One female founder explains how her attitude to entrepreneurship has been inspired by a week of meditation. By Jessica Semaan (Founder, The Passion Co.)
You wake up, and the first thing you do is check your email. Perhaps your product is not selling, or your first employee has quit. Or you simply realize how much there is to do with so little time to do it. Then the stress starts rising through your chest. Your heart beats faster. Reaction takes over, and you begin your day.
This would be a typical day in my life before I embarked on my 7 day meditation retreat. Stress and obstacles always come up, but sitting still and in silence for 300 hours has taught me some simple ways to avoid being overwhelmed by them, and to help guide my decisions.
Your Thoughts Are Everything and Nothing
Your thoughts are not you, but the truth is they control you.
One positive aspect of being stuck with your thoughts for 7 days is the ability to eventually observe them objectively, and do what is called "mental labeling." Whenever a thought comes along, label it.
Here is what I found in my head: Say, for example, you start doubting the vision for your startup. Instead of reacting, label the thought as doubt. This makes you stop and notice that the thought is coming from the storyteller, and not reality. Take three deep breaths and try to come back to the present.
The truth is that conquering these thoughts can feel like mission impossible. However, simply being aware of them and being able to categorize them, gives you more control over where your mind ends up.
It is easy to romanticize entrepreneurship. You get to be your own boss, build your dream team, and change the world.
Our society loves to romanticize everything. The truth is that life, and starting a company, is like a pendulum – for success to exist, there must be failure and pain, too.
Sitting for 14 hours a day, cross-legged, is definitely something my body did not enjoy, especially with an injured knee. By day 3, I was so fed up with pain that my only option was to give in to it. I told myself, ‘breathe and let go’ and the pain turned into a euphoric emotion, slowly fading away.
My knee pain was a lesson in emotional pain. The reason why we suffer so much, as it turns out, is not because of rejection or failure. The true reason is because we are conditioned to fight this emotion. We block out the feeling by being hard on ourselves, drinking, watching TV, turning the blame to others, and “forgetting.” What we are doing, though, is numbing and only hindering ourselves from truly healing, making it much more difficult to move on.
A practical tip from meditation, is as you enter those challenging phases in your journey of building a company, make sure you sit and honor the negative emotions too. Be still and focus on the heart, it is all part of the ride.
Lead With Intention
I came into the retreat thinking that I wanted to relax, resolve some issues and understand myself better. As soon as I sat down, I realized it was all rubbish. My true intention was to open my heart to whatever I was about to receive. Expectations are the mother of disappointment. As founders, we set a vision, build teams, make difficult decisions, and live with constant uncertainty. We are always moving, but what if we paused before starting something, and took a moment to find our intention behind it? In other words, re-aligning with and reminding ourselves of the true "why" behind why we do what we do.
Before every meditation session on my retreat, we used this practice of setting an intention. It is such a relief to come back to now, whenever I start feeling stressed, bored or tired.
One practical way to use this approach, is to set a quick intention before walking into any meeting.
Letting Go Is an Option
Right before I left for the retreat, I was feeling stressed by trying to find the right monetization strategy for my business. During my time there, I had to let go of excel models and bills. By day 2, my mind was no longer worrying, and I was able to come back to the present as often as possible.
A week after I left the retreat, it all became clear. I knew exactly how we need to move forward. See, when you lose clarity or can’t make a decision, there are two choices: continue the thoughts and the worry, or let go and trust that the answer will come. And sure enough it will come in perfect timing.
Your Body Is Your Ally
An intrinsic part of the meditation practice is to continuously come back to the present. Whenever your thoughts start stirring away into story telling mode, you return to your body, the constant present. One successful trick I learned, is whenever stressful thoughts come to mind, begin feeling your hands and feet. Just coming back to them, and being reminded of your physical presence, pulls a part of you back to the moment and away from the story.
To start being mindful and taking control of your actions, you can begin by sitting in silence for 3 minutes every day, just observing your breath. If you want scientific proof, research on meditation is everywhere. But I don’t want to bore you with science, and instead will ask one question: if you want to change the world, who can you start by changing?
“The Way to do is to be.”
Has meditation taught you lessons you've found useful in business?
About the guest blogger: Jessica is the founder of The Passion Co., the first school where you can explore and pursue any of your passions. Their content arm www.passionstori.es is a visual and writen collection of stories of individuals who left their traditional jobs to do what they love full-time.