This is the start to a 3-Part series on the mental tools that Entrepreneurs need to develop in order to succeed.
There are three primary mental tools that I want to get into, and that’s what I’m going to spend the next three weeks talking about. First I’ll break down how the tool applies to your business, then we’ll get into application.
The first tool is Self Awareness.
Now, to all my philosophers out there are getting up in arms over this being a tool and not an aspect of humanity, yes. You’re right. “I think therefore I am” is a big part of being a human, but I’m talking about something beyond the basic philosophical “thought equals existence” premise. I’m talking about being aware of yourself at a level that helps you remain at peak performance regardless of what you’re dealing with.
Entrepreneurs deal with crap all day long, and it builds up like everything else in life. Emotions begin to rise, and eventually it affects even the decisions un-related to those emotions and situations. Initially it often looks like disengagement and maybe a little bit of depression. And most often, entrepreneurs end up having breakdowns/meltdowns because things have built to a breaking point.
I had a client once tell me that “I was just playing with my kids on the floor of the living room and ended up keeled over, clutching my heart thinking I was having a heart attack.” Spoiler alert: it wasn’t a heart attack. It was a severe anxiety attack because so much pressure had built up from the business.
As entrepreneurs, we put so much weight on ourselves and rarely ever remove it. So eventually something breaks. This is why self-awareness is important!
It is critical to be aware of our emotions, feelings, physicality, etc. so that we can make smart decisions for the business, perform at our peak, and take care of ourselves.
A quick caveat:
Being self-aware doesn’t prevent you from accumulating weight and extra unwanted emotions. But it does help you recognize when you’re getting there, and allows you to put a stop to it before it puts you on the rug in the living room with a faux heart attack.
I saw this happen in my life recently.
I recently became frustrated with the violin while practicing. The thing is, this was on the heels of a super successful performance! We’d just finished the Grow Retreat in January where I’d stood on stage with the violin for the first time, and it had gone beautifully! It was time to move on from the same few pieces over and over and I found myself getting frustrated with my practice.
The good news was that I’ve been practicing self-awareness long enough that I caught the disengagement. I’ve built in parameters to catch when I begin disconnecting, and I realized that my thought patterns were indicating that I was no longer inside of peak performance. It had become an “I need to practice violin” instead of “I want to practice violin.” It got to the point that I was considering putting the violin away for a few weeks (or months…), because I wasn’t having fun with it anymore.
I’ve experienced disengagement enough to know that the desire to put the violin away is a red-flag telling me something is wrong. So I sat down to figure out what was making me feel that way, and how to work through it. That pause showed me that if I just changed what I was working on, I could reinvigorate myself to continue moving forward.
In other words, self-awareness allowed me to catch myself before I got to the breakdown point with the violin: the place where I couldn’t do anything productive.
Can you imagine how you could keep the business moving forward and avoid losing momentum if you could catch yourself before you end up having a melt-down?
Being Aware At Low Levels of Emotional States is Key!
Because anybody can tell when they’re angry to the point of shouting, or upset to the point of tears. Those are heightened emotional states. Once you get there, it’s a lot more difficult to deal with those emotions.
But if you can begin to recognize the beginning place of your heightened emotions, you’ll be able to formulate a plan to prevent ending up in the heightened emotional state (Furious, heartbroken, etc). Don’t believe me? Just think about the fact that it’s easier to calm down when you’re irritated than when you’re spitting mad!
The key is to catch yourself at those lower-level emotional states (irritated, frustrated, etc), so that you don’t end up trapped into those heightened emotional states where you can’t be productive.
Here’s where we get into the nitty-gritty application.
There is a short list of actions that I take to build my emotional self-awareness, choose what works best for you, and start to build your own awareness as well.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I sit down and journal almost every single morning.
I don’t journal to hit word-count goals or with much of a structure in mind. Instead, I use stream-of-consciousness journaling. My entries often start with “I don’t know that I have anything to write about today…” leading to a multi-page entry where I find little things that were on my subconscious mind spilling onto the page so I can note them and deal with them before they snowball.
If you want to use this, start with answering the question “What am I feeling & why?”
#2: Emotional Timers
Set random timers to go off throughout the day and when they go off, take two minutes and check in with yourself. Ask “What am I feeling right now?” And really push yourself to identify what you’re feeling. Even if your first answer is “I’m feeling neutral…” or “I’m not feeling anything.” Dig a little deeper. Do you still feel twinges of frustration from dealing with that billing situation earlier? Is there some tension between your eyes or back of your neck from hunching over the computer that is causing you to exhaust yourself? Maybe you’re mostly neutral, but you’re slightly irritated because someone interrupted you again and you’re just starting to get your rhythm back. Or maybe you’re slightly excited because you’re anticipating blowing a goal out of the water.
Whatever you’re feeling in that moment, the goal is simply to define everything that you’re feeling at that specific time. In other words, identify your “smaller” emotions. These Emotional Timers will help you to become more in-tune with your less-intense emotions, and allow you to be more self-aware of those lower-level emotional states.
#3: Stress Symptom List
Create a list of your stress symptoms: the things you do/say or the ways you react when you’re stressed.
From a psychological standpoint, we have specific patterns (emotional and physical) we fall into when we are stressed. There are phrases you might start using at points of heightened emotional stress, or aches and pains you might begin to register.
For me, I know that my physical indicators are…
A funky pain underneath my left shoulder blade
A raw throat
Atop the physical symptoms, I also know that I have specific thought patterns when I’m in a heightened emotional state. I keep a list of those kinds of thought patterns, so I can check my journaling and daily thoughts against it. Not as a form of self-judgment, but just as a measuring rod so I can be aware of when I’m starting to spiral into a meltdown.
This one is a do or don’t do, and you certainly don’t have to do this one if you aren’t interested in it or comfortable with it.
I meditate in the mornings because I’ve found that it energizes me and helps build my mental-capacity. But essentially, the meditation I’m talking about is about giving yourself time to just sit.
Take 5 to 10 minutes and simply exist with whatever happens in your brain. The emotions, thoughts, and feelings that come through do not need to be changed. The whole point is to just feel and think and be what you are, while being cognizant of what you are feeling and thinking.
I’ve found that meditation helps me with my emotional timers too, because it helps me to recognize what I’m feeling and thinking in the morning.
Self-Awareness might be an unusual tool, but it’s certainly a useful one!
If you find that you’re constantly ending up with breakdowns and meltdowns, I would strongly suggest implementing some of these application actions! You might sit down one day to realize that you’ve gone a year without a meltdown, and that your business has had the best year ever.
Stay tuned for Tool #2 next week!