This framework will not only prevent burnout but will help you thrive; it is not just some clever theory, it gets results!

I believe it is inevitable we are going into a recession. Why can I be so sure? Well I believe in cycles – recoveries and recessions – and if we are not in a recession right now we’re heading towards one!

Many founder CEOs and leaders will rightly be focusing on external factors such as rising input costs, and the slowdown in consumer spend. And then reacting by slowing down on hiring, laying off staff, negotiating better supplier terms or raising more capital. Or you may decide this is the time to double down and to press ahead whilst the majority hesitate. 

With rising demands the default will be to work even harder

The startup or scale up world is awash with bravado. Most of the stuff you read about entrepreneurs makes you think you have to be some kind of superhuman to succeed. The fear of recession is exacerbating this need in Founders to push themselves to the limits. 

And as a result many are struggling with overwhelm, anxiety and burnout

This inevitably has an adverse effect on your performance and your ability to lead others, which is the last thing you need with the rising demands.

We are not machines

We are not designed to operate like a quantum computer i.e. at high speeds all day and everyday. 

You, as a Founder CEO, may have more energy to succeed than the average person but trust me we all have a breaking point. Don’t try to find it!

Ask yourself what your team, your company and your wider stakeholders need from you now 

They don’t want a stressed, frazzled, reactive leader. 

They want an even-tempered, caring, supportive, courageous, fair and consistent one. 

Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others

When founders CEOs fail it is often when they don’t look after and manage themselves properly. They delay looking after themselves until….it’s too late. 

The most important asset you have to help you through this recession, and the one you have the most control over is YOU. Your internal resource is the most powerful instrument you have to deal with life, and to contribute. 

Managing your energy is the key to more sustainable high performance

There is a direct link between your well being and your performance. And the effective management of your energy is foundational to both. 

Founder CEOs need to become Chief Energy Officers

When our energy levels are high, we’re positive, we get more done, we have better interactions, our mind is sharp, we’re laser focused, we’re more resilient, we are more likely to step out of our comfort zone, we are less likely to react, we are happier and our body feels strong.

Better energy management, better well being, better performance. And the more likely you will successfully get through the recession. 

5 Ways To Be A Happier, Healthier High Performer 

Great thing about energy is that it’s not finite like time.

You cannot create more hours in the day, but you can continually increase your capacity to work effectively through skillful energy management.

CEOs who focus on building and sustaining their capacity – their energy – get more done in less time, with more focus, engagement and sustainability. 

Here are the 5 ways to become a happier, healthier high performer: 

1. Understand where your energy comes from

Through deep research and assembling ideas from academics, scientists, psychologists, economists, philosophers, from my own work working with entrepreneurs and from personal experience, I have identified five core pillars that lead to maximum energy.

They make up the acronym PERMS.

  1. Physical Fitness – physical energy is the fuel for life, yet many of us underestimate how critical it is to our performance
  2. Emotional Fitness – emotions run the show whether you are aware of them or not, making emotions your allies will give you the energy and skills to manage any crisis
  3. Relational Fitness – relationships are major contributors to life satisfaction, your legacy as a leader will be expressed through people and relationships you form with them
  4. Mental Fitness – invest in your mental health proactively, treat it like going to the gym and staying fit
  5. Spiritual Fitness – figuring out why you are doing it and what motivates you are the roots of what energises us

Let’s dig into each pillar with a bit more detail.

Optimise Your Performance  – Physical Fitness 

It will not be much of a surprise to hear that exercise, what you eat, your sleep and how you recuperate is fundamental to the amount of energy you have.

Your body does most of the heavy lifting each day. Your physical energy will either accelerate your overall energy or be a drag on it. 

But despite knowing that physical energy is fuel for life, many of us underestimate its role in performance and the optimisation of our brain function. 

And it’s often not until you have a health scare that you do something about it. You wish you could turn back the clock. 

Your mind and body are inseparable. When you are nurturing your body, you will have more resilience, you will learn faster, you will feel better about yourself and be able to give more to others. 

Top Tip for Physical Fitness

Breathe like a baby! The more stressed you feel, the faster you breathe. Your brain will notice this and will effectively tell your brain you’re running from a sabre tooth tiger. When you breathe slowly and deeply, it is giving your brain a signal that you’re in a place of calm. Both the pace and depth of your breathing will change your stress response.

Optimise Your Performance  – Emotional Fitness

Understanding and managing your emotions (and the emotions of others) will help you be more successful. In his book Working With Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman cites the Harvard Business School research that concluded that EQ counts for twice as much as IQ and technical skills combined in determining who will be successful.

Most of us struggle with emotions because we were never taught how they work and how to work with them. And we are told emotions are not for the workplace. We tell ourselves we must stay in control, look strong.

Emotions are in everything we do. As we go about our normal day, we are subject to a continuous flow of emotions; one moment we are feeling cheerful and the next we are grumpy. Emotions are not an occasional event.

In practical terms, Emotional Fitness is about being aware that emotions drive your behaviour and impact people (positively and negatively), and learning how to manage them – both our own and others.

The good news is Emotional Fitness is a skill that can be learnt.

Top Tip for Emotional Fitness

Pay attention to your emotions. Emotions are data. Emotions are signals. If you misinterpret your emotions, you are likely to react in an inappropriate way. The more accurately you can label your emotions the more likely you will understand them and what they are telling you. Getting more emotionally literate is the foundation of emotional fitness. 

Optimise Your Performance  – Relational Fitness 

Study after study shows that what makes you happier than anything else is having quality relationships in your life.

When times are tough and stressful, one of the most important buffers against stress are quality relationships and friendships. People who get us, whom we feel comfortable being around, who are compassionate and appreciate who we are. 

The comment by Jim Rohn “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” is so true. Surrounding yourself with people who bring the best out of you are the cornerstones of building your energy and happiness. 

Who you work with is the most important factor to consider before joining or starting a new company with a partner. 

Nurturing and cultivating the right relationships, and pruning the ones that de-energise you, is one of the important things you can do to build your energy. 

Top tip for Relational Fitness

Raise it (‘pinch’) before it becomes a major conflict (‘crunch’). A pinch is something that bothers you but at this stage is not too big a deal. Often it is an unmet expectation, misunderstanding or annoyance. Often the other person has no idea it is an issue. Before it becomes a ‘crunch’, resolve the pinch.

Optimise Your Performance  – Mental Fitness 

As the CEO you have so much on your plate. And as the business scales it doesn’t get easier. When you take on third party investment like a VC, the pressure escalates – you tell yourself you have to be all in. 

The problem is that if you are pressing down on the accelerator for too long, you will not only not be making sub-optimal decisions along the way but also brewing up big trouble for later. 

As is true for Emotional and Physical Fitness, Mental Fitness is derived from a balance between expending and recovering energy. When our mental muscles are worn out – our attention span is too short, our outlook is too pessimistic, our perspective narrows or is too rigid.

You need to invest in your mental health proactively, treat it like going to the gym and staying fit. And it needs to be done whilst you are on the journey not left for later in the day. 

Top tip for Mental Fitness

Unplug yourself during the day. If there’s always something you “have to do,” your brain is going to keep you in a state of perpetual low to moderate fight or flight. And among other things, this means a steady stream of stress hormones like cortisol. Actively detach yourself in small doses throughout the day. For a break to be effective you have to be completely disconnected. Do some deep breathing, go for a walk outside (nature recharges your batteries), have a coffee with a colleague and don’t talk about work.

Optimise Your Performance  – Spiritual Fitness

I define Spiritual Fitness not in a religious sense, but rather a connection to a deeply held set of values and to a purpose beyond our self-interest. 

While physical energy gives us fuel, Spiritual Fitness is the root of what energises us. 

Spiritual Fitness is about knowing yourself and what you want most for your life: 

  • Who you are, why you get out of bed each day, the direction you want to go – your purpose
  • How you want to get there – your values
  • What makes you tick – your motivations
  • Understand what you are good at – your strengths – and not good at – your weaknesses

Sustainable companies have clear visions of where they want to go, clarity of why they are doing it and how they want to get there. The same goes for individuals who want to live an energetic and fulfilled life. 

When you know yourself you will understand the source of what energises you and what doesn’t. 

Top tip for Spiritual Fitness

Find your personal purpose. Victor Frankl, the author of  Man’s Search for Meaning, concluded from decades of research, that having a sense of purpose will give you greater resilience. It is for this reason that Frankl regularly quoted Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”  Once you have discovered your personal purpose, connect it up to the company’s purpose to maximise your energy and resilience at work – if you are the Founder they may well be the same. That’s fine. Making the connection will electrify your energy.

2. Complete the PERMS Energy Check-in – Are you fully energised?

The Check-in will highlight the areas you are energy deficient. And will provide you with a bespoke set of tips on how to better manage your energy and hence optimise your well being and performance. 

The PERMS Energy Check-in is not a one-time thing, you need to keep assessing where you are out of balance to find the key to getting back on course.

3. Systematically expand each energy resource

Your aim is to harness each of the 5 pillars or energy sources. 

You build emotional, mental, social and spiritual capacity the same way you build physical capacity and strength. You need to step out of our comfort zone, stretch beyond your normal limits, and then take the time to recover and integrate your learnings.

It is a holistic approach. Although there are 5 separate pillars, each energy source is inextricably linked i.e. anything you can do to improve your energy capacity in one pillar will have a positive knock effect in the other pillars. 

Ultimately you want to build your energy capacity rather than just maintain it. But this is not about doing even more, it is about doing more of the right things.

4. Master the dance between the High Performance Zone and the Revitalise Zone

Sports people understand the importance of recovery and renewal – what I call the Revitalise Zone – much better than most business people. They know that in order to perform to their best – the High Performance Zone – when it matters, they need to have fully recovered from the hard training. 

Human beings perform at their best whether in business or in sport when they master the dance between expending energy and revitalising their energy sources – physically, emotionally, relationally, mentally and spiritually.

5. Grow your energy capacity through specific habits

We all know that in order to improve our physical fitness we need to build physically healthy habits into our lifestyle. Many of us know and understand the benefits of physical exercise and as a result regularly exercise but few of us consider working on our emotional or mental fitness.

Our goal is to make these habits as automatic as possible. 

Harness and Optimise Your Performance By Managing Your Energy – Summary

The journey from start up to scale up and beyond is hard at the best of times. During a recession it will be even more challenging. 

Too often, we put our businesses, and others before ourselves. We say yes to too many things. Our energy is dispersed in too many disparate directions. 

The result being we are not performing to our full potential. We offer the world a lesser version of ourselves. 

When you harness and maximise your own energy, you perform to a higher level. 

Your energy can mobilise others to use their energy in service of a purpose or mission or goal. And with the combined energies you can get through the tough times and achieve far more than you ever thought possible. 

If you focus on improving your energy levels using the PERMS framework, you will become physically energised, emotionally and socially connected, mentally focused and fit for purpose.

You only get one vessel to take you through life, so look after that vessel as best you can. 


My advice as a first step would be to complete the PERMS Energy Check-in – Are YOU fully energised? to see which areas you should prioritise. You can’t do everything!

Mark Farrer-Brown
Founder and CEO Coach, Entrepreneur, Business Builder and Angel Investor

Mark Farrer-Brown

Mark is known for his scale up expertise having been part of multiple successful exits over the last 25 years as a founder, business builder, coach, mentor and investor.

Follow Mark on LinkedIn.

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