Inc. Magazine: 10 Ways Successful People Deal With Stress Differently

Apr 23, 2015

By Michael Simmons – Co-founder, Empact

Any given day as an entrepreneur is the best or the worst. It’s often both.

The day you win a big award could be the day you’re struggling to meet payroll. The day you lose a big client could be the day you get your biggest one ever. These days can be confusing, and they happen all too often.

What separates successful entrepreneurs from unsuccessful ones is not the challenges. We all have them.

A critical trait that separates successful entrepreneurs is the ability to take setback and after setback without any loss of motivation.

Rather than being some innate thing we’re born with, this is a skill that can be developed.

I interviewed emotionally resilient, successful entrepreneurs to get their perspective…

1. Avoid hitting bottom by reflecting on death daily.

Cameron Herold, author of Double Double, CEO coach, and globally renowned speaker

In January of 2000, I noticed a metallic taste in my throat. Soon after, I collapsed in an elevator and had a near-nervous breakdown. That experience taught me to take stress seriously and take business less seriously. About 95% of what we think is SO SO stressful, really isn’t. We make up that story for ourselves.

So I developed habits that continuously help me keep my life in perspective:

Habit No. 1: Pondering Death. For me, the key is to remember that when I’m dead, none of this work matters. It’s all just a game. It’s what I do to make money so I can enjoy life. Dozens of studies have found that death awareness can lead to decreased aggression, better health decisions, increased altruism, and reduced divorce rates.

Habit No. 2: Taking Time Throughout The Day To Do What’s Important. I remind myself of the things that are important outside of business (things like time with friends, time with family, quiet time alone, time to pursue hobbies, and exercise). Throughout the day, I remember to take stock in how healthy my immediate family is. I breathe. I go to the gym. I went for a 5 mile run this morning. I make time in the middle of the day to chat with my wife.

2. Give yourself compelling reasons not to quit.

Doug Conant, former CEO of Fortune 500 company Campbell Soup Company and founder and CEO of Conant Leadership

In the stormy seas of decision making, I refer to my personal mission statement often. It should include a clear and thoughtfully crafted intention that guides all your actions and specific bullet points that define how you will fulfill that mission. Research shows that without a good reason to keep pushing through tough times, we quit.

I have mine prominently placed near my desk so I can refer to it in moments of adversity. I share it with those closest to me so I am accountable to them as well as to myself. When thorny issues present themselves I can refer to the promise I’ve made myself and then compare my actions to the behaviors I’ve explicitly outlined.

After over 35 years in the corporate arena (most recently as a Fortune 500 CEO), and as a husband and father, I can’t emphasize enough the power of a personal mission statement.

The Franklin Covey Mission State Builder is a great resource for building and refining your statement.

3. Trigger a mindset reset with a little help from YouTube.

Benji Rabhan, founder of AppointmentCore

I personally like watching 5-6 short YouTube comedy videos that get me laughing out loud. I’ve found that this is enough time to take my mind off bad news and regain my positivity.

I call these my dopamine breaks. In a related and fascinating study, a Stanford research team found that funny cartoons activated a cluster of areas in the brain deeply involved in the regulation of dopamine, which positively impacts motivation and mood.

In order to find videos, I recommend going to YouTube’s most popular videos page, which shows newly trending videos. It has many categories so you can view based on your mood. If you like funny, there is funny. If you like music videos, they have that. It also serves to keep you in the loop of the current events from a video perspective.

4. Plan out your motivation so it’s there when you need it.

Sevetri Wilson, CEO of Solid Ground Innovations

I’m single. I don’t have any kids. Both of my parents are deceased, and I’m the CEO of a company I started. So having a source of daily inspiration that affirms my journey is critical.

I create 30-90 day inspirational themes that I rely on a daily basis. I find it’s less taxing when I know where my inspiration will come from so it becomes a fixed part of my day rather than something that’s ad hoc. Different examples of themes I’ve taken on are:

Reading daily affirmations for 10 minutes before I start my day.

  • Reading a few pages out of motivational books. I have a 50-day motivational journey book, Strength for Every Moment by T. D. Jake. Each day it reveals a question.
  • Following inspirational social media. I like Beats Reloaded, @drtiffanybrown, and @joelosteen.
  • Participating in community projects. In January, my base church went through a time where the entire congregation fasted and prayed 3 times a day for 30 straight days.

5. Smile to boost your energy. It’s easy.

Jason Duff, founder and CEO of COMSTOR Outdoor

In the last year, there were a lot of reasons I didn’t want to smile. I lost a key mentor in my life. I’ve been dealing with health issues with family members. Still, I think the easiest and, therefore, first thing that anyone should do when life gets challenging is to smile.

It transforms both the person smiling and people who see that smile. In fact, smiles can even predict longevity.

Smiles also serve as an indicator of how things are going in company and in my life. It’s a red flag if I notice that people in my organization aren’t smiling at each other or I’m not smiling at other people. That’s when I know it’s time to do a gut check and find ways to light that internal fire again.

One of the first books I read when I first became an entrepreneur is Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff, and its principles have stuck with me. If I can’t smile, I know that I’m probably taking life and business a little too seriously.

6. Smile at the beginning of meetings.

Aaron Steed, CEO of Meathead Movers

Similar to Jason, I believe in the power of smiling. Smiling is the simplest, easiest and fastest way to deal with stress. So why isn’t everyone doing it all the time? Remembering or wanting to smile is unnatural if you’re feeling stressed. That’s why I do the following three actions to make sure I’m smiling:

Have Accountability For Smiling. It may sound silly, but I’ve asked my employees to hold me accountable on smiling. I’ve told them, “If you don’t see me smiling, call me out on it!” This has worked on multiple levels. It has turned into a fun little game around the office. I smile more, and my employees smile more. A research study analyzing real-life behavior of over 1,000 males and females shows that more than half of people smile back at a smile.

Smile At The Beginning Of Meetings. I smile when I start new conversations. If I’m smiling, I project a friendly presence and demeanor, which inspires the other person to reciprocate, which then loops back to me. All of a sudden, we’re in a positive feedback cycle. So, 10 seconds of smiling can have a huge impact on a meeting. Given that the average person has 5.6 hours of meetings per week, you can begin to see how this small change could have huge consequences.

7. Do multiple 1-Minute meditations daily.

Ryan Simonetti, co-founder of Convene

The benefit of meditation is widely known.

What’s hard for most people is consistently doing it.

What’s helped me is doing 1-minute sessions throughout the day and on commutes rather than one long session. Research by Stanford Professor, BJ Fogg, shows that when hard activities are broken into smaller ones that are easier, people are more likely to take action.

Here’s the process I go through:

  1. Visualize myself standing alone at the summit of a tall mountain. See the clear blue sky and feel the sun beaming down on me.
  2. Focus on feeling only the bottoms of my feet grounded to the floor.
  3. Take 5 deep breaths. 3 seconds in–3 seconds out.

A great app to use if you’re just getting started is Headspace. Headspace helps you consistently meditate through guided programs and exercises.

8. Use The WOOP Framework To Visualize

Rohit Anabheri, founder of Circa Ventures

I do 10-minute “Guided Imagery” sessions every two hours throughout the day and have been doing so for years. I visualize using the WOOP framework, which is backed by 15 years of academic research:

  1. Wish. I imagine the future state of the business’ success.
  2. Outcome. I visualize the biggest benefit of that future state.
  3. Obstacle. I identify the main obstacle to achieving my wish.
  4. Plan. I think through a key action I can take right away to overcome the obstacle.

This approach recharges me and moves me toward my vision of success. I can then share that positivity across my team. I specifically like the WOOP framework because it grounds my vision in reality and immediate action.

Contrary to popular opinion, positive thinking about the future, by itself (i.e. positive fantasies), leads to poor performance and success. This finding is based on 100 studies performed by NYU psychologist, Gabriele Oettingen.

On Gabriele’s site, you can listen to a 5-minute audio that walks you through the process.

9. Visualize What You’re Grateful For Now And In The Future

Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, You Move Me, and Wow 1 Day Painting

I visualize two things in vivid detail:

  1. Now. What I’m most grateful for, such as my family doing fun things together.
  2. Future. Our company’s Painted Picture, which is a brilliantly detailed snapshot of what the business will be like in three years. It includes what the company will look, feel and act like in every aspect, from revenue down to the way the company trucks will look. Creating a painted picture is purely a visionary process that does not focus on the how.

It’s a simple, quick exercise that always reminds me of what is most important and keeps my perspective in the positive realm, no matter how challenging the day might be.

Taking the time to visualize what you’re grateful for with all of your senses has a much larger impact than simply listing what you’re grateful for. In one incredible study, it was found that simply visualizing yourself doing exercise had a measurable impact on muscle strength!

10. Take Very Deep Breaths

Kay Koplovitz, founder, USA Network and Syfy

I close the door to my office, lean back and take deep breaths for several minutes. It’s very calming, and puts things in perspective.

Breathing is our body’s built-in stress reliever. It can profoundly impact our physiology, and several studies have shown that it affects the heart, brain, digestion, and the immune system.

Special thank you to Ian Chew for being an integral part of putting this article together.


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