In 2016, I decided that I was going to own my own business—I was going to become an entrepreneur.
This has been both the best decision I’ve ever made and the worst. They say “running a business is hard,” but it’s difficult for most people to conceptualize what that actually means. And when I talk to people about what I do and they say, “That sounds really hard,” they usually think the “hard” part is one of the following:
They’re partially right. The long hours aren’t really noticeable as I’m working toward something I really want, talking to strangers gets a lot easier (and fun) the more you do it, and around the 50th rejection or so, the feeling of everyone hates me and this is pointless fades.
The hardest part about being an entrepreneur is managing the anxiety. Even if you’re not a particularly anxious person (which I’m not), dealing with all the worries about being the master of your own destiny is crippling. Things that you didn’t even consider when you were working your traditional job become huge terrifying beasts of thoughts stomping around your brain.
But I learned how to slay those beasts. (All right, they’re actually still there, but I’m far less terrified of them.) Here are three techniques that have helped me deal with the anxiety of being an entrepreneur.
1. Learn how to not think.
I was fairly resistant to meditation when it was suggested to me as a method for dealing with anxiety. I assumed that it was one of those new age things reserved for hippies, mystics and the unhinged. I thought of meditation as just basic thinking… when actually it’s the opposite.
Meditation is the practice of focusing on your breathing and nothing else. When your mind drifts (and it will), you notice that it has drifted and then you drift back to focusing on your breathing. Once I started meditating daily, I became less critical of others’ actions (and mine), I stopped feeling as if everything was a major crisis, and I was able to think more clearly about my business strategy.
Despite meditation making a marked improvement in my life, I still assumed it was a placebo effect or maybe even just anecdotal to me; I was so wrong. In March 2014, Johns Hopkins University published a meta-analysis of all the studies on how meditation relates to well-being—here are two of the most important points:
- “We found low evidence of no effect or insufficient evidence of any effect of meditation programs on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight.”
- “Clinicians should be aware that meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress.”
In non-academic speak, meditation does in fact reduce negative emotions and mental stress.
2. Make molehills out of your mountains.
One dreary Friday morning, I woke up and everything crashed in on me at once. I tried to launch into my morning routine, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even move. My mind was racing with every possible thing that could go wrong, and it terrified me. I was suffering from analysis paralysis.
Once I’d finally managed to get out of bed, I found myself on the floor of my bedroom and did the only thing any self-respecting entrepreneur terrified of the future would do: I called my mom. She helped me get to the bottom of what I was really worried about and helped me realize that the reason I couldn’t do anything was because I was trying to mentally do everything at once.
By chunking down the huge goal (build a business with a million-dollar turnover) to more immediate goals (uncurl from the fetal position and get up off the bedroom floor), I felt more empowered and motivated to literally get up and do something.
Incredibly, a 2013 study by Dr. Joanne Dickson conducted at the University of Liverpool found that “having very broad and abstract goals may exacerbate depression.” When you think about your big ultimate goal, the process and idea feels abstract because you have no idea how to get to that level. By breaking your goals down into manageable actions, it helps quell the anxiety and fear.
3. Track the small wins.
Something that I’ve carried over from my days of having a boss is keeping a Wins Journal. When I worked a 9-to-5, I kept a record of all the things that I had accomplished that week. I originally did this to impress my manager, but having a record of my weekly wins acts as a motivator, too.
A curse of entrepreneurship is that we’re always looking at the next peak to climb. The problem with always focusing on the peak is that you never turn around and enjoy the view. By keeping track of your accomplishments, you’re building the view from how far you’ve come.
Professor Robert Emmons wrote a fascinating paper on the correlation between gratitude and both psychological and physical well-being. His study was based on students writing down things that they were grateful for on a daily basis. He discovered this:
“Participants in the gratitude group rated their life more favorably on these two items than did participants in the hassles group or events group…. The gratitude-group participants experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness than those in either of the other two groups. Lastly, there was a main effect for hours of exercise: People in the gratitude condition spent significantly more time exercising (nearly 1.5 hours more per week) than those in the hassles condition.”
Writing in a Wins Journal works on precisely the same principle, focusing you on the things you’re doing well or the achievements you’re proud of. So at the end of each day, write down three things that happened, things you’re proud of. And at the end of the week, choose your five favorites.
Courage is acting in spite of fear, and if you’ve yet to launch into your entrepreneurial journey, you’ll always feel some level of anxiety. The things I’ve shared with you in this article aren’t ways of getting rid of the anxiety, but they are ways of managing it.
Eventually your anxiety will morph into a feeling of excitement. You don’t know what’s going to happen next, you can’t control everything… and that’s part of the fun.
Related: How to Make Stress Your Friend