In PART 1 of StartupHeat’s Founders Focus on Mindfulness, we defined mindfulness for entrepreneurs as:
A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
We also discussed why mindfulness is an important skill for every entrepreneur to have in his or her toolbox as they go about making business decisions. Now I want to tell you how to leverage mindfulness to increase your odds of building a successful startup.
Here again, are a successful founder’s three key steps towards mindfulness:
- STEP 1: Focus (focus on what matters)
- STEP 2: Awareness (be aware of the inputs required)
- STEP 3: Acceptance (accept the situation’s reality)
In my interview with Tim Skaggs, organizational development and behavioral consultant and head program facilitator for the American Leadership Forum (ALF), he described a typical scenario that illustrates why mindfulness matters in business:
“Our minds are moving at light speed when we leave the office every night. By the time we get home, we don’t have an awareness of anything that’s happened from the time we left the office until we pull into the garage because our mind has been someplace else during that journey home.
Researchers say we have between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s an incredible amount of stuff going on in our heads. How much of it are we even aware of? What we generally think of in those tens of thousands of thoughts a day is about the past, so we ruminate. And when we think about the past, those thoughts often have to do with judgment – Am I right? Am I wrong? Are you right/wrong? Do I agree/disagree?
And as we think about the past, we also think about the future – What are we doing tomorrow? What’s next? Where do I want to be in five years? What are my goals? But what we don’t spend much time on is being in the present and recognizing exactly what’s going on this minute.
So, mindfulness is essentially bringing the mind into the present…and being able to just be with that in a non-judgmental way.”
As an startup founder with many responsibilities, decisions to make, and deadlines to meet every day, you might think, “Who has time for any of this?” and “What value could mindfulness possibly add?”
Well, Steve Jobs was a regular practitioner of mindfulness. If he could fit it into his daily routine, so can you.
Making Mindfulness Manageable for Entrepreneurs
At a minimum, being mindful can help lower your stress level, which increases levels of the hormone cortisol in the brain. This build-up can impair concentration and judgment while wreaking havoc on emotions. As a founder, these side effects can be disastrous. If you lose focus, you’re not seeing all your options, not making good decisions, and, ultimately, you’re losing opportunities.
By following the three steps towards mindfulness – focus, awareness, and acceptance – you won’t necessarily have to spend an hour or even 15 minutes achieving a Zen state in order to make well-informed business decisions. You’ll just need to take that beat, in that moment, to filter out distractions, check your emotions, and understand data and other inputs in the context of your situation.
Of course, as an entrepreneur, there’s often a fine balance between practicing mindfulness and meeting the fast-paced demands of business in the real world. I’ve seen many first-time founders make most of their mistakes while trying to strike that balance.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is credited with devising the 40/70 Rule. He said that when leaders are faced with tough decisions, they should have no less than 40 percent and no more than 70 percent of the information needed to make the decision. His theory is that with less than 40, you risk making too many mistakes. With more than 70, you’ll lose the opportunity because you’ll get bogged down processing all that information, and someone will beat you to the punch.
In short, nothing is ever certain. So, you must conduct your own reality check during key decision moments. You consider as much relevant data as you can in the time you have and then you make the best possible, quality decision.
Following A Big Dog’s Lead to Success
If you’re looking for ways to emulate the success of a major corporate player like Google, applying practical mindfulness techniques can be an easy place for you and your team to start right now. The corporate giant started the practice of having team meetings begin with two minutes of silence. And during those two minutes, employees are instructed to do two things:
- Become mindful of the fact that they’re meeting in a room with this particular group of people to discuss this particular subject with this particular agenda; and
- Become aware of the intention you want to set for yourself about how you’re going to participate in the meeting.
Google, a company that has metrics for everything, found that simply setting aside two mindful minutes provided significant ROI by making team meetings much more productive.
The bottom line: mindfulness can and should be part of your daily decision-making process as an entrepreneur. It shouldn’t require a lot of time, and it will benefit your business by helping you:
- FOCUS in the moment
- Be AWARE of emotions and external signals. Filter out noise; and
- ACCEPT the reality of the situation.
Next time on StartupHeat, we’ll build on our foundation of mindfulness to discuss how entrepreneurs can resist the urge to think about getting rich quickly. Instead, they must focus on the problem and not fall in love with their own solutions. Until then, stay curious, focus on the signal, and make mindful decisions on your journey to success!