The Five Steps to Beating Success Stress.

Whenever we take a step towards growth and innovation, we get hit with success stress; the fear of the unknown. We create mind movies that paralyze us and halt our forward momentum. See how success stress is created and how to beat it.

Success Stress Example #1:

Your startup partner comes rushing in saying an investor will pull out if they don’t get a specific report in an hour. You know this report will take at least two hours to generate and you panic. A movie starts running in your mind. It is set one hour in the future. In it, the main character, you, calls the investor to tell him you aren’t done with the report. He flies off the handle, screams at you and withdraws his funding. Then the movie jumps to a few months later, your company is shut down, you’re couch surfing and driving an Uber. The end.

But what is actually going on in the real world? Not much really. Yet, your mind movie has put you on overload. The stress system in your brain doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality so it thinks the movie is actually happening right NOW. Worse yet, stress squeezes your creative pipeline closed so any chance you had of figuring out how to do a two-hour report in one hour is gone. You just sit there, running the movie over and over again with a sick feeling in your stomach.

What do you do now?

Here’s an alternative plan. Start by asking someone for help. With your creativity shut down you’ll need to rely on someone else’s. Next, rewrite the mind movie with a different ending. One where you get it done with time to spare. One where the report turns out to be not as complicated as you thought. One where you call the investor who decided he doesn’t really need the report right away after all. While none of those may actually come true, the shifting of thought will open your problem solving centers back up and point you in a better direction.

There’s a second kind of mind movie we run when hit with success stress. Instead of it being about our future, this one tells a terrifying story of our past. It’s even trickier because, unlike the future movie, this one actually happened to us.

Success Stress Example #2:

Your startup is going so well, you’re thinking about expanding your operation. Suddenly a new mind movie starts. This time it’s a memory of when you ran for class president in high school. You tried to get your classmates to help, but instead of passing out flyers they all bailed on you. On election day, you only got a few votes and felt humiliated. The end.

Even though this actually happened, the mind movie demotivates you by focusing solely on a failure. In truth, you had a lot of successes in high school as well. You bought your own car. You graduated with honors. You got into the college you wanted. There are a whole gamut of successes to reflect on but, oddly enough, you chose to watch the mind movie about a failure. Why?

Success Stress: Why do we feel it?

Why do we do it? Why watch terrifying stories about our future and dredge up awful incidents from our past? Ironically, it’s your mind’s attempt to try and help you. When you step into innovation, doing new things, your mind sees you in a dangerous situation. It wants to predict potential outcomes for you. So in imagining all the bad things that could occur, it’s working to help you formulate a proper response no matter what happens. Unfortunately, this hardly ever works in your favor.

The real culprit in all this is our “human operating system.” We’re running on a set of instructions that were written about 3 million years ago. The operating system was designed to anticipate things like avoiding saber tooth tigers or warring tribes. Today, we are rarely faced with situations of mortal danger, yet we still respond as if we are. So when the investor gives you a tough assignment, or when you want to take a big risk in your business, this software signals a danger response. It fires up your mind movies and tries to help by showing you all the awful possible outcomes of the future or cautionary tales from your past.

The Five Steps to Beating Success Stress

Whenever you step into growth and innovation, you’re likely to get hit with success stress. Follow these five steps when you find yourself awash in mind movies.

  1. Return to the present moment: When you begin to feel the stress coming on, remind yourself nothing is actually happening right now. Look around you. Nothing you fear is occurring. The upset is only in your mind.
  2. Challenge your mind movie: Notice what you’re envisioning. Is it an unhappy future or a difficult past? Say aloud, “That’s not happening right now.”
  3. Open your creative centers: In this calm state ask yourself what else might happen. What are other possible outcomes where things happen in your favor? Be just as outrageous with vision of things going well as you are with things going poorly.
  4. Ask for help: If you can’t think of better outcomes, there’s a good chance your thinking is corrupted by fear. Call a friend or speak with a co-worker. You’ll be amazed how quickly and easily they can provide workable solutions. It is entirely likely that one hour is all you need to complete that report.
  5. List your previous successes: Create a list of all the times you snatched success out of the jaws of failure and did amazing things. Keep the list handy and refer back to it whenever your mind movies start up again.

“Dan brings a whole different game to business development and innovation. He will challenge your beliefs, offering you an entirely new perspective on your business life.”

Greg Davis - Landscape Designer

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