Evolution has provided us with an amazing brain – actually with two distinctly different types of brain in one. The oldest one, called the “primitive” brain, is responsible for our survival. It looks for danger everywhere and is always on alert. Everything is filtered first through “Will this kill me?” and then, “Does this feel good?” and finally “Is this easy?” It wants to avoid danger, seek pleasure, and exert the least amount of energy possible. It’s done this for millions of years, and it’s worked very well for us for most of our history. It makes decisions quickly, in the moment, and its purpose is to keep us safe. Because of it, we are here today.
The newer part of our brain is the prefrontal cortex.
It’s responsible for higher-level “executive” functions, like evaluating alternatives, planning and strategizing. Our prefrontal cortex enables us to weigh the pros and cons, set goals, and create the future. As entrepreneurs, this is the part of our brain we used to start our business.
Right now, your primitive brain is screaming DANGER.
But let’s think about this for a minute. As entrepreneurs, we are used to taking risks. Yes, there is the risk that you (or someone you love) will have symptoms of COVID-19. Yes, there is a risk that you may lose money in the stock market. But the belief that right at this very moment, you are literally facing a life and death situation, while you are in your home watching the news, is unlikely to be a fact.
Your primitive brain thinks you are going to die.
The life-saving role that our primitive brain played for most of our evolution is right now completely overwhelmed by fear. It is looking for danger and finding it. But if you feel fear and anxiety, it is not coming from the virus or the stock market.
Your fear is coming from your thoughts about the virus and the stock market.
The primitive brain is running on overdrive, creating thoughts that make us feel anxious and which cloud our ability to use our prefrontal cortex to think logically and calmly.
We have many habits of thinking that exist below our surface awareness. Most of the time, we just “allow” our minds to think on autopilot. Repetitive thoughts create a superhighway in our brain. The more often we think the same thoughts, the wider the highway and the easier it is to travel. Over the course of our lives, this is how beliefs are created. Patterns of thought that are repeated become beliefs which are the lens through which we look at life. Neurons that fire together, wire together.
Unfortunately, because the primitive brain is trying to help us survive by looking for potential danger, many of our thoughts are negative. “I’m going to go out of business,” “This isn’t fair,” “Everything I’ve worked so hard to build is gone,” “I’ll never recover.”
These thoughts will not help you!
Thoughts that cause anxiety, doubt and overwhelm are deadly for business owners. Because we think these negative thoughts on repeat, we stop questioning whether they’re true and, even more importantly, whether they serve us. Eventually, the thoughts we think become our beliefs. Once we create a belief, we make decisions through the lens of that belief and we stop questioning whether it is a fact.
Your primitive brain will use these negative beliefs to convince you to STOP doing the dangerous thing (being an entrepreneur) and go back to the cave where it’s safe. That is the last thing you should do.
During the 2008 financial crisis, my company lost so much business I thought I was going to have to shut down. No one had money coming in and everyone’s line of credit was pulled by the banks, and mine was no exception. So what did I do? I poured all of my own personal money into the business and I worked harder to find ways to add value. That was when I first had the idea to transition from selling data analytics services, to offering packaged solutions and products. I believed that my best bet for the future was to bet on myself and my business and I encourage you to believe in yourself too.
Remember, you are an entrepreneur! A modern-day gladiator.
You are strong and creative. You are a leader. You had to overcome thoughts of doubt and worry, as well as feelings of inadequacy and fear to start your business in the first place. This means you have the drive to survive, grow and thrive. Right now, if you feel overwhelmed and anxious, it simply means that you have reached your threshold of chaos, and it’s time to evolve. Courage comes from believing in yourself.
Use your prefrontal cortex to choose your thoughts on purpose.
Make the “thinking” part of your brain go to work for you. Command your mind to think of solutions to pivot your business, turn it into an asset, help your team (and family) and add value to the world. Ask yourself, “What does my company know how to do that others need right now?” Instead of focusing on what is going wrong, ask yourself, “How can we…?” questions. How can we pivot? How can we rethink our business model? How can we evolve? When you are focused on solutions and when you are thinking about creating a positive future, your primitive brain can’t hurt you.