions to help you hack your brain to avoid or minimise how far you go into a Threat state. But what happens if you find yourself in a Threat state? Luckily it is in your power to move yourself back into a Reward state.

There are a lot of things which I could recommend which may bring you pleasure. Such as indulging a little more than you need of your favourite food or drink. And yes, my waistline over lockdown 1 is testament to this. Of course, a little bit of what you fancy can normally do no harm. But just make sure it is only that little bit and in moderation.

Here are some practical suggestions to help you move back into or remain in a Reward state:

  • Take responsibility for what you can control. Stop wasting energy on things outside of your control, such as the actions of others breaking lockdown rules
  • When things are outside of your control, look to influence the present and the future rather than getting angry with the problems or challenges which got you there. 
  • A problem shared is a problem halved, so pick up the phone and talk to other people. Particularly other accountants, such as club members, who can help you normalise your current experiences.
  • Book time with a coach to help you talk through your thoughts and sort out the truth from your mental demons
  • Regularly look for opportunities to reward or recharge yourself, for example:
    • Meditation
    • Time away from your desk
    • Fun activities with friends and family (whether virtual or not)
    • Get outside
    • Do something you enjoy
    • Stroke your pet
    • Snuggle up with a weighted or favourite blanket
    • Watch a movie or box set or favourite TV programme
    • Play or sing your music at full volume (regardless of how disapproving your teenage children are of this….)

The information AMC is providing...is amazing.

The information AMC is providing in these unprecedented times along with the support is amazing.

This is the difference in businesses surviving or folding which is ultimately going to affect us.

This has given me time to actually advise clients and potential clients on how to practically action this.

Zee Razaq

Certax St Albans

'After spending 90 mins with Heather, I am so much more forward with my marketing.

For the first time in the life of my business I have clarity on my client personas and exactly how I help them. I’ve come away with so many content ideas to help me attract exactly the type of client I want. I know within 4 weeks I will have a website which I am confident will do what it says on the tin. My confidence and clarity is now sky high."

Adam Bullen

Founder/Director, ABCounting Ltd.