This is the time of year -- year's end -- when we tend to reflect on our lives, our businesses and the world. As entrepreneurs, we often have lofty goals, but can easily get bogged down in the daily stress and challenges associated with running a business. As a result, entrepreneurs get stuck, stressed and burned out.
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Through my own business journey, I've learned that my businesses don’t work unless I approach things with the right mindset. I am continually trying to become a better entrepreneur and leader through five key pillars: purpose, presence, gratitude, generosity and growth. Purpose helps me stay grounded and inspired. Presence keeps my mind clear and calm. Gratitude helps me stay blessed and positive. Generosity connects me to the world. And growth ensures I’m always reaching further, as an individual and business owner.
As we approach the end of this year and the 2016 holiday season, it’s a good time to reflect on how the right mindset can make any of us more inspired, effective and happier entrepreneurs.
1. Revisit your purpose.
When you’ve been running a business for a long time, it’s easy to lose connection with the inner fire that drove you to entrepreneurship in the first place. For this reason, it’s important to constantly revisit all the reasons you started a business. What’s your business’ purpose? Keep in mind that it’s not just success or profits. Profit isn’t a purpose, although profit can definitely be an outcome of your business’ purpose.
I like to think of this as focusing on the "why" and not just the "how" of running a business. Were you looking to make a change or fix something that didn’t work? Did you want to make changes in your own life, call the shots, operate according to your own values or build equity? Keeping a strong sense of purpose will enable you to get going every morning, excited to move things forward.
2. Practice mindfulness and meditation.
Mindfulness originated as an ancient Buddhist meditation technique. It’s since evolved into a range of secular practices focusing awareness on the present moment. According to Mindful.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
I’ll admit that as a compulsive “doer,” sitting down to meditate didn’t sound all that useful. I like to get things done, and concentrating on my breathing didn’t seem all that productive. However, incorporating meditation into my morning routine and practicing mindfulness throughout the day have made a crucial difference in my life. I’m calmer. My thoughts are clearer. I’m less reactive to daily stressors. I’m more inspired to change things.
Meditation might work for you, too: Studies have shown that the regular practice of mindfulness can increase the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex, the area in the brain associated with functions like awareness, concentration, problem-solving, vision and decision-making. You don’t need to meditate for a long time. I typically meditate about 10 to 15 minutes each morning.
3. Be grateful.
As entrepreneurs, we have a lot to be grateful for -- and being mindful of these blessings can improve our happiness and health. For example, psychology studies have shown that participants who practice gratitude (by writing about the things they are grateful for) are more optimistic and feel better about their lives. By contrast, participants who focus on the things that irritate them are more negative and have less energy and poorer health.
How can you incorporate gratitude into your daily life? According to Robert Emmons, author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, the requisite three steps are recognizing what you’re grateful for, acknowledging it and appreciating it. One approach is to keep a "gratitude journal" where you can note down the things that you are grateful for on a daily basis.
4. Never stop learning.
No matter how successful your business might be, you can’t rest on your laurels. In this day and age, things are evolving at such a rapid pace; it’s not enough to assume that what worked for you in the past will work in the future. You need to constantly experiment and study what others are doing. Most importantly, don’t ever think that you have all the answers. Always be open to listen to others.
I believe that growth should apply to us as individuals and not just as business leaders. Author Leo Tolstoy once said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” On a semi-regular basis, I conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on myself as an individual, wife and mom.
Opening yourself up in this way isn’t easy, but I think of it this way: Nothing positive ever comes from avoiding the truth.
5. Pay it forward.
As entrepreneurs, we didn’t get to where we are alone. Even if you bootstrapped your company from nothing, someone or something helped you along the way . . . maybe it was a mentor, colleague, friend, your school, an organization or the local community.
Most entrepreneurs realize how fortunate we are. That’s probably why surveys have shown that entrepreneurs are more likely to make a charitable donation than any other professional. How can you give back? Write a check to a local organization or cause that’s important to you.
Get involved in community service, or donate some of your time to formally mentor or teach through an entrepreneurship/small business organization.
Adam Grant of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania wrote about what he called his “Five-Minute Favor” philosophy in his book Give and Take. It’s a simple premise and requires only five minutes during which you help someone out.
This can be a small gesture that’s of little or no cost to you but can help someone else immensely. For example, you might set up an introduction between some of your contacts. Or meet with a budding entrepreneur for coffee, or answer a few questions over the phone.
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With these simple actions, you’ll not only be laying the foundation for the next generation of entrepreneurs, but you’ll rekindle the excitement and purpose you felt during your early days as an entrepreneur.