Two days after Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500 for a second time, he remarked how his critics said he didn’t have the necessary “killer instinct” to win. He hoped this accomplishment would quiet them. It was a telling moment from a racing great, and as an entrepreneur it hit home, detailing how we strive to deliver wins daily, but are often judged harshly because we aren’t perceived as behaving with enough bravado.
What is this “killer instinct?” Is it essential to winning as an entrepreneur? Many people think so!
The necessity of an aggressive will to win in a battle is important for great generals in times of conflict. But for entrepreneurs to enter every entrepreneurial challenge with that kind of barely concealed aggression can backfire. Unquestionably aggression, exhibited by your body stance, your selection of words and their deliverance, can be a kind of emotional force that makes you more mentally dominant when challenged. But it can also torpedo you when used to deal with a complex situation or person, especially when their skill surpasses your own. When your body and mind are in an aggressive state, you may not be able to readjust quickly, because such aggression can blur your mental clarity. Instead of winning easily, you feel yourself failing, outsmarted and outplayed. It often turns back on you. The downside of the emotional chemicals of aggression are anxiety and fear.
An increasing number of entrepreneurs are coming to the realization that it is more conducive to success to manage their emotions, including aggression, if they want to chalk up more wins in the long run. Aggression may help you win short term victories, but in the long term it depletes your inner resources to continue the fight. And trust me, if you are an entrepreneur, then you know getting up every day, hustling, being motivated, and focused on your dreams can feel exactly like that, a fight.
How do you then turn aggression and anger, which are often a default setting for many people when dealing with obstacles into a more agile force that can work in your favor? Your first goal is to change your relationship with those emotions. You have to develop a subtle awareness for what it actually feels like to be hooked by strong emotions. This starts by learning how to recognize the feeling when it first arises. What you want to do is catch it quicker before it consumes you. With enough practice you can feel what will become anger before you even label it as such. You then want to interrupt the momentum of these feelings, by slowing down your own reactions to them.
How? One way is by becoming more mindful!
Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experiences moment to moment. Just take a second to think how powerful being mindful can be for an entrepreneur. As entrepreneurs we have to face many ups and downs. Much of these ups and downs have to do with fear: fear of failure that your idea wont work, fear that you don’t have the right abilities, fear that you wont find the right clients, etc. It is fear that holds so many entrepreneurs back. When you are unable to get a handle on fear, it is not uncommon then to use anger to try and resolve it. But when you are mindful you are able to go into those places that you fear, because you do so fully embracing the unfolding of an experience, moment to moment, non-judgmentally. More importantly you are not run by your emotions. As noted earlier, and this is the crux of being mindful, it allows you to be present, focused, and more astute to the experience unfolding in front of you — which means your response will be precise, and not clouded by the red mist of unhelpful emotions.
As simple as my next advice may sound, this very tool made a massive impact on my ability to go to the places that I feared as an entrepreneur, and helped me succeed. Being mindful in a highly stressful situation is easier said than done, but what I have taught myself to do is learn to breathe. Your breath is one of the most effective links between your mind and your brain, and, therefore, between your mind and your body. Mindfulness of your breath, then, is a great way to center your mind-body and become grounded. The out breath especially tethers you to the present moment.
Try this right now: breath out hard, make sure you can hear your breath and try and think of something at the same time?
Amazing right? For that short time that you are breathing out your mind clears. I always see it as a way to flush my thoughts out. As long as I am focusing on my out breath I find that I am able to quite my mind, but also manage my emotions better. In other words, I catch the feeling quicker, before it controls me.
The reality is that Earnhardt would never be the racing winner he is if he drove angry all the time. He would miss cues, distract his keen sense of observation, dim his focus, and allow his speed to overtake his skill. At the first unanticipated action from another driver, he’d be in trouble. My bet is, he was mindful on the day of his 2nd Daytona 500 drive to victory. In the same vein being an agile mindfully aware entrepreneur will bring you more wins in today’s chaotic, unpredictable business world than trying to aggressively bully your way to victory.