The life of an startup is full of ups and downs, an emotional roller coaster ride that you can’t quite imagine if you’ve spent your whole career in a corporation. As the boss, part of your job is to manage those ups and downs and keep yourself and your team focused. It’s the only way to survive. 

We at MackayMitchell have always handled the challenge by following a rule I learned from the great Miami Dolphins football coach Don Shula. Years ago, he and I negotiated a contract for a first-round draft pick and I was impressed by what I saw. As he was well aware, a football team can be a pretty emotional organization, too.

So what was his trick for keeping his players and coaches focused? Shula enforced a “24-hour rule,” a policy of looking forward to the next challenge instead of dwelling on the previous victory or failure.  The coach allowed himself, his coaching staff and his players a maximum of 24 hours to celebrate a victory or brood over a defeat.  During those 24 hours, Shula encouraged them to feel their emotions of success or failure as deeply as they could.

But the next day, it was time to put it all behind them and start concentrating their energy on preparing for their next game.  His philosophy was that if you keep your failures and victories in perspective, you’ll do better in the long run.

Let me explain why I think that’s so smart.

Let’s start with a colossal failure.  How often have you been tempted to throw in the towel after losing a big sale or watching a million-dollar deal fall through, only to have your luck turn a day or two later? 

Every morning brings new potential, but if you dwell on the misfortunes of the day before, you tend to overlook tremendous opportunities.  Instead of seeing the possibilities for success, you hesitate. 

Even worse are the vibes you send out to your customers.  Your usual enthusiasm is seriously compromised because you are waiting for rejection. And that’s exactly what you’ll deserve.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the spectacular victory – the referral that turned into your biggest account, the amazing idea that turned your company around.  Do you think now is a good time to coast or to rest on your laurels?

Absolutely not!  Celebrate with your staff, take the night off, and then come back in the morning ready to build on your success.  You’re on a roll.  Don’t waste the momentum.

Your bragging rights expire after 24 hours.  It’s fine if others want to congratulate you.  Be gracious, thank them and get back to work.  A great accomplishment shouldn’t be the end of the road, just the starting point for the next leap forward.  Success breeds success. 

The 24-hour rule allows you to look at each new day as a blank slate.  Learn from the past, but don’t live there.  Build on what you know so that you don’t repeat mistakes.  Resolve to learn something new every day.  Because every 24 hours, you have the opportunity to have the best day of your company’s life.   


Mackay’s Moral: If you live in the past, you won’t have much of a future.