Build mental fitness to cope with stressful times
On first impression, Alastair Barlow is a force to be reckoned with. But long before Barlow was a hat-trick winner at the 2019 Accounting Excellence Awards, he suffered his fair share of adversity.
“In the harsh world of accounting, you’ve got to be tough. In many ways it’s a black and white industry that’s synonymous with poor communication and a lack of empathy,” he said.
But opening up and talking about his problems has helped him professionally, and in that respect, Barlow thinks accounting has turned a corner.
“As a leader of an accountancy firm that has grown aggressively I’m accustomed to high stress. It’s fair to say it’s been challenging, but having a co-founder in Luke Streeter to share ideas and growing-pains helps significantly.”
Still a taboo
Talking to AccountingWEB during Mental Health Awareness week, Barlow recognised that many sole practitioners don’t have the opportunity to share the load.
“I think it’s much harder for a sole practitioner because the rest of the team rests their problems on their shoulders, but they can’t share their problems for fear they might be seen as weak,” said Barlow.
There is still a taboo about opening up and sharing problems. “But I see it as strength if someone has the power and resolve to open up and share.
“I’ve had counselling in the past and I think it’s one of the best things a person can do. Talking about yourself when the other person’s got nothing else other than to listen is fantastic.”
At the moment accountants are working night and day to keep up with the latest government guidance and deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. In additon to wrestling with all the emerging regulations, accountants have to face many more demands from clients for emergency help. The workload is so heavy, many accountants are now admitting to being on the brink of burnout.
Peak mental fitness
No more than ever, it’s important to address mental health within the profession. To support this effort, Barlow is appearing on a MyFirmsApp webinar on 27 May to share his tactics for maintaining peak mental fitness.
As someone who is “always-on”, Barlow uses mindfulness to silence the inner noise. “More than half the week I’ll practice mindfulness. Having these types of techniques in your toolkit is very important. If you do something often enough, it becomes a habit and then it becomes second nature.”
Conversely, as someone with a growth mindset, Barlow is a proponent of visualisation and letting his mind wander: “I think that helps craft strategy, helps you understand yourself a lot more and helps break free from convention. It’s really powerful as a business owner to understand what you want to achieve. What’s important to focus on are your goals and strategy. If you don’t even know what they are, how can you reach them?”
Everybody has good days and bad days. But using your mental toolkit can help overcome the strain, whether by talking issues through with your business partner, life partner, mastermind group, or listening to something motivational.
Learn from the tough times
But as hard as the tough times are, they can also make you more resilient. Barlow’s darkest days put everything else in perspective. “Very little fazes me,” he said. “If something screws up at flinder, for example, or we lost a client or a team member I’ll be like, ‘Okay, we can learn from it. It’s not the worst that’s happened to me.’ You move on.”
And the toughest period in his life helped him learn more about himself and what drives him so relentlessly.
“Sometimes the hardest things you go through in life build the strongest foundations and turn you into a better you,” Barlow said.
“If you look at the most successful people in the world, they’ve all come through some really tough adversity and that’s a driver for them.”
The How to reach peak mental fitness webinar takes place on Wednesday 27 May at midday with Alastair Barlow and Luke Doherty, mindfulness coach for Harlequins rugby team.