Stress and the Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship can be a very stressful proposition. We’re trying to build our businesses and encounter countless challenges along the way. Cutthroat competition, product design issues, labor shortages, cash flow problems, slow sales, shipping snafus, government regulations, incredibly tight deadlines, lack of sleep and a host of other struggles. A lot of this is simply unavoidable and part of the growth and scaling process. How we deal with stress under duress is the name of the game.

Here are several questions we can ask ourselves. Is stress negative and draining? Do we view stress with fear and trepidation? Is stress something that we must survive? Or do we embrace stress and use it to “lean in” and thrive? You may think that thriving in stress is counterintuitive. But it is not.

It’s a fact that there are many opportunities for situations to become stressful. However, just because a situation is stressful doesn’t mean that we have to buy-in and take on the stress for ourselves. I know – this is certainly easier said than done. We start by observing how we normally react when confronted with potentially stressful circumstances. Some people withdraw and climb into a shell. Others might be combative and hypersensitive. Still others may wear their heart on their sleeve and present a woe-is-me portrait. Finally, there are those who may show panic and confusion. As entrepreneurial leaders we cannot afford to display any of these tendencies.

How we react outwardly is important to our team. If we are snippy and curt with the people around us, they will sense that something is wrong. If we show fear they will smell fear and know that something is wrong. By maintaining an optimistic and cheery demeanor at all times, we can ensure the mental health of our enterprise. I realize that this is pretty hard to do if we really aren’t feeling all that confident in the situation. It’s very difficult to fake it successfully. What to do?

On April 17, 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 bound from New York to Dallas suffered a massive engine failure that resulted in the loss of cabin pressure and the life of a passenger. Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor remained calm under fire and safely landed the aircraft. They didn’t panic and followed their training to the letter. Once back on terra firma, Captain Shults personally spoke to each passenger as they deplaned. What was their secret? They eliminated the emotion and worked the problem.

When we’re overwhelmed, stress can build exponentially. This is the time to heed the old saying – eat the elephant one bite at a time. We break down whatever massive undertaking that is causing the stress into manageable tasks. I am a compulsive list-maker. When a mountain looms in front of me I try and avoid looking at it in its totality. Instead, I develop a series of individual tasks and check them off my list as I finish them. I know this may sound like a mental game but it works for me and it might work for you too.

The next idea may seem like a bit of a stretch, but actually can achieve the concept of leaning in and thriving. When faced with a sticky situation we look for the silver lining and ask the question, “How can I turn this into something positive?” Accomplishing this takes a lot of practice. It involves rising above the chaos and stress to take a clinical look at the landscape and find a way to succeed. I remember talking to a friend who had a major client that was terminating the relationship. Many entrepreneurs would have wrung their hands in despair. My friend immediately reached out to the primary competitor of the departing client and told him that he was now available to work with the competitor. This new relationship was worth twice the amount of business for my friend than before.

There are many other stress-busting techniques – and there may be times when we need to utilize all of them at our disposal. We should make certain we don’t become one-dimensional. Having other interests besides work provides outlets for our stress and frustration. This may include physical activities, hobbies, civic or charitable work to name a few. Meditation and deep-breathing exercises are excellent ways to remain centered and relaxed. It’s important to practice them continuously and not just when we are in distress. Finally, I’m a big proponent of creating and saying positive affirmations. Positive affirmations pattern our minds away from negativity and fear. For example, saying something like, “I am totally relaxed and ready to claim my good!” may be a great way to start. I know it may sound corny, but I’m living proof that it works. Saying a positive affirmation in groups of ten at least 100 times a day will lay the foundation. Doing it for a week or two adds the cement.

We all have moments where stress can build to overwhelming levels. But it doesn’t have to be debilitating if we choose to embrace it; lean into it, and thrive.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 100 – Congratulations – You Own a Gold Mine!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Congratulations – You Own a Gold Mine!

Have you ever watched the TV series Gold Rush: Alaska? It’s a lot of fun to see different miners interact with each other; spend a lot of money, and fight amazing odds to discover GOLD! They are grizzled guys and gals who brave the harsh Alaskan elements to find the elusive precious metal . . . and of course, smile (or snarl) at the TV camera.

If you watch very many episodes you will be led to believe that it is very, very difficult to succeed in finding gold. I disagree. In fact, I believe that each and every one of us already owns a gold mine. You may think this is a metaphorical reference and that’s partly true. But there is a literal aspect to this concept that I will explain in a moment. So what is this gold mine that each of us owns and where do we find it?

If you’ve read my blogs over the years and listened to my podcasts, you already know that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool advocate of maintaining a positive mindset. I believe that there’s a positive energy flow in the world into which we all can tap. When we worry; when we think negative thoughts, and when we act in ways that are hurtful to others, we block that positive energy flow. Then we wallow in our fears, our hurt, our frustrations and our misery – a process that feeds upon itself. And at the end of the day where are we?

Eliminating negativity is critical to discovering our gold mine. Being in a positive place all day, every day, allows us to harness the amazing power of passion and creativity. Do you ever feel stuck in place, spinning your wheels and not moving forward? You may be stuck right on top of your gold mine and you don’t even know it! So what to do? First, start with developing a meditative practice. Meditation is simply the act of dumping the wastebasket of stuff that collects in our minds. When we become quiet and discard the noise and negativity, we create a vacuum. But nature abhors a vacuum and what comes next is the exciting part. For me, a torrent of creative ideas begins to flow.

I want to support those creative ideas in every way possible. I do this with positive affirmations. If you want to become an expert at this, develop a positive affirmation that rings true for you. Then say it 100 times each day in blocks of ten. “Wonderful things are happening in my life right now!” is an example of a positive affirmation. Say it with gusto and different voice inflections. If you do this for a week, your conscious and subconscious mind will believe it.

When negative thoughts creep in, we recognize them and release them. One way to do this is to keep a journal in which we record our negative thoughts. We transfer them out of our minds and onto paper (electronically works too) – and we leave them there. At some point we might revisit them to determine what prompted the thoughts in the first place. But most importantly we get them out of our heads as fast as possible.

So where’s the gold? Here’s an example of how I found my gold mine. Recently I was speaking with a broker about listing for sale a property that we own. The property was purchased a few years ago and we knew it was going to have an excellent valuation – we just didn’t know how valuable it was going to be. In the process, I remembered that more than ten years ago, we sold an apartment property and completed a tax-deferred exchange for a couple of drug stores. Frankly, I figured that this was simply a process of protecting the tax positions for our investor limited partners. I never thought that we’d realize any value as general partners. While speaking with the broker, I mentioned that we owned the drug store properties as well. He responded by telling me that the market for this type of property has changed dramatically over the years. On a whim, I had him analyze the properties and he came back with an eye-popping valuation. We’ve listed those two properties as well and I’m looking forward to the day when we cash significant checks as a result of their sale.

I truly believe that by maintaining a positive mindset, a creative spark stimulated me to mention these properties to this broker. Up until that point I had completely written them off as having any value for my partner and me. By tapping into the flow of positive energy we discovered another vein of gold in our mine. I can tell you that this is not an isolated incident. It happens all the time.

The calculus is simple. An enduring positive mindset allows for the flow of creative ideas that in turn helps us find the gold mines that are ours to claim.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 53 – Is the Lone Ranger Dead?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Blah, Blah, Blah, Bzzzzzzzz

“I need to stop and get milk on the way home from the office. I wonder how that new employee we just hired is going to work out. Wow, it’s hot in here! I’m hungry. This paragraph I’m reading makes no sense. Boy it’s sure hard to concentrate right now. The stock market is way down today. Man I’m really hungry. Note to self – pick up wife’s birthday present. Must also remember to follow-up with Smith on the Franklin contract. Blah, blah, blah, buzz, buzz, buzz . . .”

Does this sound like what is going on in an entrepreneur’s mind ALL THE TIME?! Do you recognize the pattern? If you are like me, you have a million thoughts crossing your mind at warp speed and on a continual basis throughout the day. There are all kinds of statistics to be found, but the National Science Foundation provides a range of 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day for each of us. Even on the low end, that’s a lot of thoughts. As a result it’s easy to become overwhelmed by our own minds. We are constantly bombarded with massive amounts of stimuli – much more so than ever before. I believe that the Internet and technology in general has enabled us to be connected with a multitude of people and things that contribute to this trend. Think about a farmer in the 1800s. He might read a newspaper every once in a while. Beyond that, he wasn’t really in touch with the world outside his own small community. He worked hard physically. His mental challenges were pretty much limited to providing for and taking care of his family.

How hard would it be to just to sit quietly for 30 minutes and think of absolutely nothing? I don’t know many people who can actually do this. And yet, we need to be able to clear our minds of the clutter that accumulates throughout the day. A friend of mine has some wonderful advice. He says, “Listen deeply into the silence behind the noise.” Yes, much of what we think is just noise. Have you ever tried to talk on the phone with someone while a very loud conversation is occurring within earshot? Have you ever tried to focus and concentrate when there’s a loud television blaring in the background? This is exactly what is happening in our minds with all the thoughts competing for attention. So what to do?

To listen deeply into the silence behind the noise means that we must clear and quiet our minds. There’s probably nothing harder for us entrepreneurs than to slow down and turn off our thoughts. But I think you’ll agree that when this is accomplished the flow of creative energy becomes even greater than before. And of course creativity leads to better products and services; a more acute awareness for solving problems, and stronger interpersonal relationships. Whether you meditate, practice yoga, take long walks, or engage in some other daily mind-clearing activity the important thing to remember is to be present. Most of us are either thinking thoughts about the past or the future. When I take a walk I try and focus on where I am and what I’m experiencing in the moment. I observe the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the birds I’m seeing in the trees and the sounds that are cascading around me. Above all, I’m able to push all of the thoughts about past and future out of my head and live for the moment during the time I’m taking my walk.

We must be intentional about clearing our minds of the clutter that accumulates. Only then will our creative energy be heightened in positive and rewarding ways.

 This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Curious?

How curious are you? This may seem like a curious question (pun intended) for me to be asking. But follow along. Remember when we were in elementary school how the world looked so huge? We were in awe and wonderment of all there was to learn. When my daughters were young the phrase I heard the most was, “Daddy, why ______” – then fill in the blank. Why does the sun come up in the east instead of the west? Why do dogs bark but chickens cluck? And the list goes on forever. The point is, as children we were curious about nearly everything.

As we get older our curiosity changes and our questions are generally more mature. Naturally we’ve learned a lot over the years and sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in a “learning dearth” rut. In other words, we ask fewer questions and seek fewer answers. If we’re not careful we can become very one-dimensional, wrapped in our comfortable cocoon and drifting along on the river of life. I’m not being critical, but as entrepreneurs, we can be more effective and accomplish more if we maintain our curiosity. Asking why often leads to innovation. Why do certain processes exist within our organization? How could a particular product be improved? What could we do to provide better customer service?

There are a number of things that we can do to maintain the curiosity bug. Reading different publications (not just business books) on a regular basis is stimulating. This might include such topics as human interest, hard news, politics, religion, travel, philosophy, humor and sports. The Internet is today’s version of the World Book Encyclopedia – on steroids! Sometimes I’ll simply surf an obscure site just to see what’s there. A walk through Home Depot serves the same purpose. Frequent conversations with friends and colleagues are invaluable in stoking curiosity. Attend sporting events, the theater, concerts, seminars and other live activities. For me, I’m constantly asking the why, what, how, where and when questions in the context of everything I see and do.

We can become more creative and innovative by being intentional about arousing our curiosity. Blend this with some quiet, meditative time, and we find new ideas pouring into our consciousness. This quiet time is critical for it gives us the opportunity to empty our minds of all the clutter that accumulates through the course of the day. And the vacuum that is created opens the way for solutions to problems to emerge and for new opportunities to be born. But curiosity is the beginning of this winning formula.

If you feel like you’ve become a bit stale in the curiosity department, I recommend that you keep a simple journal for a few weeks. Record the things you do each day to stimulate your curiosity. Write down any new ideas that you have. See how many why, what, how, where and when questions you can ask . . . and answer. Don’t forget the quiet time that is needed each day to allow your curious mind to make sense of all of this.

Curiosity, creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand. We’re never too old to recapture that childlike curiosity that we experienced when we were seven.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Quiet

Question: I find that when I go to bed at night I have a hundred thoughts running through my head. Sometimes it’s hard to get to sleep. I know that I’m a busy person but is this normal?

Answer: Busy people – especially entrepreneurs – process a lot of information on a continual basis. According to a variety of sources, the average brain has 70,000 thoughts a day. I’m not sure how this was measured but it’s clear that there’s a lot floating around in our brains. So it’s not hard to see how we can become overwhelmed by mind-clutter. We need to find a way to somehow turn it all off.

There is a way. The concept involves spending a few minutes each day in quiet contemplation. Some call this meditation. But it need not be construed as having religious overtones. Instead, consider meditation as a time to block out the hustle and bustle of the world around us and sharpen the focus of our mind. I find that there are times when my emotional state is not in sync with my mental state. I use meditation to align my heart and my head.

I used to schedule this time of quiet right after I got out of bed each day. But I found that I would become too relaxed and fall asleep. What works best for me is to complete my morning exercise routine and then spend seven to ten minutes in solitude.

Here’s the process I use. I sit in a chair with my feet flat on the floor, close my eyes and put my hands in my lap. I concentrate on my breathing, slowly bringing the breaths from diaphragm. Then I visualize the Horizontal Situation Indicator that is an instrument on the control panel of an aircraft. The HSI displays a bifurcated vertical bar with an arrow on top. When flying an instrument approach, the pilot attempts to fly so that the vertical bar and the arrow become one. For me, this is the way I see my head and my heart becoming aligned. Finally, I clear away the constant stream of thoughts in my mind and create a void. When one or more thoughts creep into my consciousness, I gently push them out to once again create a void.

By calming our minds and pushing out all thoughts, we become open and receptive to the powerful flow of positive and creative energy that comes rushing into the void. And we can see the successful results through new ideas and solutions to problems we are working that present themselves throughout the day.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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