Fear has often been the cause of my worst business decisions and eventually lead me to lose control of one of my companies. I’ve paid a high price to understand this lesson.
In the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about the human brain being made up of a number of layers, and that we just have a less evolved “dinosaur brain”, much of which we share with other animals, and a higher order brain, a more evolved brain, which gives humans higher level thinking and abstract thought. Unfortunately, our pesky dino brain is our survivalist brain, and whenever we are under stress, our dino brain takes over.
Paul Ekman identified six basic emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise), and these are the ones that our dino brain lives by. Don’t feel bad though, when we were cave-humans, we needed those emotions in order to survive. We needed anger to fight, disgust to know what not to eat, fear to survive, happiness to keep moving forward, sadness to take stock and surprise to kick our adrenaline into high gear when under threat.
All those emotions served us then, but times have changed. Instead of getting angry at prey, we get angry at our co-coworkers. Instead of being afraid of predators, we get afraid of losing our jobs, our businesses running out of money and giving up our lives for them.
Ever wonder why you feel outraged by the news media? They know exactly how to manipulate your dino brain to get a response out of you. Seen those studies on how social media makes you unhappy? Bombarded all day with happy images of other peoples lives can’t be great for self-esteem, but that’s what you get every time to fire up Facebook. Of course, its mostly a facade, but your dino brain doesn’t know that.
When you are a startup entrepreneur, the stakes are even higher. At first, you think, this is great, I’m my own boss, I can do what I want, and I don’t need to do things I don’t need to. You look at all of your employed friends and family and feel pity —
But you aren’t. You’ve traded some security for freedom, but your boss is now your customer, client or yourself, your investors may act like your boss. If you are in business and making money at all, you are beholden to someone. You are now fully responsible for your life, you can’t blame anyone else if you fail, and if you are not working or your business is not making money, you will fail. And the fear of failure includes anxiety, shame and all sorts of unhappy thoughts.
The key is to spot and acknowledge the emotion of fear and eliminate it as much as you can when you are making important decisions.
Fear is like electricity in the body and when you acknowledge its presence and start to be conscious of it and its tactility you can move it in your body like any other energy coming from your emotions.
One of the best pieces of advice on public speaking is “feel the fear, and do it anyway”. Let the fear drive you forward. Let it give you the energy to push through the right decision. This is tough, our ego does everything to reinforce its existence and fear is one of its favorite things because it gets refueled — recharged through fear.
Try to make your decisions as if you had a comfortable cash flow, or ask yourself “If I had a lot of money what would I do in this situation?”. This can help you prioritize the long-term and to execute on your vision.
Ask yourself: “Who would I like to be in the future or what would I want to be perceived or known for?” This question takes you back to your core values and ethics and can help you face the fear of failure in important and critical moments.
Do not postpone to tomorrow what can be done today. When taken by fear, we often push today decisions for later, which is probably the worst thing that you can do. Think of it another way: the sooner this is done, the sooner it will be behind me and I won’t have to think about it anymore. (Also good advice for the procrastinators out there)
Seneca has a very good quote about this: “Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day… The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”
Adversity, intense competition, political games at your board and even treason are more common in business and they can trigger fear and make you doubt. These are the hardest things to spot because they attack directly what’s below the fear, your self-esteem and makes you question your self-worth. Low self-esteem is probably the main reason when fear kicks in during those moments and situations.
Luckily, technology is just a tool which we can use for both good and evil. We can use it to keep in touch with the people we love, and we can use it to brag about our “wonderful lives”. We can use it to be educated, informed and saddened, all at the same time.
Proper use of tech can help you to eliminate the outrage, and bump up your self-esteem at the same time. As entrepreneurs, we have a lot of emotion vested in our businesses, and if things aren’t going well, it’s easy to take it personally. When we are not meeting our goals, when our business is floundering, looking for its legs, we can easily get depressed.
Here is where technology can help:
Use meditation videos on YouTube to center yourself and be more mindful. Mindfulness has recently been used successfully as a tool to combat depression. If you are fully in the present, then you are not regretting the past or worried about the future.
Edit out the voices on Facebook which are bragging about how great their lives are by snoozing them, or even better, why not take a social media vacation? Take a break and reset yourself. Trust me, you will feel much better for it.
You’ve probably been burning the candle at all ends trying to succeed. Use Bedtime on iOS to get a good nights sleep. Listen to a Sleep sounds app. Go to the gym and work your anger and frustration out. Just do something other than working on your business for a little bit.
Use tech to free your time up for self-care. There are a plethora of free and cheap tools out there (like Fabulous , Headspace, or Calm) which can help to alleviate the day-to-day stresses of an entrepreneur. Use them.
Use apps like Talkspace to connect with a counselor or business coach who can help you through a rough patch, if you need it. Or just connect with a trusted friend who is not connected with your business at all and talk it out.
If you don’t feel that you know anyone you could talk to this about, then use a recorder app and just record yourself talking. Do it in the car or some other private place. Listen to it (or not) then delete it after. Just talking it out will help.
A great thing to do also and that I have been doing a few times is to go in the nature, in a park and to shout as loud as you can. You will feel the liberating effect it can have.
When we let fear take over our business decisions we begin to make bad ones. Even if tech outrages you, it can help you knock out fear and take a bite out of depression.
When combined with good discipline in your personal work, like meditating everyday on a regular basis; and good self care by cultivating time for yourself, you develop enough awareness not to be caught by your fear.