In times of crisis, there are those who become overwhelmed by fear and those who rise to the occasion. They know that they have the mindset to not just endure but to thrive in the middle of chaos. They understand that what they do right now is going to determine what kind of life they will have ten years from now.
What separates these individuals from the vast majority? It’s not necessarily money or past success. There are plenty of people who have money but they are living in fear. And there are people who thought they had their business figured out, and now they are forced to reinvent themselves because everything has changed.
People who thrive in chaos have the ability to stay calm under immense pressure and focus on who they need to become to get through a challenge. They have the capacity to change their perception when reality changes. They don’t try to argue with reality by wishing that things wouldn’t be a certain way.
They possess what I call emotional fitness.
Emotional fitness is not the same as emotional intelligence. Although the two are related, emotional intelligence is the capacity for empathy. Emotional fitness is the capacity to think on your feet when the ground crumbles underneath you.
You already know the benefits of exercise. You can do all the research you want about the perfect interval times or the best yoga pants, but all of that means nothing if you don’t get in the gym and do the work until you start sweating. The same thing is true for emotional fitness. You can read all you want about how to stay calm under pressure, but the only way to actually increase your emotional fitness is to do the necessary inner work to increase your capacity.
Here are five ways entrepreneurs can increase their emotional fitness.
1. Check-in with yourself multiple times a day
Your reaction to whatever stimulus is in front of you is to a certain extent involuntary. If you step on a LEGO, you get angry at the same time the pain shoots up your foot. When you watch the craziness on the news, you get anxious. Those thoughts and emotions are going to come to you before your rational brain has a chance to keep up. At least two or three times per day, take a minute to check-in with yourself and figure out what you are focusing on. Follow that focus and see what the emotions are bringing up. Are you stressed out because you’re focused on the negative things that are happening, or are you excited about the opportunities that are ahead of you?
Most people don’t know, but subconsciously our mind focuses on all the negative things that are going on because of the survival instinct. When you’re on autopilot, it’s easy for these negative feelings to overwhelm everything else. But by intentionally bringing awareness to your thoughts and emotions, you can make a conscious decision to shift your focus and interrupt the pattern of being on autopilot. By checking in with yourself multiple times a day, you give yourself the data to understand why you feel the way you do and where your focus is during the day.
2. Acknowledge the emotions and thoughts
The moment that you acknowledge your emotions and thoughts is the moment that you can become aware of the trigger that is causing that thought or emotion. Like I said before, our subconscious mind is constantly focused on negative thoughts and emotions, especially early in the day. If you don’t acknowledge those feelings, you are going to be fighting an uphill battle the entire day. Your brain is going to release the stress hormone cortisol, because your brain behaves as if you’re fighting an enemy, and your body expends energy fighting itself.
Studies show that just acknowledging negative thoughts, and realizing that it’s normal for your brain to be in reactive mode, gives you the power to make the conscious decision to shift and focus on the opportunities instead of the problem. Be more aware of them instead of trying to fix them. Your emotions are not something you have to “fix.” The trigger that made you feel that way is the thing to fix, not the emotion itself.
3. Don’t make your emotions “wrong”
Your emotions are feedback to your perception of your current reality. If you make them wrong, then you believe that your current situation shouldn’t be happening to you. That’s when you start arguing with reality and look for something or someone to blame. We have this illusion that we shouldn’t feel a certain way, or that we are weak by acknowledging what we feel.
By acknowledging you are not your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, you become open to receiving feedback and learning from them instead of reacting to them.
4. Feel your emotions fully
We are constantly judging ourselves and we don’t give ourselves permission to feel our emotions fully. Like the feeling of relief that sometimes mixes in with sadness. Our emotions can bring out guilt and shame because we think we shouldn’t feel a certain way. The guilt and shame are what prevent us from expanding our capacity. The emotions are there because the triggers are there, and you can’t just stop that circuit. Instead, you have to complete the circuit and feel the emotions fully.
The moment we give ourselves permission to feel the emotion, that’s the moment you’re bringing light into the darkness. The fear and uncertainty that consume our energy will begin to lose power. We are bringing light into the darkness and realizing that we were more afraid of the dark than what it was hiding.
5. Win the battle in your mind before it becomes real
Most of our fears and stressors are caused by what we think could happen. Much of the time, the fear isn’t real, and only lives in our mind. The thoughts of the worst-case scenario are all set in the future and are inspired by some pain from the past. That feeling of being caught in the middle of an unalterable past and an undetermined future takes away our certainty. It’s that helplessness that amplifies all the other emotions. But the secret weapon is that you can also win those battles in the same place: your mind.
Recently, my wife became ill. We were sure it was COVID-19, and the two of us took immediate action to protect our two teenage children by quarantining her in the guest room. A day later, she recovered but I got sick myself, and I was sicker than I’ve ever been for two days. Although fighting the virus was brutal, I had the emotional fitness to not overreact. This was in large part because for years, every morning I imagined myself facing a worst-case scenario, and every morning I felt the pain of my wife or kids getting sick, or of being sick and not being able to provide for my family. But then I would end the mediation, knowing it was all in my mind and the reality was that they were fine. At that point, no challenge or failure I would face that day would be worse than what I put myself through in my imagination.
This time, when the worst-case scenario actually happened in real life, it was painful, but I was comfortable with the pain in a way few people ever get to be. Because I was able to fight the battle in my mind many times over and I had the emotional fitness to stay calm in the middle of chaos.
You have to do the same thing. Fight the monsters where they live, which is in your mind. When you slay the beasts inside your mind, you realize that they are there to make you stronger. So when you face them in real life, you know exactly what to do to overcome them.
Every day, I’m having conversations with clients who are CEOs and entrepreneurs, and I remind them that this present moment is the biggest opportunity we have to stand out from the crowd as leaders. If we’re willing to increase our emotional fitness on a daily basis, we will rise through the chaos. But this has to be a daily commitment.
If you’re a leader in your business, you can’t afford to be consumed by the negative energy that we have in this pandemic. Increase your emotional fitness daily, and you will become stronger when the storm clears. One of my favorite mantras that I repeat to myself every day is “the best is yet to come.” And if you believe that with every single cell in your body, you will find opportunities, and you will bring certainty to those who are living in fear. Your job as a leader is to get stronger, increase your capacity, and bring hope to your employees, customers, and family. You were made for moments like this.
This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur.