This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.
How you react to challenges has a huge impact on how well you manage the ups and downs of farming, says Taranaki dairy farmer Kane Brisco. We asked him to share his tips for staying calm under pressure.
Tell us about a challenge you’ve had on farm and how your thinking helped you deal with that.
I guess one of the bigger challenges I had was taking the step up to 50:50 sharemilking, taking ownership of the cows and all the financial pressure and responsibility that goes with that. I was learning on the job and the payout dropped. There was so much out of my control influencing me every day. It felt really hard.
Sounds stressful. How did you cope with that?
At first, it was really easy to fall into that negative headspace and not see light at the end of the tunnel. What really helped me was someone pulling me back from the day-on-day farm work and making me take a bird’s eye view of the situation. Stepping back and looking at the whole picture was really helpful. I was suddenly more open to ideas and just felt more positive.
Did that change how you farmed after that?
Yes, I started accepting that no matter what I did to avoid challenges, they were always going to come in one form or another. In farming, the challenges find you and you get caught out if you’re not prepared for them.
So what’s your mindset now?
My mindset is that the challenges are there for a reason – they’re there to teach you something. If you have that attitude you can learn and grow from them. I’ve learnt if you can stand up and deal with challenges, the outcome’s going to be much more positive.
One of the things I do now is that after I’ve been through a challenge on farm, I go back and make sure I take the lessons out of it. I take some time to reflect and learn from it. That way it feels like you’re doing something proactive, because in farming you know there’s always going to be another challenge coming.
Sounds like you trained your brain to think differently? It’s a different mentality.
Exactly. I’ve got good at actively practising having a positive mindset by catching my negative thoughts and dealing with them. It’s a skill that anyone can learn. The more you do it, the better you get at it. It involves catching those negative thoughts and asking yourself whether they are actually true or not, because a lot of the time they won’t be true.
Any other tips for dealing with pressure?
I’ve taken a lot out of the sport of boxing to carry over into farm life. When you get angry in boxing you lose all your focus and that’s when you make mistakes. When the pressure’s on, it’s all about staying calm so you can think clearly. If you can take some of the emotion out of a situation, you make far better decisions. These days I make sure I always deal with facts, rather than just what I’m feeling.
What about days when nothing seems to go right? How do you manage them?
One of the first things I do when I’m feeling overwhelmed by lots going on is to get stuff out of my mind and onto a bit of paper. I’ve found that hugely beneficial because in our minds, we can often get quite negative. We think about the future a lot and head to the worst case scenario. But when you write stuff down, it takes all the “spin” out of your head and you can just deal in facts.
How does that help deal with the challenge?
It identifies your next job at hand. Once you put the facts down on a piece of paper, it’s easy to clarify and prioritise what you actually need to do. I find that instantly takes that negativity out of my mind. It means you can embrace a challenge and see it as an opportunity to step up and prove how good you are, rather than viewing every challenge as something that’s holding you down and making your day crap.
What’s been the biggest change in your thinking since you began farming?
I’ve stopped being such a perfectionist. In the early days, it was something that really drove me. I’d achieve something, then instantly reset the goalposts, which meant I never felt satisfied. It’s so easy to have a bad day when you’re a perfectionist, because nothing’s ever good enough. But in farming nothing ever goes to plan. I had to learn to accept that and become more flexible. If you can’t adjust your thinking like that, it makes a bad day even harder.
Are there any other thinking traps to avoid?
One that stands out to me is “black and white” thinking. That’s something I noticed early on. When you’re first learning how to farm from previous generations, it’s easy to think that’s the only way to do something because it has been successful for them. Their way or the highway – that was my mantra. But after a while I realised the real challenge was to evolve and develop my own ideas. The world’s changing so quickly you can’t afford to get stuck in that “black and white” mindset. To keep up with challenges in farming you have to be open to new ideas.
How do you make sure you’re in the right headspace to make good decisions on farm?
I’ve learnt it’s really important for me to have balance in my life and work on the business and not just on the farm. Taking time out of my week to sit down and problem-solve in a good, positive headspace has been really crucial to making good decisions.
How do you achieve that balance?
For me it’s about finding something to do off farm that I’m passionate about. That helps create that positive headspace where all the good ideas come from. When I’m open-minded and in a good headspace that sets me up to deal with the challenges going forward.
What does being Farmstrong mean to you?
It’s about dealing with the full picture. Not just concentrating on being a good farmer, but being a great person off farm as well. I reckon they’re both intertwined. Being a good, well-rounded person generally leads to being a great farmer on farm.
More: To find out what else could work for you and your team, head to www.farmstrong.co.nz for free farmer-to-farmer tools and resources.