In large quantities, anxiety is a powerful emotion. Here's how to make sure it doesn't throw you off your game.
The life of the entrepreneur is full of uncertainty. You must make high-stakes decisions without having all the information. You don't know if you've made the right bet until you either succeed or fail.
Given those circumstances, a little anxiety is a perfectly normal reaction. But if you're not careful, too much of this powerful and detrimental emotion can affect how you make decisions.
Francesca Gino, associate professor at Harvard Business School and author of the book "Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan," writes in the Harvard Business Review about how anxiety can impair judgement, lower self-confidence, and make you more likely to seek out advice.
Gino, along with Alison Wood Brooks and Maurice E. Schweitzer from University of Pennsylvania, conducted research into how anxiety affects decision-making. The team studied college students, putting them in situations where they had to make decisions (from judging the weight of a person in a photograph to guessing the number of coins in a jar) and inducing anxiety during the process. Although these were fairly low-stakes decisions, the researchers found that when participants felt stressed, they were more likely to take advice they were given and had a reduced ability to judge between good and bad advice.
"People who were made to feel anxious were more open to, and more likely to rely on, advice even when they knew that the person offering it had a conflict of interest," she said. "The anxiety we triggered in our experiments was relatively mild. By contrast, the anxiety prompted by high-stake decisions can be so great that it can overwhelm our careful plans and analysis."
Below, Gino gives tips on how to avoid making poor decisions when they count the most:
Take a breather.
Gino says that when anxiety hits, it's important to stop making decisions. "Refrain from making major decisions until you are in a relaxed state and can clearly reflect on the matter at hand," she writes.
Keep your eye on the goal, not the details.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the many facets of a given decision. Gino says that when you feel this coming on, that's the time to focus on the end goal: "Using a metaphor from golfing, rather than focusing on the endless details of the perfect shot--such as the correct club, proper grip, turning your shoulders just so, and so on--it may be more helpful to focus on the more important outcome: where you want the shot to land," she writes.
Gino's study found that a good way to reduce anxiety, and therefore clear the mind, is to rely on your close friends and family. "A healthy social network can improve an individual's physical and mental ability to cope with anxiety," the study found.
WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @WillYakowicz