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growth mindset

For an entrepreneur, it can be hard to accept you may not be the first at something.

I am still shooting myself in the foot for having not started Froyo To Go when I thought of it years before it became an actual business…BY SOMEONE ELSE!

It wasn’t my dream to have a frozen yogurt truck, but if it had been I can tell you that seeing that FroYo To Go truck would have killed my spirit and I probably wouldn’t have started.

If you have an idea for a business and you see something similar in the world it can be easy to think, “Oh someone is already doing it, nevermind.”

It is easy to let fear take hold and make you think there is a limited space for your idea and if someone got to that space first then there won’t be any space left for you.

But take a look at this Philadelphia google street view snapshot:

LuluLemon and Athleta sit right next to each other on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. Athleta was actually there first and then LuluLemon opened up next door.

Granted, both were already established brands before opening their doors on Walnut Street. Time will tell which one holds out or if there is enough market space for both to endure being neighbors; however, most of us would be filled with dread if we were thinking about opening up a luxury athleisure clothing brand and saw a similar store open up on the same block.

The world of ideas isn’t built on the same concept as train seats. A venue can be sold out, but can the universe? Can the space where ideas are born be maxed out?

Not at all. Otherwise there would only be one Italian restaurant, one clothing store, one car, and so on.

There is an illusion of limited resources that stops many in their tracks from pursuing their idea.

On Shark Tank, Mark Cuban often tells entrepreneurs that they should be working as if there is a competitor working 24/7 to beat them at their own game, and this is not bad advice for a small business owner.

If you compete against an invisible, but threatening force that is working to beat you, you will most likely rise much faster than you would have if you leisurely set up shop.

As someone considering opening up their own business, this can be daunting to hear. You might be thinking, “Well, someone probably already started in this race and is trying very hard. I’m already behind, why bother?”

Many have the dream of starting their own company, project, hobby, or life direction but don’t put it into practice because of fear.

Sometimes these ideas about how the world works and our individual capabilities aren’t explicit definitions we have decided on, but these thoughts still have a very real impact on our behavior.

Imagine you are looking down into the Grand Canyon. You don’t explicitly identify that you’re a human being who can’t fly, so you therefore can’t jump off the ledge and soar across to the other side.

No one ever says to you, “Hey, remember you can’t fly!”

You don’t try to fly – and you probably don’t even think about flying across as a real possibility – because you have so deeply internalized the idea that you don’t have the ability to fly.

In a similar way, we deeply internalize the idea that there are limited resources and opportunities for us to be successful. Though we don’t explicitly define this belief, it affects our behaviors and decisions every day.

The belief that there are limited resources and/or opportunities for each of us to be successful is the very belief that will keep success at bay.

Relax!

When anxiety creeps into your system it burns up the cognitive energy necessary to complete the work you’ll need to do. Your brain is working overtime to deal with the anxiety when you need it to be focused on the task at hand.

A 2011 study performed by Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, and Brandon J. Schmeichel showed that our belief in ourselves affects our energy level.

The study is particularly relevant for those with weak self-efficacy. As you tire yourself out with anxious thoughts and self doubt, that fatigue then chips away at your self-efficacy. So you end up exhausted and feeling hopeless.

Take a moment to close your eyes and breathe.

Stay aware of the thoughts that pervade your mind.

If you are you talking yourself out of succeeding, stop that train and replace it with a vision of whatever success means to you. You have control over what you think. You can fill your head with thoughts of failure or thoughts of success. Choose wisely and give yourself a chance!

Your success may not come in the package you expected

Take the FroYo To Go example. Had it been my dream to have a frozen yogurt food truck, I might have had to modify it once I saw the FroYo To Go truck.

Maybe I change the frozen yogurt to some other delicacy. Maybe my trucks open up at night, after the FroYo’s are closed for the day. Maybe it’s not a food truck, but rather a brick and mortar cafe.

Don’t be stuck on your success manifesting in one specific way. It limits your potential.

Social Comparison is not your friend

Your only social comparison should be with yourself, i.e. how is your progress matching up to your goals?

The minute you start comparing your success to that of another is when things start going downhill.

That’s when anxiety creeps in, that’s when the illusion of limited resources kicks in, that’s when your self-efficacy wanes, that’s when you take your first step onto the road of quitting.

You can, however, use social comparison positively if you start believing that there’s a space for your idea in the world. When someone else’s success doesn’t detract from your own, collaboration and creativity reign.

Meaning, if you see another business thriving with something similar then you can say, “OK the world likes this idea, I just have to let them know I exist as well.”

It’s not your idea that’s original, it’s you

There are rarely revolutionary, brand new ideas. Typically modifications or combinations of already existing ideas keep the world moving steadily forward.

Entrepreneurs thrive on new ideas, new concepts, innovations, disrupting the old ways to pave the way for some better process, but more importantly: they begin.

They take action. And action begets action, until you’ve eventually carved out a niche for yourself.

Rather than stopping before you’ve even started, use the existing competition to differentiate yourself from what’s already out there. See the obstacle as an opportunity and remember that there is no finite amount of success to go around.

Some people like Burger King, while others like McDonald’s or Wendy’s. I happen to shop at Athleta, not LuluLemon. Look at all of the new products that are born within already dominated markets: like crazy chip flavors, organic juice varieties, or this season’s denim trends.

There’s always room for another product, service, or idea, you just have to begin and keep going.

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We all talk to ourselves when we’re alone. When we’re walking down the street, when we’re sitting in front of the computer, when we’re waiting for our car to come out of the car wash.

And when we talk to ourselves there’s a narrator with a particular bent. Sometimes our narrator is inspiring, but sometimes our narrator confirms our deepest fears for us. Of course it’s always us narrating our own story.

You’d think we’d always choose an inspiring narrator, yet so many of us – myself included – fall prey at times to a terrible, uninspiring narrator. Where does this narrator come from? He/she is born out of our core beliefs.

Our core beliefs are all the ingrained positive and negative thoughts that influence how we think and feel about ourselves, and the world around us. Unless discovered and diminished, core beliefs tend to solidify and resist change.

Here is a list of some common negative core beliefs:

  • I always get the short end of the stick
  • I must be perfect at all times
  • I can never change
  • I must only look out for myself because no one else will
  • I am not a people person
  • I am never listened to or respected
  • I must strictly adhere to my plans

To compound matters further, our core beliefs start to hang out with our cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are beliefs our minds tell us to reinforce something that is untrue, and they typically reinforce something negative.

So you might start with the core belief, “This always happens to me” and end up with the cognitive distortion, “This will happen to me forever.” (Overgeneralizing)

Another example would be starting with the core belief, “I am never listened to or respected” which is then cemented in the brain with the cognitive distortion, “I must be boring and insignificant.” (Emotional Reasoning)

Do this enough and you will build a world around you that reflects your inner negativity, which will add to your stress, which will reinforce your negative self-talk, and so on and so forth. It’s a self-inflicted Murphy’s Law. The loop has to stop somewhere.

[There are approximately 15 cognitive distortions that psychologists have sorted out over the years that you can find here.]

How Negative Core Beliefs Affect a Leader’s Reaction to Stress

These negative beliefs and self-talk undermine a leader’s ability to handle stress effectively.

If you take as an example the core belief of “I must be perfect at all times” it’s easy to see how this will create anticipatory anxiety: you will not be perfect at some point in the future.

That anticipatory anxiety becomes a daily stress – either in the forefront or as a constant background buzz. The reaction to that daily stress is to mount even more anxiety and high-wire behavior to avoid the fear from coming to fruition.

Then, should we find ourselves imperfect at some point (which we of course will) we do not have the required cognitive energy to handle the stress as the anticipatory anxiety has already burned it up.

As another example, a leader with negative core beliefs might react to the news that sales are down by thinking, “This always happens to me.” Or in anticipation, “this is going to happen to me.”

Again, this response does not have the required resilience to think about how to change course. It has already deemed the current reality as permanent and unfixable.

We all write scripts for ourselves for how we will act or not act in certain situations. Rather than write yourself as the character that gets killed in the first act, write yourself as the hero who thinks outside of the box, who keeps the negative self-talk at bay.

How Negative Core Beliefs Affect a Leader’s Ability to Lead

When we bombard ourselves with negative self-talk, our anxiety mounts. As our anxiety mounts our stress builds, and it becomes contagious for all around us.

You might have an MBA from Wharton and a law degree from Harvard, but if you are a stress case your peers and colleagues will not notice your credentials; they’ll only notice your stressed out behavior.

Neuroscience backs up the notion that people find it hard to work for leaders who do not handle stress effectively. Everything that goes on in our environment affects the brain’s limbic system (emotional center). So it goes to reason that a stressed out leader will contaminate the emotional wellbeing of those around him/her. Frantic people make other people frantic.

Effective stress management makes you and everyone around you more efficient and productive.

How to Manage Our Negative Core Beliefs

Become Cognizant. Listen to your inner voice. How is it talking to you? Would you tolerate it if a friend talked to you in the same way? Pay close attention to your exact words and write them down. You’ll begin to see how the voice in your head contributes to stress.

Challenge the negative thought. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my negative thought?
  • What evidence proves this thought true?
  • What evidence proves this thought false?
  • What unhealthy feelings and behaviors does this thought cause?
  • What will eventually happen if I continue to think this way?
  • What advice would I give a friend who feels this way?
  • What conditions should I accept right now? What won’t change?
  • What can I do to make my thinking more positive?
  • What words will express my new healthy thought?

How to Ultimately Beat the Negative Self-Talk

We don’t have to become Pollyannas to shift our self-talk. Simply by maintaining a healthy dose of realism we can improve our psychological health and ultimately our leadership skills. It is a learned optimism.

1. Get a coach or therapist. If your brain is looping with negative self-talk I highly recommend a coach or therapist to help break the spell. It is a sign of strength to admit you need help and allow an outside perspective.

2. Commit to Your Life. Pardon the new age analogy, but if you were a plant would you be flourishing and robust or would you be withered and half-dead? Get yourself in shape, physically, socially, and professionally. Water the plant! The more you are fulfilling what you see as your innate self the less time you’ll have to listen to the negative self-talk, but also…the less it will actually be talking to you in the first place.

3. Perceive Control Over Situations. You can choose how you react to a stressor and thus exert some degree of control over it. This takes practice, but you have to start. Don’t fret if you aren’t a master at perceiving control over situations at the beginning. You need to create new neural pathways in your brain, which requires repeated tries.

4. View Stressful Events as Problems or Opportunities. Those who cope successfully with stress tend to look at the silver linings as well as the clouds. Plus, once the event happens you have to react to it in some way. Might as well do it in the way where you and those you lead stand to benefit.

5. Give yourself some space. If you find that you are consumed with negative self-talk and cognitive distortions you may need to clear your head with a vacation or some time off. I recognize this may not be possible given your circumstances but see if you can carve out some personal time to re-boot your brain.

The bottom line is how do you want to feel about your life on a daily basis? While it may seem like you do not have control over your thoughts, actually the opposite is true: you do. And in each moment when you hear negativity in your head you have the opportunity to halt it and switch to something that feels good.

There’s no question life throws “unfair” curveballs our way. I’m not asking you to like them, but I am suggesting that once the curveball is acknowledged you don’t dwell on how bad it makes you feel.

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If you lost your job and had a family to support you would probably start looking for a new job. Even if you didn’t land the job of your dreams you would take something in the interest of bringing money in ASAP.

That is an extreme example where most people would exercise resilience because it’s do or die.

In the smaller day-to-day life moments, resilience doesn’t always kick in as a reflex. If don’t get the job we want, or our relationship ends, or a stranger treats us rudely it can ruin our day.

The good news is resilience is not a gene. It’s not an “either you have it or you don’t” scenario. One person may have a natural proclivity toward resilience but it ultimately comes down to choice, and choices are voluntary, though they may not always feel like it in the heat of the moment.

So what do we do?

  1. Stop cognitive distortions in their tracks. These are beliefs we convince ourselves are true that reinforce negative thinking. Challenge the distortion to reframe your thinking into a resilient mode. Let’s take a flight delay as an exercise in challenging one type of cognitive distortion (overgeneralizing):

What is my problematic belief?

Bad stuff always happens to me.

What evidence supports my belief?

The flight delay is an inconvenience.

What is a better explanation for what happened?

It’s not just happening to me, it’s happening to everyone.

What are the consequences of this belief?

Anger and stress have sent me into a tailspin.

What would happen if I changed my belief right now?

I could enjoy a nice dinner and catch up on work and calls at the airport.

What are my new core belief?

S—t happens! I can manage inconvenience better.

  1. Reframe setbacks as opportunities for growth.

Non-resilient: I didn’t get the job. I’ll never amount to anything.

Resilient: I didn’t get the job. Maybe it’s not the right place for me. Let me pull my resources together and see what other opportunities are out there for me.

Resilient people recognize the futility – consciously or unconsciously – of fretting over something that can’t be changed. They also look for lessons that might be learned from the setback. Did it happen because of something I did? If so, what might I do differently next time? Did the setback force me to change course? If so, is there a benefit to the new course?

  1. View setbacks as impermanent.

Non-resilient: We lost a valuable employee, so the company is going to hell.

Resilient: We lost a valuable employee, but we can find someone just as valuable who may offer a new set of skills that we didn’t even realize we needed.

Once you realize that setbacks are temporary there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you lose one beloved employee or customer, it’s sad and it’s a setback (I’ve experienced it myself!) but it’s not the end of your success; conversely, nor is it the last time it will ever happen to you. Acknowledge the setback and move on. Stay flexible; change is a part of life.

  1. Manage your strong feelings and impulses.

Non-resilient: I am going to take my anger out on someone.

Resilient: I am angry but I need to move on and stay focused.

Resilient people experience anger; it just doesn’t consume them. We all have this ability, if we so choose. You have to want to move on though. It can feel good to nurture the self-pity, the anger, and the blame. You can go down that road but that road never ends. Acknowledge the feelings and try to move on. In fact, it turns out when you acknowledge feelings it lessens their intensity.

Dr. Matthew D. Lieberman, a research psychologist at UCLA, found that naming an emotion helps to reduce its impact. His lab calls it Affect Labeling. When we name an emotion, activity in the part of the brain that is responsible for vigilance and discrimination (right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) increases while activity in the part of the brain that processes emotion (amygdala) decreases. Essentially, naming the emotion gives you power over the emotion while indulging the emotion gives it power over you.

  1. Focus on events you can control.

Non-resilient: This traffic is ruining my life.

Resilient: Since I’m stuck in traffic I will sketch out ideas for my next project.

Some aspects of life are out of your control. Accepting this doesn’t make you weak; it makes you smart. You can control what you focus on and how long you allow yourself to suffer. When you focus on the external world – particularly when blame enters the picture – you run into trouble. Start with yourself. Focus on your own reactions and your own ability to influence events.

  1. Don’t see yourself as a victim.

Non-resilient: Bad stuff always happens to me.

Resilient: It’s not just happening to me, it’s happening to everyone.

“Why me?” is another way of saying “This should have happened to you.” Being human means positive and negative things will happen to you. If you experience a series of consecutive setbacks, the resilient thing to do would be to look at your own actions and behaviors. Might there be something you’re doing that is bringing on the misfortune? Even if not, know it’s temporary and stay on course to the best of your ability. This is most difficult in times of loss, so I don’t say it lightly but you don’t have to be miserable forever.

  1. Commit to all aspects of your life.

Non-resilient: Once I have the job I want I will focus on my family and friends.

Resilient: The success of one area of my life depends on the success on all areas of my life.

The success of each part of our lives depends on the success of all the other parts. If our family life is in turmoil it will affect our work life and vice versa. If we do not exercise it will affect our stamina – as well as our mindset. We can set smart, achievable goals for all aspects of our lives so that all parts are working with – and for – each other.

For instance, we can make a commitment to exercise throughout the week; we can ensure that we make time for our family and friends; we can make a little progress each day toward one of our goals. If you experience a setback toward your goals, set a new path toward that goal. The most important part is the commitment.

  1. Have a positive outlook of the future.

Non-resilient: If our marketing budget declines second quarter, we’ll go out of business.

Resilient: What can I do to make sure our marketing budget doesn’t decline second quarter and if it does what can I do to ensure we don’t go out of business?

Cultivate a growth mindset, which ultimately involves the desire to be open to learning and change. Things will start to feel like they’re going your way when you believe that you can effect change for yourself. Remember: you want to be happy, so cultivate a perspective that supports your desire.

***

If you grew up in an abusive environment the challenges will be greater and professional help may be needed. The American Psychological Association states:

Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience.

We have a lifetime of habitual behavioral patterns that we’re really good at. However old you are, that’s how much practice you have with your current mode of living. That’s the bad news. The good news is look how good you are at it! You can be just as good at resilient thinking with the same amount of practice. It’s a lifetime goal and, believe me, I’m on the path with you.

I leave you with this quote:

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

–Carl Jung

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