Entrepreneurs always need to work on their self-consciousness. 

Your decision to be an entrepreneur comes with a big problem: Building a business is a guaranteed, never-ending exercise in pushing outside your comfort zone.


When you’re doing it right, becoming an entrepreneur is the biggest commitment to personal growth a human can make. 

But all that growth is uncomfortable as hell. 

Think about that “Big Pitch” opportunity you have. 

Or, your lucky break: An opportunity to speak in front of a large audience. 

Even meeting an important decision maker whom you desperately hope to work with. 

This stuff is scary. Entrepreneurship is a high stakes game. 

It’s no wonder that every entrepreneur wrestles with anxious feelings and self-consciousness. Especially in those moments when something big is on the line.

Your entrepreneurial journey will serve you up opportunities to face your fears, put yourself out there and risk failure. These are all positive opportunities, because when you slay those mental dragons you will leap ahead. 

You will accelerate growth of both your bottom line and your psyche. 

Slaying mental dragons is your job as an entrepreneur 

You know how to do it, too. 

Deep down, in your bones, you know precisely what you need to do to win the pitch. Or close the deal. Or blow your audience’s minds. 

There’s only one thing preventing you from taking the action you know you should… 


Specifically, the anxiety and self-consciousness of in-the-moment pressure to perform in front of others. 

The good news is: There’s a solution to fear.  

In fact, there is a single psychological technique – for making yourself less anxious and less self-conscious – that will strengthen your resolve and armor you with confidence. 

This method will transform you into the dragon-slaying, iron-skinned badass you’ve always known you can be.  

Here’s how to make yourself less anxious and self-conscious: 

Redirect the locus of your attention 

“Locus” is a fancy word psychologies use for the “mental spotlight of your attention”. It’s the thing your awareness zeros in on when you pay attention and notice something. 

That flustering feeling of being too self-conscious is a result of your locus-of-attention being turned inwards. On yourself. 

When you wonder if the other person in the meeting notices you blushing, or why your hands are shaking so much, or if the audience can hear your stammer… or any form of anxious self-consciousness… it all happens because you are focusing on yourself

Human consciousness is incredibly narrow. Specifically our attentional, focusing abilities are tightly focused. They’re a laser that illuminates exactly what they’re pointing at, not wide sweeping floodlight that lights up the a football field. 

The critical insight required to reduce anxiety and self-consciousness is that the self partof self-consciousnessis the problem. 

We can only focus on a few things at a time. Often only one. Evidence for this phenomenon can be found right here.

Being internally focused, mentally casting your spotlight of attention on your feelings, the sensations in your body or what you think about what’s going on… all of that is the experience of self-consciousness itself! 

The more you focus on you, the more self-consciousness you become. 

It’s a paradoxical spiral that can feel impossible to escape. 

In contrast, the research of incredible high performers – particularly the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on “Flow states” – shows that when people get deep in the zone, their attention becomes incredibly externally focused. 

Highly successful people place the locus of their attention on the external world around them. 

When they’re under the most pressure to perform, their very sense of self becomes diminished. 

Simply put: It’s getting out of your own head. Escaping painfully, detailed scrutiny of your thoughts and sensations. 

And instead: Truly opening yourself to input from the world around you. 

This is what it means to be truly present

Your sense of self diminishes when you’re genuinely engaged with your external environment. 

And by the way, this is not an impossible-to-attain superpower that only the mega-successful elite 0.01% are born with. 

You’ve already done it yourself. You know the feeling too. 

We all have something in life that enables Flow-state external focus. 

For me, skiing is a big one. 

Last winter I clocked 51 miles an hour in a particular run at Whistler. Previous seasons I’ve competed in the world’s longest downhill ski race in Switzerland where my top speed wasn’t measured, but I averaged about 35 miles an hour for the duration of the 12 mile race. 

My exhausted self (and team mates) at the finish of the 2014 Inferno Race.

In order to pull these kinds of things off without literally falling off a cliff—or crashing into a tree —I have to be extraordinarily focused on the external environment. 

As I’m rocketing down a slope, every ounce of my mental energy is scanning: My brain, eyes, ears—and even the nerves in my feet—are like radar-dishes hunting for unexpected contours or even textures in the snow that require adjusting for. 

I’m searching for obstacles like trees, but I’m also doing mental trigonometry for the other people skiingon the slope to ensure I don’t end up arriving where they’re going at the same time they do. (Because that tends to hurt!)

In these moments, I feel more alive than ever. My sense of self is diminished to a state of almost non-existence and I’m fully interfacing with the mountain, the slope, the experience of skiing. 

That’s how you should aim to feel, instead of self-conscious, in business settings. 

It takes practice. A bit of training and plenty of time are required. But knowing precisely what kind of mental state you’re aiming for is key. 

The paradox of self-consciousness is that people believe it’s other people that make them anxious, but it’s actually their self-focused navel gazing that does it. 

When you interfacing with the external other—the person you are conversing within the same way a skier interfaces with a mountain, you move the locus of your attention away from the self. Your self-consciousness naturally diminishes. 

This is why expert public speakers describe an experience of speaking to individuals within the audience. They’ll make eye contact and gesticulate, not to the room in general but to individual seated audience members. They’ll play a non-verbal game of persuasion and when that person starts unconsciously nodding along, they’ll move on to the next person. 

Veteran startup founders on my client roster have described speaking in board meetings and pitches to investors as a kind of hyper-alertness. They’re looking for the slightest wrinkling of brows from the VC firm’s partners. They’re scanning for anything that betrays a potential “objection” or obstacle that the founder needs to maneuver around. 

Externally-focused flow states aren’t the result of self confidence, they’re the cause of it. 

When you train yourself to focus on the other people around you, it becomes obvious that they’re just people too. 

Everyone else is also a flawed human. 

They feel imposter syndrome, too. 

They didn’t sleep so good last night, either. 

They’re just like you. 

Self-consciousness diminishes at exactly the same rate your empathy with other humans grows. 

When you lionize other people—when you see the audience or the person across the table as terrifyingly important—you’re actually engaging in self delusion. You are closing your eyes (or mind) to the human elements of that person. You are seeing them not as they are, but as how you imagine them to be. You’re going inside—into that dark, private space behind your eyes—and you’re thinking about your feelings, not about the external world. Not about them. 

You just have to stop. And see reality. 

This is definitely all easier said than done, of course. But where can you start if you are someone who is paralyzed by social anxiety? 

Social-external-focus or “social flow” (let’s call it that) is a learnable skill. It’s contextually, laterally transferable. What that means is you can learn to do “social flow” somewhere reasonable “low stakes”. You can build it like a mental muscle. 

Then, when you’ll find that muscle stronger and easier to engage when you find yourself in a high pressure meeting or situation. Focusing on others (not yourself) is a skill that laterally transfers.

The tactics to “build the muscle” are obvious, and the only catch is that they require genuine effort: 

Make eye contact. 

Observe people’s body language. 

Call people by their name. 

Ask powerful introspective questions. 

Actively listen to the answers. 

(^^ The last one is the most important!)

Here’s the high level: 

Get in the habit of—when connecting with other humans—placing your mental laser of attention on them, not on yourself. 

You’ll know your doing it right when someone asks you a question and you have to pause for a beat or two to think about what you actually think and have to say on that topic. 

That is a sign you’ve moved your attentional locus so far away from yourself that you’re not actually thinking about what to say next. Which is what all anxious, self-conscious people do. 

The solution to social anxiety and self-consciousness is always standing (or sitting) right in front you: It’s them. Not you. The solution is them. 

Focus on other people, forget about yourself. 

Empathize with them. Humanize them. 

Once you start training yourself to project your focus externally, you’ll realize what a tremendous superpower it is. 

All around you, you’ll see the telltale signs of other people lost in self-absorbed anxious navel-gazing. And you’ll smile to yourself, confident—at last—that you know the way out. 

I’ve noticed a trend amongst business owners I find personally – and psychologically – disturbing: Reading ONLY non-fiction.

The logic is simple. In a world where there’s so much to learn, ain’t nobody got time to lose themselves in imaginary narrative and prose! 

It’s understandable to feel this way.

I personally have the expensive habit of 1-click purchasing almost any non-fiction book my friends recommend. In fact, they only have to mention a book in passing. Such is my fear-of-missing-out on the next great book! 

Naturally, I have an entire bookshelf devoted to un-read non-fiction. It’s steadily grown for years. 

Nevertheless, in this post I’m going to explain why skipping fiction isn’t just a tragedy, it’s actually handicapping your success as an entrepreneur. 

I get all the counter-arguments too: Even if you’ve evolved beyond reading the latest New York Times pop-psychology or management advice bestseller, there’s a treasure-trove of amazing biographies to draw deeper inspiration from. Then you can go digging into history. Or philosophy. 

Whatever direction for reading you choose, you will never have enough time to read it all. A great friend of mine (who also happens to be a bestselling author) recently confessed he has fantasies of “… quitting all-things-business and just reading for a year”. 

No matter how similarly you feel, it’s critical that you put down that game-changing biography, or mind blowing how-to-guide… and pick up something entirely made up. 

I’m not even advocating that you improve your mind by reading War and Peace or Ulysses or something. I’m telling you that reading goddamn Harry Potter will significantly improve your chances of hitting an entrepreneurial home run. 

There are three reasons why reading fiction is CRUCIAL for entrepreneurial success: 

1. Over-optimization is the mind-killer 

The mentality of optimizing every facet of your life – treating every minute of the day as an opportunity to self improve, learn, upgrade etc – is a disaster of anti-mindfulness that leads to entrepreneurs burning themselves out. 

I’ve written about this before if you want to go deeper. 

I call it “Over-optimization Syndrome” and you can observe it in the kind of business owner who fills every spare minute with “improving content”. 

It’s optimizing every commute by turning it into non-fiction podcast time.

Every hobby (if any are even allowed!) is about optimization and growth, never just fun or joy. At it’s worst, even the entrepreneur’s romantic relationship is continually evaluated for “growth’ and “value”. 

These entrepreneurs push themselves too much. They treat every second as a opportunity to improve and optimize. 

They burn themselves out. 

Whether they make millions through all this or not – and it’s usually not – they hit a wall where their unconscious mind says “too much”. 

A big part of our non-conscious mind is organized around moving us toward pleasure and away from pain – it’s the same part that psychoanalysts metaphorically labeled “the inner child” back in the day – and it gets pissed off when life is all work and no play. 

Burnout results in your motivation and energy slipping away like sand through your fingers.

The entrepreneur unconsciously senses that all that optimization hasn’t made them any happier. They feel exhausted, ridden with self doubt and paralyzed by the anxiety that they’ve been focusing their time on the wrong things. 

One of the best ways to prevent this burnout (or recover from it) is to just get out of your own head. The root of Over Optimization Syndrome is the paralytic, narcissistic navel-gazing of self obsession. 

Losing yourself in something like The Name of The Wind or the hilarity and enlightenment of Jitterbug Perfume is the ultimate way to keep it real. 

It’s a way to take a mental vacation on your self obsession and problems – to get some distance and perspective – and more than anything it just chills you the hell out. 

The key is to acknowledge that life isn’t just about optimization and improvement. Sometimes you just have to live. Not even be “mindful” like it’s some exercise, but just be. Enjoy yourself. Engage with the world at large. Connect with “the other”, the world beyond yourself. 

For the busy ever-optimizing entrepreneur, it’s hard to know where to even begin keeping-it-real like that. 

Luckily for you, fiction authors for centuries have packaged up the world – the beauty, majesty, complexity and drama of it – in tiny little convenient hand-held packages that you can dive into at a moment’s notice. 

They’re called novels. Read one! 

You’ll also benefit from…

2. The best Sleep Hack ever invented 

I’m not even the first person to figure this out: Tim Ferriss is a huge fan of consuming escapist non-fiction immediately before bed. Sci-fi or fantasy works best. 

Why? Because fiction takes your mind away from the self. 

Most entrepreneurs have trouble sleeping because of the lists upon lists of things to do, problems to solve, ideas to execute and worries to ruminate upon. 

The pages of a good novel transport the consciousness elsewhere. They take you to a place where your worries don’t exist. They allow your conscious mind to temporarily forget about your problems, by focusing on a fictional protagonist’s problems. 

That temporary respite from agonizing all about you is your conscious mind sending your concerns to the realm of your unconscious mind. Drowsiness ensues. And deep sleep follows. 

The unconscious mind then gets to do what it does best: Slay the dragons in your mind as you dream the night away. You’ll awake refreshed and might even surprise yourself with new perspectives and solutions that appear to have come from no where. 

By now you should be noticing the deeper point of this article: That non-fiction is a gateway to non-self. Specifically, to stepping temporarily outside of your ego-self and accessing the incredible benefits of cognitively engaging in the wider world outside your own head. 

The final reason you should read fiction – voraciously and passionately – has everything to do with the incredible bottom-line – as in, actual financial – benefit of getting beyond the self: 

3. The Game-Changing Business Tool that is Empathy 

Empathy is the ultimate edge in business. 

Nothing will supercharge your marketing campaigns more. Nothing will arrive at a better, faster and strong product-market-fit. Nothing will help you sell directly, more effortlessly. 

Empathy is the entrepreneurial superpower. The catch? 

Nothing will be more difficult to consistently, reliably and genuinely access. Empathy is hard. It’s work. It requires intense concentration and self awareness. It requires you to step outside yourself. You must put aside your ego. You must suspend your fervent desire that the world be the way you wish it to be. 

Developing the entrepreneurial superpower of empathy requires a determined dedication to discovering the subjective truths and experience of others. 

When you pick up a well written novel, you hand yourself a key to that. 

The master novelist is a master precisely in decoding the subjective experience of others. A novel succeeds – when it succeeds – by allowing us to know as fully as possible what it’s like to be another person. 

Great entrepreneurs learn that this empathetic appreciation of other people’s experience is the key to building incredible, wildly successful products and services. 

The significance of fiction and it’s positive effect on our mind – as entrepreneurs and even just as human beings – cannot be stated enough. I want to quote an unknown user on Reddit, who said it better than I ever could:

“The universe is huge. Time is impossibly vast. Trillions of creatures crawl and swim and fly through our planet. Billions of people live, billions came before us, and billions will come after. We cannot count, cannot even properly imagine, the number of perspectives and variety of experiences offered by existence. 

We sip all of this richness through the very narrowest of straws: One lifetime, one consciousness, one perspective, one set of experiences. Of all the universe has, has had, and will have to offer, we can know only the tiniest fraction. We are alone and minuscule and our lives are over in a blink.

All of this strikes me as terribly sad, and if I believed Someone were in charge, I could muster an argument that our awareness of vastness makes our tininess unfair.

But here’s the thing. 

Literature lets us experience life through a second consciousness. For a time we share the perspective and experience of the author and his imagination. Our experience of the universe is broadened, multiplied.

Without literature, we are all limited to our own lives. With it, we can know something of what it is to be other people, to walk in their shoes, to see the world their way.

Literature needs no further defense than this, I would say. 

It is our species’s most advanced and successful technology for cheating dismal fate out of the abstract aloneness it would otherwise impose on us.”

Ever hung out with a true maniacal genius of an entrepreneur?

I’m talking about the type of person who seems to have an inhuman ability to focus.

They have shitty work/life balance. They’ve never heard of lifestyle design. They sometimes forget to eat while working. They’re so weird, they tend to alienate everyone around them.

And yet, they’ve attained incredible levels of success. Something about their almost-Asperger level of weirdness has made this person into a home-run-hitting machine.  Continue reading “How to become a Type-A maniacal entrepreneur “

For entrepreneurs in particular, the internet has become the new late night television. Got a problem? Hurting? Struggling? Click here. There is a guru waiting to give you the answer to all your problems.

Instead of miracle cleaning products or exercise equipment it’s the course, the revolutionary training or seminar that promises “secrets”.

This happens despite the fact that there are no real secrets anymore. The internet has revolutionized our access to information in a way we’re only just beginning to comprehend. The chance that some formula for success is still actually hidden from you is zero.

Yet we keep getting sucked in.

Maybe it’s our enduring sense of imposter syndrome. Entrepreneurs just can’t seem to shake the feeling they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. And they can’t help but suspect that the other guy doesContinue reading “How gurus exploit imposter syndrome for profit “

The way you start 2016 will determine your success.

Astronomically successful entrepreneurs treat the end of their year as a sacred ritual. They get a serious head start by taking advantage of the holiday lull to reflect and plan ahead.

This isn’t just a matter of setting a few goals. 

Wannabe entrepreneurs flub it. They don’t have a good process in place. They know planning is crucial, but not how to do it correctly. Make this mistake and the price you’ll pay is Brain Fog for the next twelve months.

As The Shrink for Entrepreneurs I’ve been able to witness first hand the planning rituals of several insanely successful business owners. These people all have their own personal twist on the process BUT – just like how the fundamentals of a stellar business plan never change – the same fundamental puzzle pieces of good planning are all present at the meta level. 

One of my clients gets weird in the woods – they go out to a cabin to be totally alone. Another spends a ton of time with close family. One journals. Another builds spreadsheets.

All of them are committed to a year-end ritual. And underneath that ritual are three crucial meta-principles that I’m going to break down in this article. Oh, and I’m announcing something kinda big too… Continue reading “How ultra-achiever entrepreneurs use the holidays to win”

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