You’ve done it: you’re free!
You no longer have to open your business at 6am and spin the “CLOSED” sign at 9pm. You have staff, systems and automation.
You’re making enough money to have a comfortable income for your family, and a cushion for your business. Things are GOOD.
So why can’t you stop stressing about your business?
Why do you check the phone 50 times every evening, when you should be pushing your kid on a swing set?
If you’ve ever been called out by your wife (I certainly have) for checking your phone when you were “off”, this is for you.
See that little red dot in the middle of your brain? That’s called your amygdala.
Amygdala’s job is fight-or-flight, baby. It’s the GO area. And everything you encounter–the food you eat, the air you breathe, the people who eyeball you on the subway–they’re all processed by the amygdala FIRST.
Before you even think about any of that stuff, your amygdala has already made a decision about it. On the plains of Africa, the amygdala learned to trigger the “run away!” response even before your neocortical regions recognized the lion.
Obviously, we aren’t on the plains anymore. But as entrepreneurs, we’re ALWAYS on the lookout for lions. There are so many ways a business can be killed–especially in the early days–that our amygdala is on constant alert:
“What’s that client going to write about me on Facebook?”
“How many people are coming through the door today?”
“Is my assistant’s grammar getting better, or do I need to read more of her emails?”
“Did my lunch make my breath stinky before this meeting?”
“How am I going to get more clients?!?”
And your amygdala LIKES it.
This constant vigil makes your amygdala grow. It recruits other neurons from nearby areas of the brain and says, “I need these more than you do.” As it gathers power, our amygdala takes an even larger role in the brain, and evaluates all stimulus for possible threats.
Do entrepreneurs sometimes overreact? Sure we do. And we blame it on fatigue, or stress, or distraction. But it’s our amygdala, baby. It’s training. It’s eating our stress and growing.
And then, one day…we try to shut it off.
Now, when normal people get bored, they tend to create drama for themselves. A certain amount of positive stress (called “eustress”) is natural to keep the amygdala healthy. Think of it as brain exercise: when things are going really well, small problems become big deals. We blow things out of proportion simply because we don’t have anything else to worry about: we have to fill that amygdala UP. And so pebbles become boulders.
What happens when someone wins the lottery? More than half the time, their life implodes. They end up bankrupt.
But when an entrepreneur, with his super macho, jacked-up amygdala gets bored…he gets twitchy. His brain needs to be FED. So he’s constantly grazing: looking for trouble, problems to solve, or just plain stimulation.
You ever meet an entrepreneur who’s just reached the first level of real success? He probably naps a lot while his brain rewires itself. But when he’s not sleeping, he’s twitching: hitting ‘refresh’ on email, signing up to test new software, starting 50 new projects. He can’t help it.
I work with over 300 gym owners. Many work from 5am until 9pm, making little or no money, until they start the Incubator program. When we finally get their lives turned around, they’re surprised to find their stress doesn’t decrease. Their spouses wonder why they’re not giving their full attention to their kids, or they’re out making more work for themselves. And it’s because they’re wired that way.
How do you REWIRE yourself to be a normal human again? How do you start to ENJOY success, lower your blood pressure, and catch up on the last decade of missed sleep?
You have to train your brain.
First, leave the house. Get away from screens and phones.
Second, have predetermined “check-in” times for email, text, social media and all other messaging tools.
Third, exercise. Rewiring the brain happens MUCH more quickly when you pepper it with BDNF (the chemical you secrete when you exercise. John Ratey calls it “Miracle-Gro for the Brain.”)
Fourth, go away. Commit yourself to a family activity that will fully occupy your mind.
Finally, practice Bright Spots every day. Start flushing out your brain with writing or other creative tasks, and finish your day by writing out your Bright Spots to practice gratitude.
The amygdala is a powerful part of your brain…but it’s overridden by the slower neocortex (where you think your thoughts.) You can retrain your automatic responses with habits, and override your impulses with logic–but only if you practice.
The same things happens, to a far greater extent, with PTSD. While our stress isn’t usually traumatic, when stress levels go down, we’re wired to crank them back up. But the brain that got you here won’t get you to the next level.