How Founders Can Master Mental Resilience to Stay in the Game Long Enough to Win

In May, mental health is top of mind with Mental Health Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Week, 13-19 May. Don’t miss our previous posts on How to Protect Your Mental Health When Starting a Business and 5 Strategies To Change Your Inner Dialogue From Critic to Advocate and 3 Steps to Safeguard Your Mental Health and Become a Better, More Effective Leader

We asked Aaron Houghton of EO Colorado to share how he overcame burnout and developed a unique solution, Dory, to help him master mental resilience, which grew into the world’s largest community dedicated solely to stress reduction for entrepreneurs.

A nervous gymnast steps up to the balance beam, thoughts racing, hands shaking, self-doubt stealing her attention. She has practiced the moves a million times and has the ability to execute them flawlessly in a private room.

But now on the main stage at the biggest competition of the year, the audience is peering and the judges are scoring — and everything feels different. The dimensions of the balance beam haven’t changed, her strength and flexibility haven’t changed, but the mental environment of high pressure competition is completely different from the mental environment of practicing in private. The gymnast needs both her mind and body to put together a winning routine. In fact, all competitors at the event have very similar physical abilities and gymnastics skills.

The gymnast lifts her hands and begins the routine. What happens next has everything to do with mental resilience. How will she handle the pressure?

If she is unable to maintain her concentration, she will make a mistake and risk injury. If she is able to find calm and focus, she will deliver a winning performance.

So, what does this scenario teach us as entrepreneurs? Skill and competency become useless without the high-level mental resilience required to enable us to deliver results in moments where they really matter.

The gymnast story is almost too kind as an example, because gymnasts spend only a small percentage of their time at elite competitions. But as entrepreneurs, we’re always “on,” always being watched by our teams and customers, always being judged.

My Journey to Overcome Burnout

In 2012, after selling my most successful company for US$169 million, I hit the pause button on entrepreneurship to try to understand why I felt so miserable personally through so much of that 10-year journey. I had the awareness to know I’d been running at 50 percent of my maximum output for years, but I couldn’t figure out how to close the gap back to high performance.

I was proud of what my business accomplished, but I wasn’t proud of who I had become. I was more fearful, less creative, more reactive, and completely exhausted. I felt nothing like the inspired dreamer who started the company years before. Despite building a really nice business, my direct same-size competitor went on to build and sell their company for US$12 billion. They were simply performing at a higher level than I was.

What I didn’t realize during that time was that the high pressure of entrepreneurship had been chipping away at my mental resilience – my ability to respond to and recover from pressure. Eventually, I became very bad at responding to pressure and recovering. It happened so slowly I didn’t realize it until things started falling apart.

Out of my own frustration and desire to thrive through pressure instead of flounder, I began another 10-year journey, this time to learn how high performers in widely varying fields — from special military forces and ultra athletes to Super Bowl champions and mountain climbers — build mental resilience so that when the pressure turns up they continue to execute their elite capabilities with high accuracy.

I developed a methodology for measuring mental resilience, cataloged 3,000 techniques that high-performers use, and then began allowing entrepreneurs to test them to determine the impact they had on their mental resilience.

The MMC Approach

As you might imagine, many of the techniques that work for elite gymnasts and fighter pilots don’t work for entrepreneurs. These high-performance disciplines have strict requirements for rest and recovery that we just don’t get as business owners. For instance, fighter pilots are required to sleep eight hours every night and gymnasts train 20 hours per week and take a full rest day every week. Sounds luxurious, doesn’t it?

Here’s what does work for entrepreneurs.

The top three categories of techniques make up 80 percent of the most effective strategies entrepreneurs use to build mental resilience. So, when you want to increase your mental resilience, remember MMC: Movement, Mindset, and Connection.

  • Movement practices move the body. They include things like yoga, walking, and breathwork.
  • Mindset work involves planting and fostering supportive thoughts and beliefs in our minds. It includes things like journaling, reciting mantras, and practicing gratitude.
  • Connection practices bring us closer to the people, communities, and identities we hold dear. It includes activities like calling a friend, spending time with pets, and taking action to support people in our communities.

It’s easy to mistake these activities for leisure time at worst, or maybe just a great way to live a happy life at best. But what we’re finding through research is that they are the key components of a thriving professional life. These techniques enable founders to show up with their full brilliance when the pressure goes through the roof at work. They are the keystones of professional success.

Enhance Your Mental Resilience

As entrepreneurs, each of us must find the activities we love in the categories of Movement, Mindset, and Connection. There is no perfect prescription of activities for everyone, but we can find our own.

If you want to understand how strong your mental resilience is right now, you can download the free Coach Dory app (in the Android or Apple app stores) and take the five-minute quiz to see your self-care score. Your self-care score is your current level of mental resilience on a 100-point scale.

Coach Dory can check in with you, note changes in your mental resilience over time, and make personalized recommendations from our study of 3,000 activities and 10,000 entrepreneurs so you can increase your mental resilience with the most efficient strategy for you.

My fellow entrepreneurs, let’s embrace the journey of mastering mental resilience, one actionable step at a time. Together, we can rise above the pressures, conquer the challenges, and thrive amidst the chaos of entrepreneurship. The future belongs to those who cultivate enough mental resilience to stay in the game long enough to win.

Contributed to EO by Aaron Houghton, an EO Colorado member who is the founder and CEO of Dory, the world’s largest community (10,000+ members) dedicated solely to stress reduction for entrepreneurs. Dory offers a mental resilience training app called Coach Dory, live peer groups, and delivers keynotes and workshops around the world.

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog

Categories: Coaching Entrepreneurial Journey HEALTH Lessons Learned


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