Chapter 11 – Loosen Your Death-Grip

You know how they say a watched pot never boils?  Well, the same phenomenon is true with business.  That is, to cope with the sometimes crushing fear and uncertainty that can come from running a business, some of us decide that we are going to control every aspect of our business within an inch of its life.  In doing this, though, we make ourselves crazy, stressed-out, panic-freaks.  If this is you, rest assured.  There is a better way.

To do something about this we first need to understand one fundamental truth.  That is, stress, although it feels like an external oppressive force, is actually completely self-created.  If you have not heard this before, or if you are currently totally stressed out, this can feel like a big ‘ol bucket of hogwash.  I assure you that it is true.  How else could two different people be put in the same situation and have totally different stress reactions?  That is, to some people, losing their job would be a calamity, while to others it would simply be an event.  Of course, external factors can weigh heavily on our reactions.  If we are the sole-support for our family, losing income can feel like a real emergency.  And although this is potentially a big deal, the amount of stress that we attach to it will still vary from person to person.

Why is this?  My opinion is that stress, at its core, is simply about perspective.  If we perceive something to be a huge, scary deal we are likely to feel acute stress.  Our perceptions, though, are completely self-created.  The event is just an event.  We are the ones who judge the event and apply stress to it.  Stress is a choice, plain and simple.  And not only is stress a choice, but it can be incredibly unproductive.  Oh sure, people around you will expect you to show “appropriate” stress for a given situation, but the reality is that although short-term stress can be the catalyst to get you to move and do something about a situation, long-term, chronic stress has the opposite effect.  We get ourselves locked in a continual cycle of fear, completely paralyzed to do anything about it.  We are so overcome with the fear of uncertainty we become completely unwilling to do anything different.  Although we do not love the devil we know, we are far more afraid of the devil we don’t.

It is my opinion that chronic stress is a habit.  It is not a particularly effective way of dealing with challenging situations, but for many of us, it is our tool of choice.  If this is you I would ask, how is all of this stress helping you?  My follow-up question would be how is all of this stress hurting you?  Odds are the answer to the former question is not very much, and the answer to the latter question is quite a bit.

It is common knowledge that stress kills.  Not only that, but chronic stress makes you absolutely no fun to be around.  Not that the effects on others are more important than the effects on you, but it is important to understand how being completely stressed-out all the time is polluting everyone around you.  If you are chronically stressed-out, you are spreading your anger, frustration, and fear on everyone around you.  This does not feel good to anybody, and if this lasts long enough, people in your life will start to distance themselves from you.  This goes for members of your family as well as your employees.  No one likes to be around the brooding, volcanic energy that long-term chronic stress creates.

The important thing to keep in mind here, again, is that stress is a choice.  Rarely are things as bad as we think they are, and fear has a funny way of totally warping our perspective.  If  you are afraid of a situation, it does not matter if you have handled the exact same situation perfectly ten times before, you will still feel stress.  And, the first tool fear usually elicits is control.  If we can just control a situation enough we can eliminate fear, or at least that is what we think.

Fear is a prison, but it is a prison without a lock on the door.  It is self-imposed confinement, and you can let yourself out whenever you want.  All you need is a healthy dose of fear’s antidote, trust.  Things are rarely as bad as we make them out to be, and most of the things we worry about never happen.

Our minds are brilliant at dealing with external threats.  These fear responses in our brains are what propelled us to the top of the evolutionary chain.  One fatal flaw with our brains, though, is that your brain cannot tell the difference between things that are actually happening and things you have made up.  It all feels the same, it all feels real.  So, when we get ourselves into prolonged cycles of worry, we are utilizing processes in our brains that were only designed for short-term fears.  Fight or flight is a great system for dealing with acute outside threats.  See a lion hiding in that grass?  Well, time to get the hell out of there.  With self-created worries, such as worrying about losing your house if the business is not doing well enough, this response does not work.  Neither option will really affect your situation.  Sure, you can get up from your desk and leave, but the problems are still there.  Or, you can stand your ground and fight the problems, but this will probably not change much either.  Of course, going into “fight” is probably better than nothing because at least you will be taking action, and often any action is better than no action.  However, for these types of long-term perceived threats, we need a third way.  Our fight or flight mechanism needs to be tempered with a third option, acceptance.

Yes, as powerful as we may think we are, there are lots and lots of things that we cannot affect no matter how hard we try.  No, we cannot makes sales go up 50% just because we want them to.  No, we cannot cut our expenses by 50% because we don’t like spending so much money.  The truth is, we are where we are and life is a lot easier once we start working with it, rather than always trying to battle against it.  Once we accept our current circumstances, including our own limitations, then we can actually do something about our situation.

Success in business usually happens when we are working on other things, not when we are sitting around waiting for it.  Just like the phone never seems to ring when you are waiting for a call, your business will seemingly be able to be in suspended animation while you are watching it.  Especially with the automation and tracking that is available through software now (especially if you do business on the web), it is now possible to watch every bit of your business in real-time.  Many business owners can literally sit with a dashboard screen up on their computers, watching every sale, every website visit, every phone call, every shipment, etc.  We can inundate ourselves with data, usually in an effort to maintain our own death-grip control.  If this is you, I would ask if this is truly serving you.  Does constantly watching your sales make you feel good or bad?  How are you using this information for anything productive?  Sort of like the person that checks their Facebook page every 10 minutes, constantly gathering data can become an addiction.  This addiction affects everything from our mental state to our decision making process, and not usually in a good way.  We become obsessive and forcibly expunge any sense of ease or joy with what we do.  We become crazed robots, hell-bent on just accomplishing more, just for the sake of more.  We are not sure why we need more so badly, we just know we do.

Being in business is about much more than just making the next sale.  Your business exists because it does something different.  Businesses succeed by getting the big stuff right and working to get as much of the small stuff right as possible.  Success flows out of nailing the macro parts of your business.  By focusing on the minute details of just getting another sale, we lose our vision.  We look at only the end result, not at the cause of the result.  We start treating symptoms of problems rather than the root causes of the problems.  We become myopic, which cuts us off from really being able to have a big impact on our business’ future.

Or, perhaps fear manifests in a different way for you.  Perhaps you are a chronic worrier.   When we lock ourselves in the cycle of chronic worrying, a funny thing happens.  That is, we can actually come to believe that worrying is the responsible thing to do.  After all, we are not being negligent, we are paying attention.  We should worry about these things because we are responsible, and these things are important.

All of this may be well and good, but again, I would ask, how is this helping you?   I would put to you that worry is a useless emotion.  It is a poisonous mental process that is rooted in impotence.  Worrying can never make things any better, and all it typically leads to is more worry.  We become captive to these thoughts, and we get locked into our inaction.   We notice our inaction, so we worry more.  It is a vicious cycle, but it is a cycle that we can break.

So, how do you break yourself out of worrying?  The first step is usually to simply do something.  Often any action will be enough to break the rumination cycle that worry creates, and that is all you really need to get started.  If you can just get your brain to shut up about these things for a little bit, you can start to think of solutions (rather than just more problems to worry about).  Get yourself out of your head and just start doing something.  Realize that worrying is pointless.  Have a problem?  Well decide to do something about it and do it.  Or, decide to do nothing about it.  Either way, there is no need to worry.

Your business is its own entity, separate from you.  Even though it can feel like it is deeply entwined around your soul, the business needs its own space to thrive and grow.  Just like no child benefits from having a ruthless, overbearing, overprotective parent; neither will your business.  Do your best to nail the big stuff and let your business go.  Let it be successful on its own merit.  Because if you do, you will not only truly have a successful business, but you just might also re-introduce some sanity back into your life.