I’ve never been under any illusions about how hard it is to build a successful business. As a journalist, many of the entrepreneurs I’ve met have talked about how much discipline, hard work and self-belief is involved to take a business to sustainability.
But although I would say I’ve known this for a long time, I’m only just beginning to fully understand how important your mindset is in business. I don’t think you ever feel 100% ready to start a business, but the more I hear from people who’ve turned their business (or life) around, the more I’m convinced that before we can achieve our full potential, we must first believe we’re worthy of success (however you define it).
As someone who regularly battles with self-doubt, for a long time I’ve felt stuck and frustrated. I’ve wanted to move forward but felt a huge sense of resistance, anxiety and fear holding me back.
Earlier this year I reached a bit of a crunch point. I felt like I’d been spinning my wheels for too long and had a strong sense that before I could move forward, I had to take a step back and work on developing myself first. I had to create a stronger foundation for growth.
It’s funny, after I wrote the first draft of this piece I listened to this episode of The Lively Show with Hal Elrod (author of The Miracle Morning*), and Hal articulated this idea perfectly: “it’s not about doing more, it’s about becoming more”.
Hal talks about hitting “rock bottom” in 2008-9 as a result of the economic crash. His business went into a tailspin, he lost clients left, right and centre and racked up $52,000 worth of credit card debt. He called a friend for help, who advised him to start going for a run each morning while listening to a business podcast or audio book. After initially resisting the idea, he gave it a go, and refers to this as the morning that changed his life.
While on his run, he heard this quote from Jim Rohn:
“Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development, because success is something you attract by the person you become.”
Although he’d heard this before, he fully appreciated its meaning for the first time and realised: “I’m not dedicating time each day to become the person I need to be to create the success I want in my life.”
In the podcast episode, he goes on to share how he transformed his life by crafting a killer morning routine which incorporates six practices, including meditation and exercise, to put him in a state of peak mental and physical performance each day, as well as continually learning and developing his skills. I won’t give the rest away (it’s well worth listening to in full) but I was pleased to see that some of the habits I’ve been cultivating are ones he recommends.
Today, I want to share some of the practices and ideas that have been helping me to move forward and overcome self-doubt, with the caveat that this is a process and I still have a long way to go! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too: do you suffer from self-doubt around your business or creative work, and what helps you overcome this?
If you’re anything like me, right now you’re thinking: ‘Yeah, yeah, I know you should meditate. What’s next?’
But are you actually doing it? Because I wasn’t. Again, Hal hits the nail on the head: “There’s a difference between knowing something and living it.”
A few weeks ago, I actually started meditating, and already it’s opened my eyes to so many things. After a few weeks of just 10 minutes a day (OK, most days) I’ve noticed subtle but positive changes in my state of mind and feel more calm and focused. I’m using the Headspace app and can’t recommend it enough. It starts you off with 10-minute daily guided meditations which make it easy to fit into your schedule – I find first thing after I get up works best for me.
I still have a long way to go but I’m excited to see the impact this has on my life over the months to come. If you’re interested, you can sign up for 10 free sessions here.
Reconnecting with your purpose
When it comes to starting this blog, I definitely took the ‘Lean Startup’ approach: launch your ‘Minimum Viable Product’ as soon as possible, then test, learn and iterate around real people’s feedback, rather than spending a long time honing and refining your plans before launch (of course this approach is not advisable if you’re taking on a big financial risk with your venture – the startup costs for my blog were less than £100.)
In the words of Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton, which I’ve shared before, if you wait until your idea is perfect in your head before you launch, it’ll probably never happen. That first step is often the biggest mental hurdle – one that many people never clear – and once you start taking practical steps towards turning your idea into reality, you can often build the momentum you need to keep going.
But with that said, while there certainly are benefits to this approach, once I took a step back I really started to notice the absence of a proper plan. I realised I had lost sight of my purpose, fallen into the comparison trap and become distracted by things I felt I should be doing, rather than staying on my own path. Of course I felt uncertain and directionless, I literally was.
So I retraced my steps and gave myself permission to start with a blank slate. I took a step back to redefine and refocus my vision and the different ways I could move forward. This was such a positive exercise for me. It helped me reconnect with what I’m doing, why I’m doing it and who I’m doing it for, as well as coming up with a plan that both lights me up and is based around my unique skills and interests.
Consuming content more intentionally
Something else that has helped me immensely has been becoming a lot more selective and intentional about the content I consume, and actively seeking out content that will uplift and help me grow as a person. I’m also being more selective about how and when I consume content from others in a similar space to avoid falling into the comparison trap (and the feelings of self-doubt this can sometimes bring on).
Now, I listen to podcasts most days and it’s been energising to hear from people who have been through similar challenges and how they’ve overcome them. I also feel like I’m actively learning and developing my skills each day, which is helping me figure out new ways to move forward and find the confidence to do so.
Focus on what you can give
It’s not always easy to do, but letting go of how you might be perceived and focusing instead on how you can help and be of service to your audience can re-energise you, if you let it.
When I think about this, it lights me up. It no longer matters what anyone else is doing or whether I measure up, I know what my mission is and I can simply keep trying my best to fulfil it.
Set your own rules
As mentioned, one of the reasons I lost sight of my purpose (as well as the absence of a plan) was that I’d become too distracted by what I thought I should be doing, rather than focusing on charting my own course.
My inability to live up to these (entirely self-imposed) expectations and ideals left me feeling depressed and doubting myself, and I’d genuinely forgotten that this space can be anything I want it to be. Remembering that, and that all that really matters is serving my audience in the best way I know how, has been liberating and energising.
Move forward with imperfect action
This interview with Michael Gebben on the Unmistakable Creative podcast contains another useful idea on how to overcome creative fears, with ‘imperfect action’.
Sometimes I forget that imperfect action is better than inaction; for example, I’ll forget that making the effort to reach out to someone with an email or supportive comment, even if it’s not phrased perfectly, is better than not reaching out at all. That person will have no idea that I intended to act.
Similarly, with client work sometimes we can forget that our client would probably prefer a solid piece that meets the deadline than a polished piece that’s late, and not a whole lot different to the solid piece before you started polishing it. Further reading: Seth Godin – Polishing perfect.
Remember how far you’ve come
It’s great to have goals and ambitions, but sometimes we can get so caught up in where we’re going that we forget how far we’ve already come. This mindset is what Strategic Coach co-founder Dan Sullivan calls the ‘entrepreneurial gap‘. Dan argues that entrepreneurs are prone to fixate on the gap between where they are and where they want to be. No achievement is ever enough; after every goal is hit the goalposts are promptly moved and a new, bigger goal is set. Over time, this type of mindset can not only deplete our confidence, it can stop us from achieving our full potential.
Taking the time to stop, reflect and celebrate each victory, no matter how small, as well as regularly reminding ourselves how far we’ve actually come can help us to keep moving forward with confidence and motivation, rather than obsessing over how far we feel we still have to go.
This episode of the Hack the Entrepreneur podcast has a great discussion on this subject which is well worth a listen: How to Avoid the Entrepreneurial Gap w/ Brian Kurtz.
You don’t have to have all the answers
Something else I’ve realised is that a lot of my self-doubt stems from shame. I felt ashamed to be struggling with running my own site when my career has been based on running other people’s, especially as someone who also advises others on how to start a business. I felt like I should be good at this, that I must have ‘lost it’, and that opening up about my difficulties could put my career and reputation in jeopardy.
Taking some time out helped me understand firstly that building an audience from scratch is a new and different thing. It’s OK to be a beginner at this, and even if I do struggle, this doesn’t take away from past achievements or anything else I may do in the future.
But more importantly, there’s no shame in being open about our shortcomings. (Brené Brown’s TED Talk on the power of vulnerability is a great one to watch if, like me, this is something you struggle with). Being honest about our struggles doesn’t make us weak, it makes us human.