FounderFuel: How to take on those negative thoughts

Ever feel like your mind is fighting against you?

We all have an internal voice. Let’s face it, it is often not especially nice or helpful. I liken it to having a little gremlin on your shoulder. An anxious one, or an angry one, or a totally negative one.

Fortunately, we can turn that inner voice into a fuelling voice too – when we know how…

Previously, we looked at how common anxious thoughts are as founders, and how to take back control. I heard from many of you on this:

“Having regularly experienced the negative effects of anxious thoughts, I discovered daily meditation as the key to getting my mind back into a neutral state. If I start to feel the familiar franticness or raised heart rate that comes with anxious thoughts and feelings, I now have the tools to intercept them quickly before sleeplessness and other negative consequences kick in. ”

Nick Jones, founder at Zumo

What I love about Nick’s account is how he has built up the awareness, and the strategies, to intervene before the full-blown anxieties start to spiral – which is a powerful lesson for us all. That’s step 1 – tuning into your early warning signs of anxiety. Step 2 is using our PP-tool to make sense of the spiral of thoughts going on in your mind. You can recap on both here.

The PP-tool shifts us from a spiralling mess of interconnected thoughts, to lists of individual thoughts contributing to the anxiety. Some are Practical, others more Psychological. Here’s an example for being stuck with a pitch deck (a common founder occurrence!):

Once we’ve cleared the fog, we can tackle the thoughts individually and move forwards more productively. The good ol’ founder brain will love the straight-forward problem solving of the Practical list. The Psychological list is trickier though – that’s where our next tools come in.

Step 3 – Get better at processing the emotions with the AVPR tool

Let’s clear out the feelings hiding in the Psychological list first.

Most of us are pretty detached from our emotions. We’re rarely taught how to process them, and to add to that, as founders, the continuous emotional load seems to lead to detaching even more. But that doesn’t mean they go away. We all know they just accumulate, until we react (often at the wrong person or situation). So tackle the emotions you see hiding in your Psychological list with the AVPR tool:

  • “I am [angry / scared / anxious]…
    • Humour really helps too… “oh here’s Mr Anxious again”.
    • If it’s hard to name it, focus on what you can name… I’m feeling all tight right now… I’m about to explode…
  • “That makes sense and it’s ok to feel this way”

These stages are vital for deflating the emotion. There is something very powerful about naming the emotion to tame it, and then accepting it – it has a powerful regulating affect on the body. Then you can move forwards…

  • Ask yourself, where the feeling is coming from, and why is it triggering me?
  • Tying back to the core of the Cognitive Behavioural Theory we covered in part 1, we can then choose how we’re going to act, without the emotional hijacking, and tackle those cognitions in the list.

Step 4 – Replace the negative thoughts with more helpful ones using the PITs-PETs tool

With the wind taken out of the sails of some tricky emotions hiding in the list, you can start to respond to some of the cognitions more productively.

The psychological list of is filled with PITs – Performance Interfering Thoughts. The PITs PETs tool enables us to rewrite these unhelpful thoughts into much more helpful Performance Enhancing Thoughts:

These more helpful thoughts are much easier to act on, and are more grounded in reality (i.e. not catastrophizing, ruminating etc). They are also more likely to bolster your confidence rather than eat away at it, like the negative gremlin voice does.

The cynics amongst you will be questioning the ease of this. I get it. When we talk about replacing thoughts (“Cognitive Replacements” in psychology-speak) it all sounds too easy, but the neuroscience backs up the effectiveness. Think of your mind as a bit like a cornfield. It’s really hard to lay down a new path through a cornfield, just as it feels like a lot of effort to identify and replace these unhelpful thoughts with more helpful ones. But start repeating these stronger, more helpful thoughts and it is easier for your mind to send signals down the new neural pathway, in the same way that the cornfield path is easier to walk down. With a bit of repetition, you’re creating new neural pathways to reflect the stronger thoughts and removing (or at least lessening) those unhelpful thought pathways worn down by the regular negative things those gremlins say!

So there we have it – when those thoughts start spiralling, make sense of them with the PP-Tool, soothe the emotions with AVPR and replace the unhelpful cognitions for a much more resilient response with the PITs-PETs tool. It’ll have you back performing the way you want in no time.

FounderFamily members can access the Scaleup Session recording that we did on keeping anxiety in check as a founder here and the worksheets for each tool:

Big shout out to our friends and referral partners over at Vitus Wellbeing for the simple emotion processing info in this article. 

Written by Christina Richardson, founder at weare3Sixty
Founder coach & trainer | Startup exec-team coach | FounderCircle® creator & head-coach. Passionate about sustainable founder performance, wellbeing and the leadership transition from founder to C-suite.

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