Enjoy the Ride: How to Deal With the Mental Burden of Entrepreneurship

Starting and running your own business can feel like a psychological roller coaster. Here are six ways to help you through it.

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By Michael Vaughan


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As an entrepreneur, you are expected to respond to numerous pressures with grace, confidence and a smile. That's the psychological roller coaster of being an entrepreneur. It has lots of scary turns and drops, but the fun moments make you feel totally alive. I'm working on my third company, and I can't imagine doing anything else.

Many things can, and will, go wrong. Computers stop working during a presentation, new products do not function as planned, multiple days go by on the road with little or no sleep. Many people can relate to these hardships, however, many aren't responsible for making payroll, borrowing against their home's equity to keep the lights on or deciding the company's future.

Related: 6 Ways to Strengthen Your Willpower Muscle

The bottom line is you need to establish ways of thinking and activities that help you deal with entrepreneurship's psychological burden.

Let's discuss the ones you know but fail to implement:

Sleep. If Thomas Edison had slept more, he may have made fewer mistakes. Edison and many prominent thinkers in history have encouraged work over sleep. Our brains need sleep, though. Neuroscientists debate why this is true, but many good reasons come to light. During sleep, we consolidate memories, make new connections, conserve energy and unconsciously chip away at problems.

Multitasking. With so many demands on our time and attention, it's tempting to try to do it all at once. However, our brains are optimized for task switching, not task stacking. When we switch tasks, our brains must halt processing the current rule set and load a new one for the next task. This happens quickly, but halting, unloading, loading and restarting take a toll on brain resources. This is why you feel like having a drink at day's end.

Health. Booze, lack of sleep and exercise, and eating junk food all fit into this bucket. Drinking too much alcohol affects your sleep. Sleeping too little increases your need for caffeine. This leads you back to thinking you need a drink to relax. This cycle taxes your health and your value to the organization.

Related: Are You Emotionally Intelligent? It'll Help You Rise Above Failure.

Now some less obvious ones:

Connections. Your action items list will always be long. Don't let that stop you from connecting with others. A growing body of research describes the brain as a social organ. Many brain functions are designed to process social situations and relationships. However, as our to-do list expands, it becomes harder to connect with others. Not only is this psychologically draining, but it affects the people you need help from.

Vulnerability. Do not equate vulnerability with weakness. Vulnerability is where you'll get your strength. As an entrepreneur, being emotionally honest with people at work cultivates relationships and a culture of people who are willing to do anything for one another. It also is so liberating when people know you are human.

Mental models are the lenses through which people see the world. They bring meaning to an event, fill in information gaps, influence how we react to others and represent how we see ourselves, other people and our organization. A flawed mental model leads to misunderstandings, incorrect assumptions and unintended chaos. The best thing we can do as entrepreneurs is become aware of our flawed mental models and work to replace them with healthier perspectives by connecting and being vulnerable with others.

Finally, make time for yourself. If you don't help yourself, you won't be able to tend to the people and the business you care so much about.

Related: Know Your Limits, Your Brain Can Only Take So Much

Michael Vaughan

Michael Vaughan is the CEO of The Regis Company, a global provider of business simulations and experiential learning programs. Michael is the author of the books The Thinking Effect: Rethinking Thinking to Create Great Leaders and the New Value Worker and The End of Training: How Business Simulations Are Reshaping Business. You can contact Michael at mvaughan@regiscompany or follow his blog at thethinkingeffect.com.

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