Entrepreneurs are a unique breed. They are driven to succeed, and willingly take on the pressure of running a business in order that they might find that success. While most people tend to avoid pressure, entrepreneurs pile it on themselves. Not only do they accept the normal pressures of running a business, but they put additional pressure on themselves to make sure they fulfill their vision and find their own definition of success.
Of course, some call it pressure, and others call it stress.
Pressure and stress are synonymous, yet stress usually has a much more negative connotation, as it is often associated with distress, ill-health and breakdowns, both mental and physical. I'm no stranger to stress. In 2007, my wife and I went bankrupt. We went from millions to less than nothing, and went from worrying about growing our business to how we were going to put food on the table. The stress from that situation was overwhelming.
During that period of my life, I searched everywhere for a book to tell me everything would be alright, but I couldn't find it; it didn't exist. The reality was that I had to make it alright. So with that added stress, we founded the company that ended up giving us much more than we could have imagined. The point is that where there's stress, where there's friction, where there's a challenge... there's also opportunity.
In fact, the times of your greatest challenge are also the times of your greatest opportunity.
I know I'm not the first to say this, but it's true. But what lies at the root of this opportunity? Well, it's the stress itself. Stress makes us stronger, stress makes us more productive, stress helps us grow. Think of this simple analogy: When you go to the gym, you get your muscles stronger by lifting more weight. As you get stronger, you add more weight, more reps, right? What you're really doing is putting more stress on your muscles. They break down and then build themselves up stronger than before, becoming more productive and able to handle more and more weight. The stress you put on them is what makes them stronger.
It's the same with your business. The more stress you put on yourself, the stronger and more productive you'll get. Up to a point, of course. Too much stress we know can be harmful, but not having enough stress doesn't help us grow, and in fact, could cause us to regress instead of progress.
How can I be sure of all this? Well, the concept that stress can boost productivity and cause growth has been around for over a century. In the early 20th century, two psychologists, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, observed this phenomenon and authored the Yerkes-Dodson law, which essentially states that increasing arousal, or stress, increases performance. Too much stress causes performance to decrease, and too little causes performance to decrease. The sweet spot in the middle is called "eustress." Eustress is the point where there's just enough pressure to heighten performance and productivity, without being overwhelming and damaging.
Entrepreneurs thrive in eustress.
But how can you get there? Part of finding eustress is changing your perception of stress as a wholly negative force to a largely positive one. In times of challenge, focus on the opportunity in that challenge, and you find you'll be able to handle more stress. When we recognize that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and that we'll come out of that tunnel stronger and ready for the next challenge, things change.
The amazing thing is that over time, your tolerance for stress will grow. You'll be able to handle more, and take on more responsibility, and drive toward success more effectively. But it begins by changing your perception and embracing stress.
Alex Charfen is the CEO of the Charfen Institute.