Do you perform well under stress?
You might find your building is being sold out from under you.
Your VA may quit with no notice.
Your bookkeeper could dump you.
As an entrepreneur, any number of unexpected difficulties can arise.
When things like this happen, I don’t initially perform well under stress.
My first reaction is definitely to freak out.
Last month, when my bookkeeper–upon whom I rely very heavily because I have dyscalculia–told me they weren’t going to be supporting my accounting software anymore, it stressed me out.
I felt overwhelmed. I put my head on my desk and cried.
That was definitely a stress response from my nervous system.
It needed to happen.
It’s a natural impulse to freak out when things go wrong or get stressful.
But then you’re in the throes of intense emotions (called an amygdala hijack), with only those emotions (and memories of other times you felt this way) to light the way forward. This is a threat response.
Threat responses to stress don’t serve us well in business.
However, the good news is that, in the face of the kinds of challenges you face as an entrepreneur, there are a number of ways to respond to stress. You can transform your freak-out reaction, benefit from your body’s challenge-response and perform well under stress.
A few years ago, I lost access to all credit in my business. (It’s a long story. In case you’re concerned or curious, I’m financially fine now.)
I sat down to pay my bills at the end of the month, opened my online banking, and discovered my line of credit had been closed.
Can you imagine how stressful that was? Can you relate in any way?
How I performed well under stress
When I lost access to credit, my intuitive experience of the stress transformation process helped me perform well under stress.
That day, I knew I had to find a way to cope and get through it. I was running a business with associates who depended on me for their livelihoods, and my livelihood also depended on the success of my business.
At first, I felt really down. I was saying to myself things like, “Why does bad shit have to happen to me? Am I born under an unlucky star or what??”
Memories of all the adversity I have been through in my life flowed through my mind.
Then, I noticed a feeling of gratitude that I was in my 50s and not my late 20s (the first time the shit really hit the fan in my adult life).
Next came a feeling of gratitude that I had a history of adversity to look back on. (I know, it sounds weird, right? But that’s how I felt.)
As I remembered these situations and their outcomes, I saw how, every time, things eventually worked out for me.
They didn’t work out the way I had hoped or planned or even how I wanted them to. The outcome was never what I could have imagined. I certainly never wished for whatever bad thing was happening.
Yet, every time, it eventually turned out that I was OK.
I decided to tell myself the story that everything works out for me.
I set my phone to play an alarm at 7 am every morning. It showed the words “Everything always works out for me.” Coincidentally, the tune I chose fit with the words and I could sing along.
Sometimes the tune stayed with me as an earworm does and I would be humming it to myself throughout the day.
It turned out that alarm stayed set for a total of three years because I used this process again when COVID hit… and again when I saw that it was time to close my group practice, all times I needed to perform well under stress.
Here are the steps I used, broken down for you.
Three steps to bring your CEO-self back online so you can perform well under stress
Step one: When the shit hits the fan, the very first step is to acknowledge the emotional activation.
You can say to yourself, “Yikes! I’m freaking out.” or “Wow, I’m feeling anxious right now.”
Naming your emotions encourages cortical facilitation. In other words, your CEO-self, with all its vital problem-solving skills that you need so desperately when the shit hits the fan, comes back online.
When you’re stressed, telling your biz bestie, coach or therapist about your experience and naming your emotions as you do so would help with this even more.
Step two: Enumerate the strengths, skills or talents that you used to get through other difficult times.
You can mine your past experiences of adversity and stress for gold.
When things go wrong, often memories of all the other stressful times when things have gone wrong can come rushing into your awareness.
This is actually good.
These memories of stressful times contain gold: information about what you did then that helped, and who helped you.
Step three: Connect with gratitude, for the help you received at the time if you received help, and for your innate coping skills–your superpowers–that supported you through challenge and adversity.
Perhaps the feelings of gratitude might also open you to an awareness that there are many people out there in the world pulling for you.
Sometimes you can connect with a sense of powers greater than you–people, nature, the universe, economic forces–that are at play in your life and business in a positive way.
You might like to take time to savour this sense of connectedness, with other humans, other mammals, or other forces, divine or otherwise.
As an entrepreneur, it’s not enough to simply feel better. But feeling better enables your CEO-self to come back online. This is called cortical facilitation.
When your CEO-self is communicating with the rest of you, you can sort, take in and synthesize information, make decisions and take action.
The last step in this process is to identify the very next action step.
You can use your knowledge of what has helped before, identified in the Enumerate step, to inform your actions.
It might be asking for help–talking to a biz bestie, calling your coach, or consulting with someone–or it might be a concrete step toward solving the problem.
It’s not woo, it’s science
When I lost access to all credit in my business, I used my intuitive knowledge and experience to help myself cope. It’s only after that fact that I can lay out the steps I took.
I recently discovered that the effectiveness of these steps is backed by research, as documented in an excellent book by Kelly McGonigal The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.
Have you experienced stressful events in your business lately? Would you like support to access your challenge response so you can perform better under stress? Learn how to work with me.
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