I started this article series talking about the importance of updating our mental models for business success and the role of intuition in leadership. Today I want to talk to you about the importance of respecting your emotions in decision-making as an entrepreneur.
I stand to argue that ignoring your emotions in business is a really bad idea. What are emotions if not part of your internal guidance mechanism? I know what you might be thinking: “If I was to react every time I felt angry or afraid at work, I wouldn't go very far.” True, I would answer. But reacting to your emotions is different than respecting them. Respecting implies acknowledging them and deciding on the best course of conduct in light of the information.
Your emotions are part of your central nervous system. The nervous system is essential for our decision-making and navigation through life. If you touch something hot, your hand will quickly pull away. If you feel crawfish biting your foot as you wade into water, you will kick back and possibly jump to another spot. This is a natural survival response mechanism designed to navigate you through life safely.
Your emotions are a part of your nervous system as well. If you walk into a conference room and see that your business partner looks angry, immediately you feel alert and proceed with caution. While the response mechanisms of your emotions seem more complex than the sensations in your hand or foot, they serve a similar purpose; to successfully and safely navigate you through life.
Emotions Are Different Than Intuition
Like our intuition, our emotions are also part of a guidance system that is older and wiser than our rational mind. They are based on our cumulative experiences in life and our associations with them. While your intuition provides you with guidance that does not appear to have a rational explanation, your emotions are generally backed by an explanation readily available to you.
You have a generally bad feeling about getting into a business relationship with somebody. You may say you don't know why, but if you apply yourself, you can articulate the fact that they seem disorganized and ill-committed. Or that they make you feel like you will get the short end of the stick and thoughts of this wake you up at night.
Why We Are Dismissive Of Our Emotions in Business
Unfortunately, we tend to unfairly dismiss our emotions at times when they are most serving us. We do this for several common reasons. The first is due to a concern about what other people may think. "But our potential investor suggested that we connect with this person who makes us feel uneasy. If we refuse to get into this business relationship, we might disappoint our contact and therefore lose out on opportunity." We rationalize our emotions away to our detriment.
Another reason we unfairly dismiss our emotions is due to a discomfort with the idea that we have already vested our resources into something. And that we will lose out if we back out now. "But I have already put in a 100 hours into this product design." You may rationalize that dropping the effort and starting over would be a loss. That is because you do not want to consider that 100 hours more will still get you nowhere; while stopping, revising your mental model, and going in another direction will make your venture profitable. Disengaging yourself from this mental hook requires a healthy respect for your feelings that it is time to move on.
And yet, respecting our emotions is different than succumbing to our emotional baggage, although sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the two. As a rule of thumb, if your emotions stem from a feeling of personal inadequacy, it is time to take a break and examine them more closely for lost luggage.
The Importance of Taking a Break and Not Pushing Too Far
Taking a break is important if you do not feel comfortable in a situation. This is true regardless of whether your discomfort seems justified or not. This is because it is not possible to push yourself further than where you are willing to go.
Indeed, pushing yourself significantly beyond your comfort level will generally be detrimental to you. Regardless of whether you believe it is objectively right or wrong thing for your business. What matters is whether it feels like the right or wrong thing for you.
Sounds touchy-feely to you? Let’s talk about the types of outcomes entrepreneurs get from pushing themselves beyond their limits. Here are just two real-world examples (the names have been changed to protect the innocent):
Jason is a Co-Founder of an emerging company that has been bootstrapping and is looking for funding. He reported that his heart started racing when he got up to pitch at a time that did not feel right to him. This turned into heart palpitations over the next weeks, even though the pressure was off. He had to go see a doctor.
Karen is CEO of a revenue-positive company that has received angel investment. She was slated to make client visits at a time when her company was facing a lot of uncertainty. She didn't feel confident about what she was saying and felt terribly cold during these meetings. Over the next months, she began to feel cold all the time.
The emotions of these entrepreneurs are speaking to them through their nervous system, saying "you didn't hear me the first time....let me make my message a little louder and clearer to you."
“My situation is not that extreme,” you may say. Okay; that is great. However, my observation is as follows: people who push themselves too hard pay for it eventually.
When a part of you is not on board with what you are doing, chances are high that you will underperform or even sabotage yourself in the process. Or alternatively you may drain your energies and motivation. It will take even more coffee to get up and do it again tomorrow. And the part of you who is not on board will find a way to rebel or take you out of the game.
People write very amusing typos in emails when they are pushing themselves to do what they don't want to do. They forget about and miss important meetings. They spill coffee on their computers. They back over their cell phones with their car. Anything to get themselves off the hook for the commitment they did not actually want to make.
Approach Your Emotions as You Would Your Business Partner
It may shock you that the antidote to all this is to spend more time reflecting upon what your emotions are actually trying to tell you and to find a way to collaborate with them — as you would with a business partner. Not only will the bloopers in your career go down in frequency, but so will the stress.
Another benefit of respecting your emotions is that you will spend more time and energy doing what you actually are motivated to do and which most suits you. As a result, you will spend less time doing what you think you should do based on other people's expectations. This again puts you in the driver's seat.
“But I cannot do exactly what I want. And I have to do some things in order to succeed in the world,” you may say. That may be true and you need to be the ultimate judge of that. But whatever you decide to do in a given situation, make sure you do it in a manner that works for you. If you believe you have to do something you would prefer not to do, figure out how to do it your way--i.e., a way that makes peace with your own needs and emotions. You will do a better job at it and be much more committed to your actions and decisions as a result.
Good luck to you. And reach out if you need more help.