There are many metaphors that people use to describe the inner experiences of being a start-up entrepreneur, and "roller coaster" is one of them for a reason. The upswings are great. The downturns are filled with ambiguous data you have to answer, far too much to do, and people bringing your problems to you. This can at times fill you with some pretty tough demons in your head.
In my practice of coaching startup founders and leaders, I have found that the best way to counteract them is to get in touch with the "three themselves." They are: self-awareness, self-compassion and self-talk. This is how they help.
Self-awareness . Sometimes you just get in a bad mood and you do not know why. Examine yourself. Your emotions get in the way, even if you do not understand it. Once you find out what is causing the turn, you can do something about it.
One exercise I ask my clients to do is to use a very quick self-check-in once or twice a day. The questions are: What gave you energy today? What demotivated you? What steps do you want to take now?
My client Sanjay, another startup founder who is in the early stages of building a new energy company, did this. He knew that in his time at his first start-up he could be moody, and that it sometimes hindered the company's progress. When he got used to a daily self-check-in, he saw that what excited him was about technology ̵
Self-compassion . When you find something very clear in your self-observation scan, you can sometimes just correct it. But sometimes you identify some nasty gremlins that do not whisper such sweet things in your ears as "You really screwed up this time" or "You'm a scam."
Your next step is to take a moment. , find perspective, and pity yourself. You will always have setbacks and times when you fall below your own or others' expectations. You may struggle with fraud syndrome – as many achievements do – or from comparing yourself to others ("Jeff Bezos would never have this problem").
Acknowledge that you are human and that everyone has difficult thoughts. Self-compassion helps you get through these tough moments by allowing you to accept and forgive yourself for real or experienced shortcomings. It allows you to have some distance from your emotions and gives you perspective. Research shows that when you have more self-compassion, you are able to work towards coping more easily, take greater risks and bounce back faster from setbacks.
One tool to help you bring more compassion for yourself: Ask yourself how you would like it with your best friend if she shares these voices with you? You will probably feel loving for her and offer her support and encouragement. Offer it to yourself.
Self-talk . Now that you've identified how you feel and given yourself permission to feel it, it's time to do what I call the "turn" and give you some nutritious self-talk to make room for the negative talk.
When I suggested finding some productive phrases for my client Andrea, the CEO of a financial services startup, she looked at me skeptically and said, "Since you became Tony Robbins?" Although motivational speakers may have given affirmations a bad name, there is in fact very thorough research that proves that motivational self-talk has a positive impact on performance. The Science Journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise has published a number of studies on the use of positive self-talk to improve athletes' results. The effect is so dramatic that 93 percent of Olympic athletes use positive self-talk and visualization. (And by the way, the work of Tony Robbins is also supported by research.)
Once you become aware of your inner dialogue, you can see that you are constantly talking to yourself without being fully aware of it. You already have self-talk inside you. If it is negative, you can consciously switch it to positive. Some phrases my clients use are "You can do it" and "Step by step." Make it a habit to also notice when you do a good job and compliment yourself for it. I literally say "Good job, Alisa!" loud when I do something I'm proud of. Think about a few sentences and see what works best for you.
To fight your own negative inner voices, three are even better than one.