As a woman entrepreneur, negative thoughts, emotions and stress are constant. You’re worrying about marketing, social media, paying your contractors… the list goes on and on.
I’ve taken a poll of some of the women entrepreneurs I know. Here are a few examples of negative thoughts that come up:
- I feel like a fraud.
- My business will never succeed.
- I will never hit my revenue goals.
- People won’t like me (or the way I talk, or the way I look).
- I am no good at getting clients
- I don’t know what I’m doing.
- That was a stupid mistake.
- Why can’t I handle this?
Do you recognize any of these? Or similar negative thoughts?
Surprisingly, negative thoughts and emotions serve a purpose.
Why do we have negative thoughts?
The truth is that we can’t stop negative thoughts from occurring. Nor can we banish so-called negative emotions, especially as entrepreneurs.
First of all, stress and the related (so-called) negative emotions are a common and normal aspect of entrepreneurship.
We entrepreneurs are facing risks and challenges at every turn. These thoughts and feelings are a normal consequence of the situations we face.
Everybody has negative thoughts.
So-called negative thoughts and emotions are inherent in entrepreneurship. Negative thoughts are human nature.
Negative thoughts are normal, and relate to two aspects of brain function: the brain’s default mode network and the negativity bias.
There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just how the brain works.
You’re probably familiar with the itty bitty shitty committee, the negative, critical voice in your head that comes up when your attention is undirected. That’s the brain’s default mode network in action.
This is why for some women entrepreneurs, keeping busy is a coping mechanism. It quite literally keeps the brain focussed so it can’t wander off into the negative.
You know what this is alike. We’ve all had the experience of a good day that’s ruined by one small thing. All the good stuff disappears and we get stuck on the one bad thing.
Experiences and thoughts of a more negative nature are the ones that stick. This is the negativity bias in action.
Negativity is a survival strategy
Negative thoughts are a result of the brain’s negativity bias, an evolutionary protective mechanism.
A bunny needs to know where the bear is, so it remembers where the bear poop is. Remembering this is a matter of life and death.
Where are the flowers? Who cares? The bunny doesn’t retain that information because they won’t die if they don’t know.
Humans—especially woman entrepreneurs—are the same. Our brains think they are protecting us by telling us negative things.
The good news is that negative thoughts and emotions don’t have to dominate us.
Even though they won’t go away entirely, we can shift our relationship to negative thoughts and emotions, and we can exercise choice around them.
How women entrepreneurs can deal with negative thoughts and emotions
Feeling negative emotion? Here are 3 steps to take
- Pause, and maybe take a breath
- Acknowledge what’s happening.
- You can say something to yourself like, “Oh man. I’m having a tough moment.”
- Offer yourself a gentle touch, maybe placing a hand on your heart area.
Sometimes this can give you enough space around the emotion to be able to carry on.
Sometimes you can benefit from looking a little deeper, and add a 4th step:
- Maybe ask yourself, “What can I do, right now, to support myself?”
For suggestions of small, doable strategies that are supportive when you’re stressed, click here for the three principles of stress resilience.
Thinking negative thoughts? Here’s what to do
- Pause and maybe take a breath
- Try framing the thought this way: Something in me is thinking…
- Example: Something in me is thinking “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
- Take a moment to notice what impact, if any, that reframe is having.
Taking it a bit deeper:
- You might like to then take a moment to be curious: What is that something in me concerned or worried about?
- Example: It’s afraid I will make a mistake. It wants to be sure I get things right, so I don’t have to experience the repercussions.
- Then you can try some emotional self-validation.
- Example: “Ohhhh. No wonder. You’re just trying to protect me.”
Sometimes this can give you enough space to be able to carry on.
Preventing negative thoughts and emotions
In general, stress activates the nervous system. This is a good thing.
As women entrepreneurs, we need physiological and mental activation in order to be able to take action.
But this also makes us more alert to danger signals, and therefore to negative thoughts and emotions.
When your nervous system is more in balance, negative thoughts and emotions are less likely to arise, and when they do, they are less likely to bother you. You will also have more capacity to remember and use tools like the ones described above.
Pro-active interventions are the key to keeping the nervous system in balance.
The nervous system needs to be discharged, soothed and nourished. There are many ways to do this. You can read about these three principles here.
How to overcome the negativity bias
Here are two practices that can help you, as a woman entrepreneur, overcome the negativity bias.
Training the brain to include the whole experience, good and bad, widens your view, helps put things in perspective, and helps you experience more of the positive emotions.
The idea is not that the positive cancels out or eliminates the negative, but rather that the two are in their proper relationship to one another.
Gratitude practice, done right, helps awaken the brain to the good that is all around us. It’s important not to make a list of things you should be grateful for and then beat yourself up for not feeling the gratitude in this moment. Here’s a recording of a guided gratitude exercise you can try.
Savouring the good
Savouring the good is another way to train your brain to include all of experience. While gratitude practice is usually done at the end of the day, savouring the good can be done on the fly.
You are stronger with support
Although these may seem like simple techniques to address negative thoughts and emotions, please keep in mind that if you’re under stress (which, if you’re a woman entrepreneur and/or COVID is still upon us, that’s all day, every day), taking in and integrating new information is often a challenge.
Also, if you’ve experienced adverse conditions in childhood, it can be challenging to regulate your emotions and do this kind of cognitive work on your own.
If you’re struggling to apply these tools, first of all, maybe you might like to take a moment to recognize there’s good reason and it’s normal.
Second, I invite you to take a moment to consider that you are stronger with support. Having support helps reduce stress, making it easier to learn and implement new things.
You might like to consider asking a friend or trusted professional to help you learn and implement these techniques.
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