“Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph: a beginning, a struggle and a victory.”
Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t talking about running a startup, but he might as well have been. Everyone who has ever tried to start a new business can relate to that sentiment. You can feel like you’re on top of the world one day, then down the next. If there’s one constant, it’s the sheer range of emotions and experiences that can affect you from one day to the next.
Riding the roller coaster can be tough. It’s easy to advise others to ignore their emotions and plow ahead anyway but that can be a tall order when you’re the one actually experiencing the inevitable peaks and valleys that every startup experiences. Here are a few ways we can cope with the ups and downs of running a startup:
1. Acceptance is the answer.
Life as an entrepreneur is often more unpredictable than a 9-to-5 job. This should go without saying but when you’re experiencing a down time, it’s easy to forget that another up is probably right around the corner. Your highs are going to be higher and your lows lower than most. Once you accept this, it gets easier.
2. Change your perspective.
As psychologist Carol Dweck has demonstrated, those who are in a growth mindset don’t mind failure because they view it as an opportunity to learn. If you’re following opposite thinking -- Dweck calls that a fixed mindset -- then you see failure as an insult. Flip the script.
3. Always keep moving.
Sitting around and brooding about a setback only makes it worse. If you’re having a rough time, make sure your schedule is full of activities. Take exploratory meetings, do that paperwork you’ve been putting off, make tweaks to your product, cold call some new prospects and catch up with old contacts over coffee.There’s always plenty to do at a startup, so finding something shouldn’t be an issue.
4. Retain a sense of humor.
It can be very difficult at times to find something funny about a challenging situation. The trick is to go back to No. 2 and change your perspective. Ask yourself “What could be funny about this?” If you find the answer, it’s often liberating.
5. Prevent burnout.
Your startup is important. Very important. Naturally, when turbulence hits, we throw ourselves deeper into the business to get through it. This can result in burnout, though, and jeopardize much of what is at stake. Take a break. Spend some time with your family. Go for a run, read a book, see a movie or enjoy a good meal. This isn’t wasted time; it’s a way to prevent fatigue.
6. Meditate for 10 minutes daily.
Usually what’s getting you down isn’t your situation, but your thoughts about it. Take 10 minutes a day to meditate, and you’ll see that you have some control over your thoughts. This will help you with your reaction to life’s challenges throughout the day. The benefits of meditation on stress levels are well proven, including a 2014 study by Johns Hopkins which found meditation effective in reducing anxiety.
7. Practice yoga.
Stress can wreak havoc on your body. Yoga helps your breathing and stress levels. A German study from 2005 illustrated yoga’s therapeutic effects. The study looked at 24 people who described themselves as “emotionally distressed.” After taking two 90-minute yoga classes per week for three months, anxiety scores in the group improved by 30 percent versus the control group. Complaints of headaches, backaches and sleeplessness also improved in the group that took part in yoga.
8. Build a strong support network.
The dangers of not having a strong support network are clear. In fact, a 2014 American Psychology Association (APA) survey found that people who felt they had no one to rely on were more likely to report feeling fatigued, overwhelmed and nervous or anxious. While you may feel like you’re out there alone, you’re not. Seek out entrepreneurs who have gone through similar experiences. According to the APA, “[A]lmost all of us benefit from social and emotional support. And though it may seem counterintuitive, having strong social support can actually make you more able to cope with problems on your own…”
9. Stay focused.
It may not feel like it but setbacks can distract us from our goals and take our focus off what is key. Even if you have to force yourself, remain focused on your goals in the face of challenge -- it will help you power through the rough patches. If you must, meditate on and repeat your goals out loud. Doing so can reinforce a powerful sense of focus on these goals. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t. you’re right.”
10. Learn from your mistakes.
As painful as this can be, it’s helpful to have a post-mortem and look at what went wrong. The story of Steve Jobs is a good example of someone learning from his mistakes. Jobs got booted from the company he founded -- Apple -- and his next venture, NeXT, was a failure. Those experiences helped him return to Apple in 1997 as a wiser leader, one who had tempered his early brashness with humility and appreciation for others’ talents.
Will doing these things help you when you’re having a tough day? Sure. Will they help you in the long run? Definitely. However, there’s a reason that acceptance comes first. There are days when nothing seems to help, but if you know these days will happen, then you’ll also know that they won’t last. Enjoy the ride through startup land.