Category Archives: EI Blog

Wimp to Pimp: Three Steps to Stop Fearing Success

The excitement of success can feel close to anxiety for some. The physical reactions to both stress and excitement are biologically very similar. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the road to success involves risks such as “getting one’s hopes up” – which threatens to lead to disappointment. Many people also associate success with uncomfortable things such as competition and its evil twin, envy.As the Psychology Today article “Fear of Success” notes:

In order to have a healthy relationship with success (and it’s flip side, failure, or disappointment), the first step is to learn to differentiate between feelings of excitement and fear. Try this technique to shift your perspective and share your experience with us in the comment section below.
  1. Recall an event where you were successful or excited when you were younger, and notice what you are feeling and sensing in your memory. Stay with the sensation of for 5 minutes.
  2. Recall an event where you were successful and excited recently in your life, and notice what you are feeling and sensing. Stay with this sensation of for 5 minutes.
  3. Now tap into the sensation of a memory of an overwhelming situation. I suggest not to start with a truly traumatic event, at least not without a therapist’s support. Start with something only moderately disturbing to you

Read more at Psychology Today

Five Tips to Better Risk Taking (My latest story for BlogHer)

Entrepreneurs know how to take risks. Do you?  Most people generally consider risk to be a four letter – something to be avoided and planned around at all costs.   However, researchers that study entrepreneurial achievement have found that your ability to become the next Steve Jobs is determined in large part by your comfort level with risky decisions.

Not all risks are bad.  Some can be very rewarding. The key is learning how to take them with stride.

While traditional business planning can help us identify risks, it does little to ease the jitters of taking leaps with imperfect information.  For those watching from the sidelines, taking a cue from expert risk-takers can hold the key to getting in the game.


Anyone Can Spot Risks. Entrepreneurs Take Risks

The ability to take smart risks is the single defining attribute of a successful entrepreneur, but at times the primal brain’s aversion to fear can make risk-taking a difficult task.

On personality tests, entrepreneurs scored higher ratings on questions that tested for impulsive behavior. Additionally, cognitive flexibility, or the ability to switch a plan of action depending on the situation’s context, played a key role in making smart business decisions. Combined with an impulsive personality, this cognitive flexibility gives risk-takers a particular edge over people who don’t have an impulsive nature.

Our brain doesn’t like risk, especially when it involves loss. Risk can also make us anxious and inhibit our ability to think creatively and problem solve efficiently.

Fear is the strongest variable that stands in the way of success, as it inhibits your brain from taking rewarding risks. This notion of loss aversion describes why people often unconsciously choose avoiding losses over acquiring gains.

In a 2009 Scientific American Mind article on amygdala damage, Dr. De Martino explains, “Loss aversion reflects a very ancient mechanism in the brain. Think about an animal. It has to get food, but at the same time it has to protect itself from predators. It would be very wise for an animal to weigh gains and losses from an evolutionary perspective. “

It’s fairly obvious that financial well-being is necessary for survival in the modern world. Almost all entrepreneurs are forced to put their financial security into jeopardy at some point. Their trick is they don’t fear loss the way everyone else does. It’s important to remember that the anxiety and general unpleasantness associated with the thought of loss occurs in the brain, and it can’t physically harm you.

The ability to take successful risks occurs in the brain and its biggest deterrent, fear, also exists in the brain. By understanding how your primal brain makes decisions in the modern world, you can learn some simple tricks to help train your brain, silence the fear associated with loss, and make better decisions now.

Can you think of a time when your ability to take risks was rewarding? Why do you think you were able to move past the fear accompanied with taking risks? Tell us about a time took a rewarding risk and how it worked out. Share your story in the comment section below.

Five Facts About Charisma

Not all entrepreneurs are born with the power to inspire. Charisma is the outcome of careful craftsmanship. Charismatic leaders cultivate narratives in which their sense of self comes to be seen by followers as emblematic of their shared group identity.

We can all cultivate our own charisma, here’s how (from Scientific American Mind July/August 2012):

1. Charisma centers on the capacity for a leader to seen by followers as advancing the groups interests. Its spell can be broken if leaders are discovered to be acting for themselves or for an opposing group.

2. We are not born with a natural talent for winning hearts and minds. Followers respond to a leaders thoughtfully tuned public identity by endowing that person with charisma.

3. A charismatic leader is an entrepreneur of identity. This person clarifies what we believe rather than telling people what they believe.

4. Use words like “us” and “we” that emphasize a shared identity to increase charisma.

5. Franklin Roosevelt managed to appear to be both “of us” and “for us,” a feat that lies at the heart of charisma in general.

My First INC Magazine Column: Shane Battier and Your Winning Streak

Entrepreneurs can leverage the same brain chemistry that helped the Miami Heat’s Shane Battier shine in the NBA finals. Here’s how.

In business, sports, or anything else, getting on a hot streak isn’t luck. It’s physiological.  If you can understand how the brain processes success and failure, you can create your own winning streak, jump-starting your productivity.

The more times you succeed at something, the longer your brain stores the information that allowed you to triumph in the first place. With each success, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine. When dopamine flows into the reward pathway (the part of the brain responsible for focus, pleasure and motivation), it enables our neurons to process information more effectively.

That’s just one reason entrepreneurs need to set short-term, achievable goals. Your ultimate vision for your company can be a bit pie-in-the-sky, but if you don’t set short-term goals you can reach, you’re setting yourself up for a very difficult time. With each failure, the brain becomes drained of dopamine, making it more difficult to learn from what went wrong and more difficult to focus on the next attempt.

What You and Shane Battier Have in Common

The same principles and the brain chemistry affect us all, whether we’re entrepreneurs or NBA champions. In December 2011, when power forward Shane Battier signed with the Miami Heat, expectations for the team among fans, media, and the players themselves were sky high. In Miami, where all-stars like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James shine on court, the championship party started before the season even got underway. With expectations elevated, Battier played the worst he had since turning pro, shooting career lows from the field.

“In sports there is a scorecard every night. There’s a million ways to dissect if you are effective in pulling your weight,” says Battier. “And thanks to twitter, everyone has a voice. Every little thing you do is scrutinized, laughed at, second-guessed and cheered. It’s a lot of negative noise that can be detrimental to the game.”

“People were hammering me on my shooting percentages. ‘Why I am not doing this or that. What’s wrong with you, Shane? Have you thought about changing your shot?’ I was a ten year veteran of the league.”

Each bad game led to questions and scrutiny that increased the chances of failure in the next. Battier continued to have the worst season of his career.  Nonetheless, Miami progressed to the playoffs. “I just needed one game, something positive to turn on the light,” says Battier.   That’s exactly what he got in the Boston series.

“In basketball people always talk about how you feel good after making your first shot. That night, I hit my first shot; it was a three-pointer.  Something inside just fires up, making you feel like this could be your night,” says Battier. That “something” is dopamine, released by the thrill of making that first shot. “Then I made the next shot.  It really was my night.  You start to really believe it. You stop thinking about form and mechanics. You just act. You do what you’ve trained endlessly in your life to do that seems second nature to you. The confidence I was searching for the entire year came back to me that night.”

From the Boston series on to the end of the finals, Battier had an amazing shooting streak. “Historical shooting in NBA finals from three-point-land is 35%.  I shot 52%. I am not a player known to score a lot, but I scored a lot in the NBA finals and everyone was like, ‘Who is this guy?  He’s been playing so badly the whole year.’ I had to laugh.”

Creating a Winning Streak

Collecting wins, no matter how small, can help you build the confidence and optimism needed to activate the brain’s reward pathway and launch you towards your goals. To steer yourself into a cycle of productivity, you’ve got to rack up those first few wins.

To create your own cycle of productivity, start by creating a strong vision for your company, and then set a few realistic short-term goals that leverage your strengths.

“Vision creates a picture for the subconscious mind,” says Richard Peterson, a psychiatrist and expert in neuro-economics. You don’t need to wait until you achieve your goals before your brain starts releasing dopamine and setting you up for a winning streak. Just visualizing your success can be enough. “Whether you imagine it or experience it, in large part, your brain looks at it the same way,” says Peterson.

Ideally, your short-term goals will be the motor that drives you toward your aspirations, little by little. To harness the motivating power of repeated dopamine releases, set a few short-term goals at a time. Each should ideally take no more than three months to achieve. The goals should be realistic and specific, and incorporate your strengths. Writing them down will help you stay focused. The idea is to increase the likelihood of experiencing a positive outcome, setting you on the fast track for repeated wins.

Why Music Makes You Happy

According to an article that appears in Discovery News (April 2011):

People love music for much the same reason they’re drawn to sex, drugs, gambling and delicious food, according to new research. When you listen to tunes that move you, the study found, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical involved in both motivation and addiction.

Here’s the basic gist:

  • Listening to moving music causes the brain to release dopamine, a feel-good chemical.
  • Dopamine-induced pleasure may help explain why music has been such a big part of human societies throughout history.
  • Understanding why people like listening to music is helping scientists understand human pleasure

Moral of the story:  Fix Monday, hump-day and Friday blues by incorporating a dose of tunes to your daily diet. The associated boost in dopamine will not only facilitate concentration, pleasure and learning but make you more productive to boot

Come on get happy! (I couldn’t resist)

Ten Ways to Get Creative at Work

Try these tips to maximize your creativity at work.  From Scientific American Mind-July/August 2012

1. Become an expert: a solid knowledge base will allow you to connect remote ideas and see their relevance to a problem.

2. Observe: when trying to come up with a new product or service, carefully study how people use what is currently available and what problems they face.

3. Know your audience: walk in the shoes of the intended costumer. How would a child use a remote control? How would an elderly person access a voting booth?

4. Step out of your comfort zone: seek activities outside your field of expertise. Take a class; read a book; travel to a foreign country. New experiences often bring forth novel thoughts.

5. Be willing to work alone: group brainstorming can help you synthesize your ideas, but it is far more effective if you have started the creative process on your own.

6. Talk to outsiders about your work: a novel perspective can help you see alternative solutions or possible faults with your original idea.

7. Have fun: a good mood can forge remote associations. Upbeat music may help but also makes tasks that demand focus more difficult. If you need to concentrate, dampen you demeanor with sad songs.

8. Take a nap or let your mind wander: sleep and daydreaming can enlists your unconscious mind to work on a problem that is stumping you.

9. Take a break: occupying your mind with a different task can unleash novel solutions.

10. Challenge yourself: disrupt your daily routine. Abandon your initial idea (even if it works) and look for a new one. Borrow from other people’s answers and try to improve on them.

Return to Instinct

The Entrepreneurial Instinct book investigates underlying qualities, quirks and mindset that can help you become a successful entrepreneur.

Here, we’ll examine traditional entrepreneurial traits like intelligence, charisma, creativity, innovation, and success through the lens of neuroscience and behavior. The EI Blog will collect stories of the innovative mind at its cognitive best, provides techniques and proven strategies that physically prime your brain for success.

The EI is the intersection of business, behavior and brain science. By learning how your mind works and makes decisions, you can capitalize on your weaknesses, so doing what you love becomes instinctual.

Discovering your instinct means to stop doing what you think is best, and start listening to your own inner nature.

“If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors for you. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid. Doors will appear where there were once walls. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.” –Joseph Campbell