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.
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 with—in 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.
5 Comments+ Add Comment
Jedi mind insights gladly accepted. yes, focusing on others is a doorway to flow unless the focus of my attention is “I wonder what THEY think of ME?” Thanks for the reminder.
What they think of you…. That’s just a clever round-about way of thinking about yourself 😉
Great read thanks Peter 🙂
Oh! So insightful and discerning!
I find that many inventors cloak themselves in a similar downward spiral when they’re in the midst of product development. As they spin on this awkward eddy of internal focus, they forget to look outside and remind themselves why they’re inventing in the first place.
Thank you so much Peter. It’s a great article. This is exactly my issue. Last week, I had a meeting for employment as a cinematographer in a company. After manager watched my works said: “It’s a wonderful movie. You’re so brave that you did this.” In the meeting and after that I was thinking why did he say that? Did he only wants to be nice?
I made a giant hero from them in my head. In the reality their just a human like me.