How To Get Off The Emotional Rollercoaster Of Entrepreneurship
I learned at a young age that I come from a long line of Wilsons who turn into the devil incarnate when hunger comes-a-knocking. It's a sobering reminder of how quickly our emotions can get away from us. And with entrepreneurship, you're exposed to a full rainbow of emotions that kick you into reaction mode. I knew I needed a better plan than sweeping them under the rug. I didn't want that same knee-jerk reaction of primal instinct to guide my business decisions. I wanted at the very least to have an awareness when my buttons were being pushed, so I could navigate situations with a little more tact than an unruly six year old throwing a tantrum in Walmart.
When I'm hungry, I take on the characteristics of a neanderthal. Critical thinking, patience and delayed gratification go out the window. I inhale food like a Dyson vacuum. I liken it to how I react with too much coffee or not enough sleep to function. The slightest deviation from my expectation for how the day should go sends me into toddler mode. I know it's not me at my best. I make horrible decisions in this state because I default to convenience. Fast food or some other processed crap further spirals the guilty emotions. Followed by that unsatisfying feeling a fast food meal leaves lingering in your gut.
Hunger is an obvious signal that tells me, deal with this, or shit's going downhill real fast. It's going to be way easier to push my buttons until this need becomes a priority. But I started to think, were there less obvious signals flying under the radar? I reflected on other areas of my life where I tended to react without much thinking.
As a kid, if I didn't know what I was doing in school, I'd shut down and take the path of least resistance. I wanted to spare myself from feeling stupid or the soul-crushing assumption that I didn't have what it takes. Now that I'm working for myself, if my buttons get pushed, shutting down or thinking I can't do something because it doesn't come easy, is not a trajectory that will lead to a successful career as an entrepreneur.
Aubrey Marcus is an experimentalist, unconventional fitness junkie, and human optimizer. He is the CEO of Onnit, an optimal human performance company that he has built into one of the fastest growing companies in America. He holds no punches in the rawness of his weekly shares through his newsletter. Marcus's level of awareness is humbling. His willingness to admit where his emotions creep in give him an unmistakable advantage. An eye-opening example you can pluck from his own thinking comes from a share about, "...when I am sick, and I love myself a little less and judge myself a little more, I am far more susceptible to being stressed out about other things. I have less confidence. Business issues become magnified. Relationship challenges are more triggering. Trivial tasks can feel overwhelming. I move a little bit down the continuum from confidence to doubt and from faith to fear. But, this shit is all in my head. It starts from a refusal to be in a state of acceptance about what is, and what will be."
The path of entrepreneurship is best described by artist Richard Serra who said, "If you really want to separate your work from everyone else's, every time you come to a Y in the road, don't think about which way to go; automatically take the toughest route. Everybody else is taking the easiest one." The journey to doing work that matters is acknowledging when our buttons are being pushed and persisting with a desire for growth and opportunity. That simple shift moves you from a mindset of obstacles to one of endless opportunities.
Harvard Business Professor Teresa Amabile said, “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.” Taking the toughest route is often what gives us meaning because it instils a sense of purpose beyond ourselves. It's our perceptions of life's toughest moments that decide what kind of future we'll have.
Author Ryan Holiday discussed the idea of this in The Daily Stoic Journal. He said, "Every moment brings a flood of impressions of the world around us, and our minds are filled with the perceptions that arise with them." This speaks to the power of how we view the world, it shapes our reality as we know it. Does it serve us or does it limit us? Holiday went on to point out that, "Our peace of mind, clarity, and freedom -- all of which are anchored in our perceptions." Holiday said that's why "...we need to pay attention to what matters and learn how to ignore so many of the relentless provocations that come our way."
What I found you're really trying to get at when this happens is to know what it means about you. What's the interpretation you're making that causes you to react?
The 6 Step Formula To Put You In Control Of Your Emotions
Ask, "How emotionally reactive am I to this situation?"
"What might be my button (the interpretation that caused the upset)?"
"What is really going on here?"
Ask, "If this situation comes up again, how will I handle it?"
This six-step formula lets you see the emotion for what it is. This in itself is like an immediate shot of calmness into your veins. Bringing yourself back to the breath takes the emotional charge out of the moment. You can see the situation for what it is. Is it worthy of slamming the red button and putting out a distress call? Nine times out of ten, we've probably found ourselves going through the motions for far too long. This is the wake-up signal to remind you to grab the steering wheel and take your life off autopilot.
You can repress those feelings and push them down and try to ignore them, but eventually, you're going to run out of energy and you're going to have to deal with them. These signals will keep coming until they feel like every sense of your being is on high alert. That's why these situations end up being so emotional because there's something that's been underlying for years. They're not new feelings. Our brain is sick of giving us signals. The more we ignore them, the more the intensity strengthens until you have no choice but to confront them.
Most entrepreneurs quit at this point because the invasion of fear runs deeper than the desire to push on. They interpret the emotions as a message that they weren't cut out for entrepreneurship. When we're forced to deal with it in the heat of the moment, we feel at the mercy of the emotion. It takes on the characteristic of a slow-working poison that erodes your sense of confidence.
This always comes back to your business only grows as much as you do. Entrepreneurs rarely fail because they lack the resources, they lack the resourcefulness to see the opportunity. I don't expect to have Spock-like control of my emotions and neither should you. Experiencing the full range of our emotions is what makes us human and lets us tap into a flow of creativity and innovation far beyond our wildest dreams.
But having an awareness, an understanding and a plan to deal with charged emotions? That's worth its weight in gold. Benjamin Franklin distilled it to one perfect pithy sentence. "Fail to plan, plan to fail."
It's like that simple shift of a lever that lets you glide from the track of life happening to you, to the track of forward momentum with a mindset of life is happening for you. These are the moments that define you. These are the moments that lead to a happy, healthy, purpose-driven life and business.