Experiencing success as an entrepreneur is as much about business acumen and strategy as it is mastering the mind. Founders and CEOs are among the most determined creatures on the planet, but that doesn't mean thoughts of self-doubt and fear never creep into the mind of a leader.
Stress management is an often overlooked, but absolutely vital skill for anyone in business. Stakes are high, and there's a lot riding on your shoulders, especially if you're responsible for the livelihood of your employees, and have partners, clients and investors to keep happy. At any given point, the pressure can become too much for even the most intrepid, optimistic person to bear.
To boot, most business leaders can probably attest to the mind games we tend to play at one time or another: the imposter syndrome, fear of failure, worries of the unknown, and the list goes on. These crippling, and often irrational, thoughts can cause us to overlook opportunities, and crush our momentum.
Mental health is vitally important
For all the time entrepreneurs spend studying outside forces -- from consumer habits and feedback to product features to marketing campaigns -- an equal effort should be made to mastering one's own mind. Only by preparing for all outcomes and proactively seeking solutions to problems can leaders overcome negative thought patterns.
How do you free up your headspace when these thoughts take over? Saundra Schrock, business mindfulness consultant and founder of Levelhead, suggests reminding yourself of all that's gone right when it feels like everything's going wrong.
"One of the best things you can do is counter negative thoughts with positive ones," she says. "When you get overwhelmed by all that has to be done, think of what's already been done. When you come back to reflect about the current challenge, you can tell yourself 'I've done this before, I can do it again.'"
Reflecting on a situation in a calm, patient manner is often easier said than done, especially in today's fast-paced climate. That's where your breath comes into play.
Without going too deep into all the benefits of regular mindfulness practice (though it's certainly worth a look), tapping into your own breath's rhythm is one of the most powerful ways to change the relationship between your thoughts and emotions.
"In business, you have to be flexible, but remain focused, and be self-reliant, but also be able to ask for help," Schrock believes. "Mindfulness allows you to encounter these paradoxes throughout the day and not fall victim to the highs and lows."
Like a regular physical exercise routine, practicing meditation and breathing techniques requires consistent attention to realize the benefits. But this only requires a few minutes each day. The key is consistency.
Set a timer for 30 seconds and focus on nothing more than your breath -- you might realize how quickly the mind races off to think about the tasks of the day. But stick with it. You might expand this to 60 seconds the next day, or while you're brushing your teeth, taking a walk to the kitchen, and so on.
The goal is to simply start to refocus the mind to the present and oxygenate the brain. Purposeful breathing sends more oxygen to the brain, resulting in clearer thinking and better decision making.
Making incremental shifts
Over time, you may notice you react to stress differently than you had in the past. The more present you are in each moment, the less room you leave for judgmental thoughts such as self-doubt. From a leadership perspective, you'll be more in tune with the needs of others because you'll be able to remove your own ego from each situation.
Most importantly, the best way to move forward and not dwell on the small hangups is to just start doing it. If you feel a negative thought creeping up, take a walk to center yourself.
Remind yourself of all the good things you've done and make a point of celebrating small wins at your company. Fill the memory bank with positivity and fear will soon find it has no space to operate.
Your business requires all of you in order to grow. No one says you have to operate with joylessness and feel like you're in a constant state of toil.
Take care of your mind first so you can approach every day with an excitement that comes from knowing failure is not the default setting. Train your brain to break free of distractions and keep breathing in the right direction.