How Stressed Entrepreneurs Can Learn To Rewire Their Brains For Success
I’ve always tried to be very open in my writing, and I’ve never shied away from the fact that stress is the cross I’m destined to bear in this life.
I’d like to say that my stress is the direct result of being an entrepreneur, but that would be disingenuous.
The truth is, I’m a victim of my own vaulting ambition, setting unrealistic expectations for myself and those around me. Those expectations and their corresponding distance from reality result in my ongoing stress.
Stress, of course, is as much biological as it is psychological. After all, the physical reaction we experience when stressed is all about self-preservation.
It came in quite handy when our ancestors were running from a predator, but is less than helpful when we experience it in our modern lives.
For the longest time, I found myself working to treat the symptoms of stress. I’d take the occasional vacation and practice mindfulness techniques when things got rough.
However, any relief I experienced was fleeting. Eventually, I realized that I needed to stop trying to manage symptoms and instead work to rewire my brain to cope better with the nature of stress itself.
The human mind is a fascinating thing, and far more flexible than we assume.
The mind can transform over time, learning to cope with everything from daily challenges such as stress to even catastrophic injury. This flexibility has a name: neuroplasticity.
Put simply; your brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself, create new neural pathways, and expand neural networks. One simple way to create these pathways is to change your recurring thought pattern.
If you’re anything like me, your stress follows a fairly predictable pattern.
You encounter some external stimulus, whether it’s a bad sales call or problem with your product. That stimulus, in turn, triggers a series of negative thoughts and feelings that cause a physical reaction: a quickened heartbeat, headaches, irritability, etc.
In turn, these physical reactions lead to more stressful thoughts, and the whole cycle repeats.
Identify and address the thoughts that provoke stress
But what if you changed your response to that external stimulus?
Early on at BodeTree, we had some rough sales presentations. We received more rejections that I care to remember, and each time I felt as though it was a personal affront. People didn’t just not like our product; they didn’t like me. That type of thinking caused me a lot of unnecessary stress until I changed the way I thought.
Instead of taking the rejection of my product personally, I looked at it as a means of improving.
In their rejection, these people were giving me the answers to the test in a sense. Each time I received a “no,” I took the opportunity to deconstruct their reasoning and improve going forward.
That exercise went a long way in rewiring my brain’s reaction to stress. However, it was not the end-all solution. I also had to learn to avoid the triggers and bad behaviors that provoked those reactions in my mind.
One such bad behavior was my compulsive financial modeling. I had a master model that outlined every aspect of our business, and would obsessively tweak assumptions and performance benchmarks.
As I did that, I’d invariably model out the worst-case scenarios and drag myself into a stress spiral.
I realized, however, that the entire exercise was pointless. Wallowing in the theoretical did nothing to help me move the business forward.
Further, it was a behavior that I knew sent me down a stressful path. I stopped the behavior and learned to actively avoid other triggers that I knew were counterproductive.
Remember that stress is just a symptom
There is a tendency to treat stress as a problem in and of itself, rather than a symptom of something larger.
The hard truth that we must each face is that stress is only a side effect of some greater dissatisfaction in our lives.
This is a difficult concept to come to grips with, because it asks us the tough questions and delve into our innermost thoughts and desires.
The only solution is to give ourselves the room to actually get to know ourselves. It sounds trite, but it’s true. Self-understanding is the only way to get to the root of stress and ultimately rewire the way we engage with the world.
It’s important to remember that the mind is far more malleable than we tend to think. It’s possible to reprogram your brain to handle stress more effectively by disciplining our thoughts, avoiding the triggers that provoke negative reactions, and resolve to take action.
Stress will always be a part of the entrepreneurial life, but with enough effort, it’s possible to break its control over you.