Entrepreneurship is a beautiful calling—you are using your vision to change the external world.
However, changing the external world requires more than vision; it requires mastery of your inner world.
Mindfulness allows you to consistently weather the storms, change course as needed, and sustain yourself and your teams through the journey.
Here are 10 steps I’ve found to help master one’s inner world.
There’s a reason we hear so much about gratitude—it works.
The human mind, if left to its own devices, will often focus on the negatives of the past (which causes depression) or worry incessantly about the “what ifs” of the future (which causes anxiety).
Gratitude centers one’s focus on all the good stuff in our lives today.
Mike Maples of Floodgate Ventures focuses on waking up each day and being grateful to be alive.
There are countless ways to cultivate gratitude, from writing a simple list to keeping a five-minute structured journal.
Like gratitude, this is a technique backed by scientific studies, but the pathway to impact is a bit different.
Meditation creates space between your awareness/consciousness and the incessant stream of thoughts, emotions, and feelings that comprise our experience of being human.
Some good beginner apps include Headspace, 10% Happier, and Insight Timer. Depending on what resonates, you might gravitate toward adding a mantra (like transcendental meditation, which Ray Dalio considers his “single most important reason for success”), or a single-pointed concentration approach like Zen (favored by Steve Jobs).
At some point, you may want to graduate from apps and just set aside quiet time ideally twice a day to meditate.
I’ve been meditating for years off and on, and it really began to pay dividends when I made it a regular habit and committed to it.
3. Unconditional Happiness
Most of us have been conditioned to view happiness as an output, based on the inputs of our lives.
We have a subconscious blueprint for what a happy life is (the right job, car, or relationship). Our mind then compares reality with that blueprint and derives a felt sense of happiness or sadness.
This leaves us dependent on specific circumstances; it causes us to work diligently (and unrealistically) to hold on to things associated with happiness, and push away those associated with unhappiness.
Reversing the approach can yield powerful results.
Try starting with the baseline goal of being unconditionally happy—a commitment that you will be happy no matter the circumstances of life.
This doesn’t mean you don’t aspire toward goals and just watch your life as a passive observer. Instead, you accept the circumstances of every moment without resistance. You dedicate your energy to creating the change you want to see, rather than holding on to or pushing away memories.
If you’re interested in reading more, Michael Singer (a sort of modern-day yogi turned public-company CEO) writes about this in The Untethered Soul.
4. Make it a habit
As with anything you do, goals are important, but consistent habits create outcomes.
Rather than get stuck on massive outcomes, focus instead on getting consistently 1% better at something. Counterintuitively, as the Japanese have learned with kaizen, this is the stuff of transformational change.
I use an app called Streaks to track habits simply and beautifully. Best of all, the designers realized the folly of enabling someone to add too many habits, so you’re limited to 12.
5. Don’t scrimp on workouts
Paul Graham recommends early-stage entrepreneurs do just three things—build your product, talk to customers, and exercise.
Regular exercise helps keep you in peak state and provides the energy and resilience needed to run the startup endurance race, including being your best as you recruit, manage your team, raise money and make major product and customer decisions.
Time is no excuse. Tim Ferriss put a peloton bike in his bedroom and does a 20-minute, high-intensity workout on busy days.
6. Eat healthy
It’s easy to forget that what we eat also shapes how we feel and the quality of our energy, thoughts, and moods.
To get your mental game in the right place as an entrepreneur, extend your mindfulness to what you eat.
A good place to get started is trying something like the Whole 30 program. For 30 days, you cut out a bunch of foods that are associated with inflammation and other negative health outcomes. Then you add the foods back after a month to gauge the impact.
7. Practice compassion
Most of us are wired to be particularly hard on ourselves, and we often speak to ourselves in ways we’d never talk to a beloved friend or family member. It’s what psychologists call “negative self-talk.”
Learning to be kind to yourself serves as a type of shock absorber to the inevitable bumps in life. Stuff is going to happen, and by being self-compassionate, you’re able to better integrate learnings, minimize rumination, and get on with your life in a lighter, happier way.
A good place to start is Kristin Neff’s book or the associated eight-week course taught around the world.
8. Watch caffeine to get better sleep
Caffeine is a great tool to power the big pushes we need at times. However, it often comes at the cost of reducing sleep quality.
Caffeine metabolism is genetic—some people are naturally wired to be able to drink a ton of coffee before bed, and others would do the same and stay up all night. (That would be me!) However, regardless of your genetics, there is an impact on your sleep—and you really want to make sure your sleep is solid—so mind caffeine like you would anything else in your diet.
9. it’s all about relationships
Jim Rohn famously stated that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Our lives are deeply shaped by the people we spend the most time with. Are we hanging out with people who support us and make us happier, or who make us feel worse about ourselves?
Interestingly, longevity studies have found that investing in and cultivating meaningful friendships is one of the most important factors for a long life.
10. high leverage and cut the rest
As an entrepreneur, there always seems to be more things to do than can possibly be accomplished in a day.
The antidote isn’t doing more things more efficiently. Rather, it’s taking a bit of time up front to think about the few things that really matter, and then giving these tasks your best energy and effort.
Gary Keller, in his book The One Thing, urges his readers to ask the question:
“What’s the one thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism extends this approach into a philosophy for one’s entire life.
As an entrepreneur, guiding your company and teams takes more than vision and grit—you need the tools and habits to cultivate mindfulness to win the long game.
Here’s to mindful entrepreneurs everywhere.