The 10 Biggest Entrepreneurial Mind-Traps and how to handle them

Having the right mindset when you own and run your own business is vital to success since your mindset will determine what actions you take. Before every thought, there is an action and the quality of the thought will determine the quality of the action. Depressed thinking = depressed actions. Inspired thinking = inspired action. As someone who helps entrepreneurs and business owners succeed in their endeavours, I wanted to write a piece outlining the 10 Biggest Entrepreneurial mindset traps and how to handle them. So let’s get started with the first one:

1. Overconfidence: Every entrepreneur I’ve ever met who had their first thoughts about starting a business when the Eureka idea hit them about what and how they would do it, had a huge rush of inspiration and excitement along with it. A plan began to emerge in their mind’s eye and they started to develop a roadmap of how to make it into a sustainable business model. Together with this flood of motivation, there is also usually a surge of confidence in their abilities to make it all happen: “That’ll definitely work” you may say to yourself, as you’re imagining a future which has not happened yet and seeing it though confident lenses. This is good. However, thinking about tomorrow instead of the present moment is a potential mind-trap. It’s how credit works. You can have the money now on the basis that you’ll be able to pay it off at some stage in the future, plus interest. So the last thing we tend to focus on when we get inspired and excited in this way is the cash flow, numbers, hard-line facts and reality of the situation. Unless you are an accountant or quantity surveyor (some of my best clients are accountants and my Mother was a QS), this can result in potentially damaging thoughts and actions such as: totally inaccurate forecasts, unrealistic time frames, missing key parts of the process such as fully understanding your market and your customers, getting the right help and support instead of thinking you can do it alone, making sure there is sufficient cash flow to keep you going during setup, and many more besides. A balance of creativity, realism and enthusiasm will give you the clarity you need to create a pragmatic roadmap and get the support you need to make it happen. As an amplification of this mind-trap, People who see themselves as experts in their field are generally not good at pivoting [See Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed]. A friend of mine is an angel investor and he told me that they rarely pump money into a new startup too early, even if the idea and people behind it are sound, as this prevents those involved from spotting potential flaws in the product or service early and being prepared to adjust accordingly. The more time and money we invest into an idea, the less likely we are to be able to change our thinking about it. This is called Cognitive Bias and is a key reason why startups fail. Which takes us nicely onto the second mind-trap:

2. Fear of failure: The antithesis of our first mind-trap and usually a type of mindset which doesn’t kick in until a few days after the initial rush of enthusiasm. “I can’t-do this – I’m simply not good enough… this is beyond me…” you may find yourself thinking aloud as the dust begins to settle and you start to think about the challenges which lie ahead. From an early age, we are told failure is a ‘bad thing’. This is bullsh*t. Failure is simply an outcome. Failure is essential feedback. Failure is nothing but a test result. And here’s the really great thing about failure… it’s impossible to succeed without it. You need to get good at it. You need to excel at failure. And you need to do it quickly. Fail fast, learn fast, adjust and move on. As soon as we associate the ‘test result’ with our own self-identity, self-esteem or self-confidence, we’ve fallen for the trap. Failure says nothing about us and our ability, it says everything about what we need to know and do next. One last thing on failure before we move on… Imposter Syndrome: Every successful person I have ever met has had a type of ‘imposter syndrome’ in one way or another. There is an inspirational Commencement Speech by the author Neil Gaiman at the University of the Arts in 2012 [] where he describes how he is always scared of being ‘found out’ by the powers that be of not actually being very good at what he does at all, and getting away with it for so long. This type of negative thinking/mindset to counterbalance the first one is a perfect example of the ebb and flow of life and thought. One minute we’re up and the next we’re down. One minute it’s raining, the next it’s sunny. There is nothing wrong with this per se, in fact, it is normal to have this type of thinking. The issue will be when it prevents us from taking action or inspires the wrong kind of action. Becoming aware of this ebb and flow of thought is the key to being able to ignore unproductive thoughts and act on the useful ones. Failure is your guide. Use it wisely, Grasshopper.

3. Fear of Success: The third Mind-trap in our list is actually a very common one and also a counterbalance to number 2 in that it is two sides of the same coin. The feeling and emotions which come with success lead us to expect a bigger fall into the abyss of failure, so we end up avoiding getting too high to avoid the bigger drop into the ‘known’ feelings of dejection. This can take many forms, such as self-sabotaging to stay in (seemingly) control of the situation, or imagining that it would be worse if you succeeded (my friends will abandon me, I will be alone and I won’t know who to trust anymore). This ‘tall poppy’ way of thinking can prevent us from taking bold actions and taking the risks necessary to achieve our maximum potential. So we stay small, happy and comfortable to be in a familiar situation when we won’t get envied or cut down to size. Can you see how this is similar to the fear of failure in that it prevents us from taking action. Once again, if we can recognise this type of mindset and learn how to ignore these thoughts, then new thinking will emerge which will take us out of the negative spiral and put us back on the path to success. The natural ebb and flow of thought will do the heavy lifting for us. But what if we don’t shift? What if we get stuck in the next trap on our list:

4. Inertia: This type of mindset and thinking can actually be a result of yo-yo-ing between fear of failure and fear of success and can lead to us being stuck in a rut or doing the same things over and over again thinking we are progressing. This is where having an understanding of the human condition (understanding how thought actually works) and getting the right support in your business endeavours becomes a vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle. We can not always see our own thoughts and actions from an objective position, so having someone who has got your back and can see where you are going wrong is vital. It’s why every successful person I know has a coach. Someone to guide you and make adjustments when you veer off-course. Someone to pick up on your own bullsh*t thinking and call you out on it. Someone to hold you accountable and give you the next steps to take, which can often be required due to the next trap on the list:

5. Overwhelm: There’s a lot to do to make a business successful. No doubt when you started, you did ALL of it. From creating the products to fulfilling the orders, doing the finances to making the tea… it was all you. Your to-do list was always full and there were simply not enough hours in the day. But being busy does not necessarily mean you are being productive. Your resources and the demands on those resources are limited, so you need to understand the difference between urgent, important and necessary. Which again is where you may need some outside assistance in identifying these differences. Is what you are doing right now urgent (deadlines), important (marketing) or necessary (tax return). How do you know? Who can help you to go through your tasks and pick out what is the next vital step on your journey and what (if anything) can be outsourced or scratched off the list entirely? Only once you get a handle on your own activities and streamline these into your day, will you be able to then afford to do the next item on our list (notice I am not saying ‘trap’ here yet – and you’ll see why in a minute).

6. Time wasting – procrastination. This is the number one mindset issue I get approached about on a consistent basis, and yet it only appears halfway down my list and I’m not even going to call it a trap. Why is that? For one very simple reason: procrastination CAN be a good thing. Let me explain. Procrastination shines a light on what’s actually important to you and it’s a natural way to filter out less important items on your list. But it also makes you more creative and innovative when you have less time to do the most important tasks. Plus, it can even be the ‘right choice’ to make when there are two options available and neither feels right. Procrastinating can be the essential buffer which allow new insight and thought to emerge and a new option to materialise. Having said that, I would also advise against having unnecessary distractions and interruptions around you just for the sake of it. When I was a business growth expert at the Entrepreneurs Circle, and I had to write 12 courses in 12 days for the National Support Centre, having no distractions and a clear route of how to do the task was a Godsend (12/12 is a fairly straight-forward calculation). If I had my Facebook or email window open throughout, I simply wouldn’t have got it done. Email is the most incredible time-wasting invention ever – as soon as you are checking emails, you’re allowing yourself to be influenced by other people’s agendas. A good tip here is to avoid checking email first thing in the morning and have set times throughout the day when you are able to check and stick to these times. The trick therefore with procrastination, is not to see it as a ‘bad thing’ until you understand the motivations behind it. Sit with it and ask yourself, “Is this useful, or not?” and see what comes up. Whatever the answer, go easy on yourself, nobody is perfect. Which brings us on nicely to number 7:

7. Perfectionism: What is perfection? In my mind, perfection is however it is. In other words, the fact that it is, means it must be perfect… because it is. Perfectionism therefore simply doesn’t make sense to me, because you are striving for something out of reach and yet it is already there. In real terms, this tends to play out in entrepreneurs being too scared to release products or services because they fear they will be ridiculed if there is anything wrong with them. Which takes us back to point 2, which we now know is an essential part of the journey. Failure is vital in the learning process. It’s impossible to get it right first time, every time, so aim to make it as good as you can get it and then release it, get the test results (feedback), recalibrate and move on (to number 8).

8. Lack of focus: This trap is not about being able to concentrate on doing the obvious actions to make your business succeed, rather it is a lack of focus on things which may seem less important but will soon build up to drain your energies and your passion in the long run. Not getting enough rest, taking time out of the business, looking after your health…. not asking for help! These are all examples of things which may initially take a back seat but will ultimately be the biggest drain on you, as your energy levels dip and you struggle to put in the hours to make your business thrive. It’s so easy to take our health for granted, until something goes wrong with it. And like everything in your business, if you are involved in it, you’ll ultimately need to take care of it. Taking care of your number one asset is a priority, even if that means earlier nights, meditation and cutting back on the alcohol and caffeine for a while.

9. Indecision: This mind trap is slightly different to inertia as being indecisive can sometimes be a good thing (see procrastination). But being stuck in a thought loop and not knowing the way out is actually telling you something really important. Seek help. Getting advice from people who’ve been there and done it already is the simplest way of popping an indecision bubble and moving on. Don’t forget, you won’t know what is the right answer/solution until you’ve received the test results, so making any decision rather than none at all by getting more eyes to look at your problem and using others experience, is the way out of this trap. Which takes us nicely onto the final point on our list:

10. Isolation: You don’t have to do this alone. Trying to work in isolation and not getting feedback or the support you need to make your business succeed is unnecessary. If you wouold like help in your business, make an application to work with me. If you are successful in your application, I will be in touch to discuss your application.