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Surviving Starting Your Own Business

Posted on: July 29th, 2012

Potpourri: Surviving Starting Your Own BusinessSelf-help

If you want to survive starting your own business, consider the survival savvy of long distance runners. This came to me after I congratulated a now-successful neighbor who created his own homebuilding company two years ago. (He graciously thanked me for encouraging him to persist during the frightening early months. It was easy to do; he has high energy, enthusiasm, good people skills, solid knowledge and experience. I simply relayed to him the same support that others had passed on to me when I started my consulting business.)

I kept thinking about my entrepreneurial neighbor when I went jogging – something I have done off and on since I was a teenager. During that run, while grinding out the yardage, I recalled a psychological strategy for long-distance runners that seems to apply to new business operators during those fretful early days.

Racing 10, 15 or 20 miles at a clip – like becoming an entrepreneur – demands physical and mental toughness. One way to cope is to alternate two states of mind. One mindset is called “associative.” The other is “disassociative.” You use both for top performance. Here’s how it works.

Associative running 

This frame of mind requires that you focus on what is happening now. You are acutely aware of your body and how it is functioning. You monitor muscles, pulse rate, respiration, perspiration, form, stride, weather, pace, effort, road surface, uphills, downhills, wind, temperature, clothing, liquid intake, and more. You associate yourself with your immediate running situation. You are conscious of everything to fine-tune performance for peak efficiency. You are alert, concentrated, and there are few surprises.

However, associative running has a serious downside. It consumes energy and can be draining. Sustaining that intense focus can stretch the perceived length of an average marathon from 3 or 4 hours to an eternity. That’s where the disassociative mindset gives relief.

Disassociative running

This is the opposite of associative. You disassociate, detach mentally from your grueling circumstances. Instead of closely observing every nuance of your current state, you take a psychological walkabout. You disengage from the weariness, pain, effort, time, distance remaining, thirst, and urge to quit that threaten you as you push on down the road. You think about anything other than the challenge at hand. You fantasize, daydream, and disconnect. When I used to run long distances I would rehearse speeches, recite song lyrics, outline news projects, plan chores, resolve problems, and plot strategy. In short, I would think of anything distracting to make the time appear to pass more quickly.

This mindset too has an obvious weakness. Disassociate too much and you may run too slow, too fast, risk injury, and drift from optimum pace because you are not paying enough attention. Therefore, successful runners connect and disconnect, associate and disassociate. They focus and then they back off when the effort seems overwhelming, running associatively and disassociatively. The secret is adopting the right frame of mind at the right time.

We must do much the same thing to win the long run of creating a successful new business.

Associative working 

This is almost automatic, or should be. The drive to win, fear of failure, and sheer competitiveness will compel you to concentrate on the crucial elements of marketing, sales, accounting, overhead, competition, prices, market demand, personnel, and more. With hyper-vigilance, you monitor good business basics. However, as with long distance running, maintaining this intensity can worry you sleepless, diminish quality decision-making and thought, or even burn you out.

Disassociative working

This is much harder because it is counter-intuitive, and I personally find it difficult. You just have to learn to let go. Think about anything but work. I prefer extended drives where I force myself not to linger on business thoughts. I believe disassociating is essential because I almost burned out for failing to do it – a common pitfall for entrepreneurs.

Eventually I deliberately disconnected from the business, sometimes just a few hours at a time at first. It was transforming. I work just as hard, but because of judicious “disassociative” mental breaks, it is not seemed nearly as difficult to manage emotionally. So, I am accomplishing as much, and enjoying it more. I became stronger for the breaks.

Therefore, as with distance running, to win at business I suggest you apply the right mindset at the right time. Associate and disassociate. Learn when to do both. Operating your own business is a long-distance race where you need to coast on occasion so you can hit your stride at the finish line.

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