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The Myth of the Anxious Entrepreneur (A Holistic Approach)

“I’m just an anxious type.” is a sentence that keeps far too many people — entrepreneurs included — enslaved in maladaptive behavioural and emotional patterns that don’t only risk their health but that of their business as well. Accepting and ultimately identifying with being an “anxious/nervous type” and by extension an “anxious entrepreneur” means you resign to the pattern rather than try to change it. Let’s bust this myth and create a new, more positive identity.

If you’re nervous or anxious most of the time, you have a dysregulated nervous system and you might have time management issues and/or unhealthy boundaries. If this has been going on all your life, it’s pretty easy to mistake the pattern with an aspect of your personality and think that this is just who you are “an anxious type”.

Except there’s no such thing as a nervous or anxious type. You might understand this rationally but when in the midst of the emotions — whether that be anxiety or worry — the last thing you can remind yourself of is that it’s merely a pattern. It doesn’t feel like a pattern, it feels like overwhelming evidence that it’s who you are and who you will always be.

I remember when I was decluttering my mental landscape of what the American psychologist and father of REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy), Alber Ellis, calls musterbations, there were times when I felt I was going crazy. Literally! I had a lot of internal dialogues fraught with should, must, have to, ought to, should have, could have, etc. — I was great at demanding things of myself, and lousy at actually creating change, let alone maintaining it longer than a couple of days or weeks at best. 

I used to be nervous and anxious all the time; unsurprisingly, I infused my business with it as well, leading to procrastination, very little productivity, a lot of stress, doubts, and further demands. Until I changed it! But the process of changing it made me question my sanity at times. I would have strong feelings in my body accompanied by critical, even abusive self-talk and as I stopped myself thinking those thoughts, I felt baffled. There was considerable mental pain while doing it. 

But those who persist, win. I won! 

Now, I can see it as clear as daylight that I was never an anxious type (even if I had identified with it for nearly four decades), I just needed to change my somatic, emotional, mindset, and behavioural patterns. Let me take you on that journey.

The body in business — you embody what you did yesterday, until you change it

If you’ve just started your entrepreneurial journey, you’re probably both terribly excited about it and rather scared. It’s okay, we all go through it one way or another. If you keep working on your business, things will become more balanced: probably a tad less exciting and less scary: the territory will become your homeland and the challenges will be part of your daily routine.

Being scared right now is a sign that you’re venturing out of your comfort zone and doing things that you consider risky either time-wise or financially. You might invest in a business coaching package that can be considered a hefty sum and want to make sure you get your money’s worth for it. You might be spending a lot of time creating content with the goal of attracting customers to you.

The choices for becoming visible as a business owner are limitless: from networking events to publishing your own book. The question is which of these activities would bring the most profit and which would only drain you and offer no financial rewards. 

No wonder you’re scared!

Being scared is felt in the body: it’s a stress reaction which is highly physiological in nature, not cognitive. You perceive danger — e.g. paying for the membership of a local networking event and not getting anything out of it — which sets in motion a number of physiological changes: your heart starts racing, the blood is diverted from your digestive tract to your limbs, you have limited access to your prefrontal cortex, etc. 

Stress pushes us to escape the situation, except there isn’t anything to escape: you’re choosing to do something with the aim of exposing yourself to a greater audience with the hope of increasing your profit margin. 

Now, if you consider yourself an “anxious type” you will enter a stress state a lot more readily and stay stuck in it much longer. That’s what a dysregulated nervous system feels like. It can lead you down two paths: one is avoidance at any cost. Hello, procrastination! The other is pushing through the fear in such a way that it becomes an important component of your daily life. You might even start to believe that you only achieve things because of the anxiety and stress you experience. 

If this is what you think, alas you’re wrong!

Anxiety and stress can propel you forward, but they also come at a cost. They require a lot of your energy. Basically, you’re fighting yourself as well as doing the tasks required. 

So what’s the alternative?

Simple: don’t be stressed! I hope it made you laugh rather than annoyed. Of course, it’s not that simple. Regulating your nervous system is no mean feat. To put it simply, it’s not about thinking happy thoughts for five minutes a day or popping pills. It’s rigorous practice and training. 

There are many practices that help you regulate your nervous system: breath work, meditation or mindfulness, plenty of mind-body practices. The important thing is that you embody the patterns you did yesterday. If you want to embody something else: a calm and relaxed attitude to life, you need to train your body in those patterns, which will then show up in every part of your life: business included. 

When you feel anxious, instead of catastrophizing, you focus on your breathing for a few minutes, calming your nervous system down and once that happens you look at the situation with more objectivity, plan your next actions, and get on with things not because you need to prove yourself but because you choose a course of action. 

At first, it requires effort, but once it becomes a pattern it’ll become embodied and at least semi-automatic.

The emotional landscape of an entrepreneur

We love to think that we’re rational beings, except most scientific studies testify the opposite. We’re motivated by our emotions, at the very basic end of it: we want to avoid pain at all cost and maximise happiness. Now, what we consider pain and happiness can be slightly different for everyone. 

But first, what are emotions? 

When you label a feeling, you get an emotion. Feelings are body-based temporary states that we categorise into emotions. I’m happy, joyful, elated, sad, etc. 

We usually have some dominant emotions that are shaped, recycled, or distrubed through the day. If you tend to have a lot of anxious thoughts, then fear is a dominant emotion in your daily life. It’s a basic human emotion, we all have it programmed into our nervous system: it keeps us safe and it increases our chances of survival. But when it’s on overdrive, it becomes detrimental to our physical and mental well-being. 

Shaping our emotions happens in the same way as regulating our nervous system: with practice. However, there are some tricks and tips that you can apply. Hypnotherapy is one of them. I applied hypnosis abundantly to transform my own emotional landscape, and naturally I use it to help my clients do so too. 

What we want is to minimise emotions that make us avoid things or push ourselves too hard (aka generalised and high functioning anxiety) and maximise a sense of calm and engagement with the present moment. We do that by focussing on the beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. If your core belief is that anything you do is lacking and that the world is there to get you, your most dominant emotion is going to be fear and you’ll be chronically stressed. Bad for you, bad for your business!

If, however, you have a loving and compassionate relationship with yourself and focus on possibilities and kindness in the world, you’ll experience a lot more joy in life and feel more calm. This isn’t a state that only favours a few of us, it’s something we can create and maintain!

It’s a matter of focus and practice. 

A distinguishing feature of an entrepreneur is that we see possibilities where others see problems. If you have an emotional landscape that propels you forward with ease and flow, you’ll become a force of nature!

Entrepreneurial mindset: beyond a fixed mental world

The American psychologist, Carol Dweck, has devoted her career to studying mindset: the way we think. She distinguishes between two major mindsets: fixed and growth. 

Someone with a fixed mindset believes that they are who they are and that’s the end of the story. They have to shape — sometimes manipulate — the external environment to survive and get what they want. Stressful like hell!

Those who have a growth mindset live in an entirely different world: they believe that they can change themselves and shape themselves to achieve what they want. They welcome challenges because they love to learn and develop their skills. And more importantly, they love to make mistakes and fail at things because they learn even more about themselves and the world from these occurrences. This is a basic requirement for entrepreneurs! You have to be a self-starter and thrive on challenges, otherwise you risk stifling your growth. 

How do you go from fixed to growth mindset?

You guessed it: with practice! You start by not labelling yourself as an “anxious/nervous person” and see it for what it is: a state created by practising the wrong things. Then, you start practising thought patterns, such as “I want to do this,” “I choose to do this,” “I’m getting better at this.” 

Let’s say you think you cannot batch create content for your social media marketing. Is that really true? Were you somehow born with a disability that interferes with your ability to create more than one content at a time? I doubt it. However, you want to “simplify, and make things easy for yourself” so if batch creation is so darn difficult, work out a way to create content fast and consistently every day, e.g. with your morning coffee. Schedule it and execute it!

You don’t have to fight yourself. You have more choices than you think. You can challenge your beliefs and get down to doing the work, or find a way forward that best suits your personality. At the end of the day what matters is that you do what you need to to make your business a success. And that’s what a growth mindset is: when you see a problem you find several ways to solve it and choose the one that works best for you, thus shaping yourself and the world around without costing you anxiety.

Strategy and structure are your best allies

I’ve heard so many entrepreneurs go from struggling to winning in business by doing one thing: go from a chaotic lifestyle where they were slaves to any and every whim to managing and structuring their days appropriately. 

It’s not sexy! It’s not manifestation, visualisation, or fairy dust. It’s good old discipline and time blocking. 

All the well-established and successful coaches talk about this, but boy is this difficult at the beginning especially when plenty of other voices talk about freedom and more freedom. The problem is that concepts such as freedom can mean very different things to different people. It can mean sitting on the beach sipping caipirinha or at least daydreaming about it. Whereas for others it incorporates a highly-structured life that allows them to only work 25 hours a week. But when they work, they are focussed AF! 

This is something that trips up a lot of rookie entrepreneurs. They have a preconceived idea of what freedom should look like and don’t really know how to go past it, leading to anxiety, stress and “i’m just a nervous type” and “business is so difficult” statements. 

Don’t get me wrong, business is difficult! But you can make it somewhat easier by applying some commonsense to your daily habits or make it even more difficult than it needs to be. 

How do you go about changing daily habits? Start with one simple thing: regulate your sleep. The quantity and most importantly the quality of your output is predicated upon how well you can focus. Make it easy for yourself by going to bed at the same time and getting up at same time every single day — without fail: weekends included. If you do that, you’ll be more rested and you won’t depend on buckets of caffeine that contribute to stress. 

Once you regulate that, go on and make other changes, ultimately creating a strategy: a set of patterns that work for you and deliver you the results you’ve set out to achieve with your business. 

A holistic approach

I changed my life through a holistic approach. Your success as an individual and a business owner depends on your lifestyle. 

If you’ve tried to change things by going on a weekend retreat or doing a course then slipping back into your old life, you’ll know that it doesn’t work. Alas, I’ve seen numerous people get stuck there for decades, even a whole lifetime. 

Choose to get unstuck by working holistically, at the somatic, emotional, mindset and strategy/action levels and enjoy the success you’re creating in your life! All this without the need to be anxious or nervous all the time. 

Struggling with visibility fears/anxiety in your business or your personal life? Get in touch. Let’s hop on a free discovery call where we can discuss your current experience and what you would like instead. My mission is to bring you and your business to life! We can do that by eliminating anxiety and creating structures and patterns in your life that benefit you and your business.