I was having lunch with an old school friend recently, who carved out a very successful career as a financial markets trader.
We were talking about stressful working environments, and ensuring positive outcomes in work, and he mentioned something to me that got stuck in my head…
He had trained himself to use his mind’s naturally anxious tendencies to attempt to plan for every possible eventuality when managing his market risk. It clearly worked given that he reached the top of his game!
Since leaving the financial world, he now attributes that conditioning to his success as a strategic thinker and business owner
Now before I start, it’s incredibly important to recognise that real anxiety is crippling and not something that should be trivialised. It can make us feel tense, uncomfortable, and affect our confidence in many ways.
But anxiety takes different forms. For example, many people suffer from generalised anxiety – which can affect our ability to make decisions or cause us to obsessively explore all options through to a negative conclusion.
If you’re in the early stages of business planning, these emotional behaviours will have a ring of truth to them. They may even be holding you back because you see them as a hindrance instead of an asset. What if you flipped that negative and decided to harness your inner anxiety – using it as a tool to set and meet your business goals?
It all sounds a bit back to front, doesn’t it! But this approach has the backing of mental health professionals – who suggest general anxiety is a type of positive stress that can benefit our lives. For example, it could make business planning, communication, or networking that little bit easier.
Let’s take a look at how low-level anxiety (if properly harnessed) could help you make the right business moves and take things next level.
1. Are you struggling to get motivated?
Business strategy, planning, forecasting – and other essential tasks – can wear down your resolve. Instead of feeling excited, you feel deflated and are more inclined to switch on Netflix and curl up on the sofa than slide back into your chair and power up your laptop.
Here is a little tip:
Ask yourself this simple question. ‘Why am I resisting this work, and what am I gaining by avoiding it?’
This is normal behaviour. You don’t have the mental energy, focus, or enthusiasm to tackle the workload in question – which, in your mind, has become mountainous in scale. Business planning? You’d rather be doing anything but that.
But what if you could train yourself to worry more? Perhaps you’re not fretting enough about the negative outcome that will inevitably arise from doing nothing. Explore each option to its logical conclusion and look for flaws – then put in place protocols to stop those things happening. Training yourself to think this way won’t be easy but, with hard practice, could become a successful habit.
2. Try to keep the bigger picture in focus
When igniting that inner feeling of positive anxiety – which should be almost akin to excitement – it’s important to keep unbridled emotions on a tight leash. Your brain will want to explore in multiple directions all at once – so it’s important to retain focus and remain logical. For example, if you’re business planning, flesh out your strategy in stages and explore the merits and demerits of each move in turn.
Control your anxiety this way and you’ll be able to keep the bigger picture in focus by breaking it down into discrete stages that are less overwhelming. Again, mastering this technique will be no mean feat, but could pay dividends in the longer-term.
Try heading out for a walk to distract yourself from the immediate situation and also clear the anxious energy, so that you are free to start using logic.
3. Avoid getting stuck and move-forward instead
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get trapped in a negative thought loop that stops you making progress. Instead, you focus on the worst-case scenario which leads to nothing being done at all. This is a form of anxiety you need to unlearn if you want to avoid getting stuck in a rut.
So what can you do if anxiety is impeding your business strategy, planning, and other important tasks? The answer is deceptively simple: separate what’s possible from what’s probable. That way, you’ll become a master of your anxiety instead of a slave to it.
Your business planning might be off, meaning you could find yourself out of work within the year. But is that a probable outcome? You’ve put a lot of effort into your research, marketing, and business planning, so the chances of your company failing are low. Separate your worst fears from the most likely outcomes and your anxiety will become an indispensable tool in your armoury.
Don’t let your anxiety control you
As mentioned earlier, real anxiety is serious and debilitating. It’s important to recognise those emotions – so you remain fully in charge and don’t get overwhelmed by negative or conflicting emotions.
Here are four tactics you can adopt and put into practice right away to start supporting yourself when you’re feeling these emotions:
- Recognise what you can and can’t control. Things can get out of hand if you don’t have a plan. Structuring your time and creating lists can help break down tasks into manageable chunks.
- Share your feelings with others. A problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes. Talk to a co-worker, friend, or family member about the issue you’re having.
- Shift your focus to a different task. If business planning is making you anxious, change tack and work on your marketing strategy instead.
- Schedule 15 minutes a week to explore the way you feel about work. Write down everything that relates to your activities this week. What you have done and avoided? This might help to identify a trigger of procrastination.
It’s amazing how quickly you will work through these things when you set the timer and allocate time to offload from your mind to paper.
Anxiety in business is normal and can be of benefit if approached the right way – as long as you remain in control of it. But it’s also important to recognise those harmful emotions and take decisive action to prevent your mental health suffering.
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