The great Eric Barker recently reviewed the research on fear, and found that there are three secrets to fearlessness, as practiced by courageous types like firefighters and special forces operatives:
1. Training and Preparation
“The Navy SEAL team that killed Bin Laden trained for weeks inside a full scale replica of the compound they would be attacking so that when they arrived, it would be like they’d already been there.”
2. A Feeling of Control
“While training produces more of the ability to actually control a situation, even an illusory feeling of control can reduce stress and thereby increase performance. In fact, the illusion of control is so powerful that overconfidence is an asset, not a liability, during disaster scenarios.”
“When people are trapped in a stressful situation and feeling overwhelmed, they’re stuck in one way of thinking: This is terrible. I’ve got to get out of here. But if you can take a humorous perspective, then by definition you’re looking at it differently — you’re breaking out of that rigid mind-set.”
These points really resonate with me, because they strongly fit with my experience in the startup world. I almost never worry about my startup activities, even though they are fraught with risk, and the vast majority are likely to end in failure.
Why am I able to stare down stress with equanimity?
A) I constantly study and work on my craft. This means that the further I get along in my career, the more relevant training and experience I have. This in turn leads to…
B) I’m confident in my ability to make things happen in my chosen field. There’s always a lot that’s outside my control, but in the domain that I define as mine, I feel a strong sense of control.
C) While not everyone agrees with my approach, I’m constantly seeking the humor in the situations my startups face. It may sometimes need to be gallows humor–obviously, not all of them work out–but all of it helps to relieve the tension and make the day more enjoyable.
I know that I’m lucky to have a positive disposition, but apply these same principles can help any entrepreneur handle the stress inherent in this high-risk endeavor.