The Five Deadly Sins
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas A. Edison
Last week we talked about my irrational fear of sticks and how every human being shares five basic fears. According to Entrepreneur magazine, business people also share five basic fears. They are the fear of (1) failure, (2) economic uncertainty, (3) being your own boss, (4) consuming your life, and (5) staying afloat.
Let’s talk about the fear of failure because it’s not Number One for nothing. Although admittedly the fear of stepping on a stick is probably mostly imagined (see, the therapy is working), the fear of business failure is a stark reality. Ninety-five percent of all businesses fail within the first five years. The fact that my Long Island law firm celebrated its 16th anniversary on August 1 means that we beat the odds (and got very lucky and had a lot of help from great friends and clients).
Nevertheless, like my concerns about rolled or sprained ankles, the “what-ifs” are limitless. What if I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur? What if I can’t get this deal? What if I file bankruptcy? What if someone steals my technology? My customers? My employees?
Fortunately, although failure is almost always an option when it comes to start-up businesses, the consequences of that failure are mostly in your imagination. The irrational fear of failure is usually based upon your assessment of subjective risk. A subjective risk might be the chance of catching a cold from a specific person or the chance of being sued for a specific activity. There is simply no way to quantify the risk beyond the gut feeling created in your mind that the risk is large, small, or moderate. There’s no math there.
Runners manage subjective risk every time they head out of the door. How many physically capable people have given up on their 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon because their mind convinced them that they couldn’t go the distance?
That’s what Edison was talking about. Giving up because your mind has convinced you that you have failed when, objectively, you haven’t (or won’t).
As a runner, I manage subjective risk by doing a “systems check.” Just because I feel like quitting at mile 15 doesn’t mean I should. Every couple of miles, I concentrate on the objective indicators of how I am performing. Does anything hurt? No. Keep going. Is my heartrate elevated beyond my level of effort or is my breathing labored? No. Keep going. Am I properly hydrated or nourished? No? Eat and drink something.
And, keep going.
Running a business also has a lot of subjective risks that can be magnified by your unconscious thoughts. The best way to manage subjective risk is to manage the objective aspects of your business – those things that you can control. Do a systems check. Keeping score of your successes and paying close attention to objective indicators of business success (or decline) are crucial to combating the negativity that saps your creative energy and throws sticks in the way of your success.
Next week, the fear of economic uncertainty.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” – Jack Canfield, author Chicken Soup For the Soul
I have some form of xylophobia – the fear of wooden objects or forests. I’m not afraid of all wooden objects and certainly not of forests.
I’m afraid of sticks. Just sticks.
But not usually. Just when I run.
Sticks. In the road. Under my foot. Rolling my ankle.
Last October, a single stick ended 15½ weeks of training for me and caused the dreaded DNS – Did Not Start – for the NYC Marathon. For a runner, a DNS is only a close second to a DNF – Did Not Finish. Neither is something runners like to think about.
That’s why sticks scare me. I started training again for the NYC Marathon this week. I respect the distance but I’m not afraid of it. The training on the other hand, scares the %#*& out of me, probably because I have done it and I know what it means. That’s pretty funny when you think about it. I should be afraid of the unknown (the marathon) and okay with the known (the training). But for me, that’s not how it works. The NYC Marathon should be less than 5 hours of my life. Yes, it will hurt and the weather could be bad, and I could be miserable. But NYC is the goal.
The training is 16 weeks. I’ve done it before and I know that it means 4 months of 5 a.m. starts (yes, even on the weekends), no sleep, endless soreness, and miles in the heat and the rain. But that’s not what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of sticks – because, after 16 weeks of training, that stupid stick ruined my day.
Human beings, even Long Island lawyers, are notoriously frightened creatures. It’s hardwired into our DNA. Although the internet boasts hundreds, if not thousands, of phobias, according to Psychology Today, human beings share five basic fears – extinction, mutilation, loss of autonomy, separation, and ego-death. Everything else, from fear of spiders to fear of clowns, finds its root in one of the five basic fears.
Not surprisingly, the more I learned about fear, the more I came to realize that fear is simply information. The more calmly and clearly we can articulate its origin, the less fear will frighten and control us.
Now, I understand that I’m not really afraid of sticks. I’m afraid of what they represent and the consequences that a misstep might bring.
Those fears certainly carry over into business. Next week we’ll discuss what scares business people and what we can all do about it.
See you next week – and watch out for the sticks!
Eating the Elephant
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
Unless the race is on a track, most runners never see the finish line when the race begins. We always know the distance. Always. But we never see the end when the gun goes off.
Twenty-six point two miles is a long, long way to run. Although the finish line is always that target, it is way too far away to focus on. As we discussed last week, psychologically, motivation for any goal-oriented adventure is high at the beginning and at the end but wanes in the middle. So, how does one stay motivated in the middle of a marathon or an ultra-marathon? How does someone who is running 100 miles or 1000 miles or across the United States motivate themselves when the start is over in a blink and the end is so very far away?
Well, how does one eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
Any distance that is beyond your capabilities has to be broken into edible parts. Depending on capability, for marathoners, it might mean breaking the race into four separate 10Ks, or 8 separate 5Ks, or 26 separate miles. Sometimes, it’s picking off the runner in front of you. Sometimes, it’s just concentrating on putting on foot in front of the other.
Now, some folks might say that a business is a race without a finish. For business owners, the finish line is either sale or retirement. And, depending on where you are in your life, that can be a long way off. Regardless of the distance, however, the possible interim goals from which even Long Island lawyers can gain motivation and momentum are endless. What’s your 10 year plan? 5 year plan? 2016 plan? The plan for the next six months? Do you want to increase sales or have more clients/customers?
By setting small, attainable goals in the near term, you can improve your business and maintain your motivation.
I can tell you from both business and running experience that short term goals that reinforce the effort are invaluable.
I can also tell all of you non-runners that marathoners, like business owners, are back at it the day after the race.
Here, There Be Monsters
“Whatever you do, don’t do it halfway.” – Bob Beamon, former world record holder in the long jump (22 years, 316 days)
Twenty-six. 26. XXVI.
To a runner, the number 26 has tremendous significance. For most of us, it means that there are only .2 miles left in a marathon. Two-tenths of a mile to a personal best, or to the end of the agony, or to accomplish a long standing goal, or to keep a long standing promise. To a runner, twenty-six signifies that we are almost at the end, that the journey is almost complete. At mile marker XXVI, the crowds are thick and we get a boost of adrenaline that carries us to the finish.
Today, the number 26 has a very different meaning to me. It doesn’t signal the end of the journey. Not today. Today is my 26th post of The Route and, today, twenty-six marks only the halfway mark of our journey together.
And make no mistake. This is dangerous territory. As the olde European mapmakers used to say – “here there be monsters.”
Any goal-oriented endeavor involves two important reference points – the beginning and the end. We all know that a fresh beginning is a great motivator. New Year’s isn’t about resolutions for nothing. When we start anything, a race, a business, or a Long Island law firm, there is a surge of enthusiasm when you begin.
The end doesn’t disappoint either. The closer you get to your goal (.2 miles), the more motivated you feel to reach the finish line. The more you dream of the recognition and the accolades. Or, maybe, just being done.
But the middle? The halfway mark? That’s a no man’s land of motivation and a black hole of despair.
Well, halfway is . . . halfway. It’s just as far from the start as it is from the finish.
Research shows that motivation is U-shaped. It starts high and sinks to a low point about halfway through the process until it rises steadily as we approach the finish. That midway point is deadly to your plan, projects, and dreams. It’s when we lose motivation and focus. When we think about how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.
But, knowing is also half of the battle. Knowing that your motivation will flag allows you to compensate, shift your focus, and rekindle your enthusiasm. Look back to what you have achieved. Look forward to what you will achieve.
Maintaining your focus and your motivation isn’t easy whether you’re in a marathon or in business. Most of you would say that in a marathon you can see the finish, but that in a business there isn’t any finish.
My answer? Tune in next week.