Over the past couple of weeks, I've been speaking with fifty to sixty customers, suppliers and friends who run businesses. And the conversations have been sobering. There has been a kind of undertone throughout the conversations of fear of and concern over what the future might bring.
These are unprecedented times and the seismic shock that it has had to the economy has been extraordinary. So, we find ourselves in the situation of uncertainty where the future is very unclear to us. And as business owners, that is just a perfect recipe for stress. Unfortunately, it's difficult to function effectively when you are under stress.
You might know me from my work in marketing. But today, I want to talk about the psychology of the situation we find ourselves in. Because there's no point having a conversation about marketing; about how you can get new customers, strategize in exciting new ways and head out to different markets if you're feeling under enormous amounts of pressure and stress. However, we can control stress and there are things that we can do to mitigate it.
Today I want to give you three tactics which you can employ, which should help reduce your stress levels.
Your IQ goes down when you're stressed
There are two types of stress. One is called eustress: It's the sort of stress that you find yourself under when you give yourself a challenge. For example, trying to break a personal best at running or beating your sales target. Those are positive types of stress which we need in our lives.
The other type of stress is called distress which we just shorten that to stress. That's very often the result of us not being in control or feeling that we're not in control of our circumstances. It induces a fight or flight response in us. Physiologically, we get increased heart rate and respiration and our adrenaline levels go up.
But here's something not widely known: Your IQ goes down when you're stressed. Your actual ability to think goes down as your stress levels go up. Now there's a good reason for this because if you are being chased by a lion through a jungle, and you're faced with two paths, you don't want your higher brain function interrupting and saying to you, “Oh, I remember that path over there. Yeah, that's the one where we had that conversation with that nice couple, and oh, I've been eaten by a lion”. You just want your instincts to take over, so you can pick a path and go for it.
So, it's quite deliberate that your IQ is suppressed, because, under those circumstances, it needs to be. Unfortunately, most business owners aren't being chased by lions. We need our brains to think our way through the stressful situations that we find ourselves in. What stress does is take away the very thing that we need to use to take the stress away! That’s a vicious cycle which we must stop and interrupt and that means controlling the fight or flight response. Here are three ways in which you can do this:
1. Getting Our IQ Back
First, we need to control the immediate effects of the stress response and there’s an incredibly easy way to do that: Just breathe. Breathe deeply, in through your nose, out through your mouth. Do it for a couple of three minutes and you will find that the actual stress response starts to evaporate, your heart rate will go down, your respiration goes down, your adrenaline levels drop and consequently your IQ your starts to return to normal levels.
2. Write Your Worst Fears Down
Second, get a pen and paper and write down all of your fears – all of the things that are at the heart of the stress your concerns, your worries, your fears, write them all down and get them out of your head.
Again, there are two strong psychological reasons why you'd want to do this. The first one is that the act of writing releases space in your brain and releases your higher brain function from all those concerns. (Have you ever noticed the same worry floating around your head, resurfacing time after time? The way to stop that thought from constantly bothering you is to write it down and move it from your head and onto paper.
Focus on those things which you can control
The second reason why this is a great idea is that it has a similar effect as if you were having a conversation with a friend and describing to them all your fears and problems. It enables you to get things off your chest and, at the end of that experience, walk away feeling much better for it. Talking things through with someone gives you space to process the emotions that are surrounding those fears.
Writing it down is immensely helpful because of those two things. So, create a list of all the things that are causing your stress currently. Then divide that list into what is controllable and uncontrollable.
Uncontrollable fears are things like the house falling down, power cuts, believing you'll never work again. They're the sorts of things which you have no real control over. (Remember what I said about stress: It very often comes from the things that you can't control.) Just write them down and park them. They're not real or controllable, so getting them out of the way enables you to focus on those things which you can control.
3. Your Protect & Prepare Emergency Plan
Third, once you have your list of uncontrollable and controllable fears, focus on the just the controllable fears. Under each fear, I want you to write the word “Protect”. Under that, you’re going to come up with a plan for each fear that stops that fear from becoming a reality. For example, let's say that one of your fears is cashflow drying up. What can you do to protect yourself from that becoming a reality? You could negotiate with customers, get some payment terms over to them, get commitments of dates they're going to pay. You could negotiate with suppliers, get terms extended, request a rent holiday, find ways of reducing the overheads in the business and reducing costs. Perhaps look at zero cost ways of marketing to try and attract new business. You could look to try and reactivate old customers. All these things then form the plan that protects you from that fear.
Take action against your fears with your protect and prepare plan
Once you've got your “Protect” plan together, write another word underneath, “Prepare”. This is what you’re going to do if that fear does become a reality. If, despite all your protection measures, it still happens. Now write down what you can do to mitigate the effects of that circumstance. For example, let's say you run out of cash. What can you do? Well, you could sell some assets in the business, apply for a business continuity or interruption loan, you could privately put some money into the business or look for investment from an entrepreneur.
What happens as you build up the Protection and Prepare plan is that you mitigate and dissolve each one of your fears. It may be that they never actually turn into reality, but if they do, you've got measures in place that enable you to control them.
Finally, a quick recap: Control the effects of stress through controlled breathing as that physiologically removes the stress response. Next, control your mind by writing down your fears, and thirdly, take action against those fears with your protect and prepare plan.
It may not stop you from feeling stressed but it should make the stress and worry short-lived so you can get back to business.