Cultivate Focus : 5 Key Tips To Strengthen Your Start Up Mindset Series

At no point in our collective human history has the science of building a successful business been so actively deconstructed and analysed. At the centre of this veritable storm has been the evolving Start Up landscape. We can agree that businesses have always had a start up stage. But, the current appetite to pursue everything from side hustles to world-dominating tech ventures has been unprecedented, at least in terms of popular culture. They serve as the manifestations of powerful telecommunications, cultural globalisation, highly available, scalable resources and crucially an enterprising generation with the right start up mindset.

“Starting an online business and becoming financially independent is now a realistic proposition for anyone who has a computer and internet access”

Excerpt From: Gadson, Richard. “Passive Income: 30 Strategies and Ideas To Start an Online Business and Acquiring Financial Freedom (Passive Income, Online Business, Financial Freedom,).”

A Start Up Mindset

In comparison to just a few decades ago, the current opportunities can be characterised as hand-fed, pre-paid and of the just-tap-here variety. So why is it still so difficult to make it and take a business through the treacherous waters of year 1 through 3 for most start ups? Over the last 15 years of working in and learning about startup, it is my observation that the start up mindset of founders and/or driving forces (e.g., general managers) is the most crucial and consistent differentiator. A strong start up mindset has a tremendous effect on resilience and bounce-back-ability which is crucial during the infancy of an experiment.

From my own experience, reading and observations, I believe that the following actions can help you improve your start up mindset.

  1. Cultivate Focus
  2. Maintain Physical Wellbeing
  3. Develop Mindfulness
  4. Invest in Your Network
  5. Just do it!

Let’s start with Cultivating Focus

The ability to create something new requires great levels of cognitive capacity. Concentration and focus is paramount to producing informed and influential decisions as you plot a course forward.

Flow State

The ultimate goal is to reach a Flow state described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his best seller titled “Flow“.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines “Flow” in his Ted Talk (2004)

He described a level of focus “so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems”. The biggest killer of start up is fear and the slow destruction of happiness. Through finding flow, founders’ “self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted” creating happiness in their work.

“Flow is the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

Excerpt From: Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi. “Flow” .

Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow:

  1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. Merging of action and awareness
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

The One Thing

Try to build focus by prioritising activities (such as using MIT system), finding work that suits your skills and delegating the rest as much as possible, and creating an iterative approach with rules and goals (Learn More).

It is also useful to pick one thing that’s most important from each category of your life and then work backwards to achieve it by setting up annual, monthly, weekly and daily goals to achieve it.

“Think big but focus on one specific thing at a time…focus is a matter of what things you are not going to do”

Excerpt from: Gary Keller. “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results“.

As Gary Keller mentions in his book – The One Thing – you should focus on creating a success list vs a to-do list by prioritising your highest leverage activities. This can be achieved by employing the 80:20 rule (a.k.a. Pareto’s Principle). The 80:20 principle is simple – 20% of your activities usually yield 80% of your results and vice versa. So observing this can allow you to identify the activities in your 20% which can feed into your success list.

Self-discipline (Stoicism)

Building self-discipline compliments your quest for focus. If you want to build self-discipline, there is no better place to start by reviewing the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, who adhered to Stoicism. Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC and heavily influenced by the teaching of Socrates.

The Main 3 Big Stoics: Start up mindset

Aurelius is regarded as one of the last great Roman Emperors and his insights for self discipline still very much applicable today. Here are the 10 most important higher level take aways from his work.

  1. Self Discipline starts with finding your purpose
  2. Count on yourself
  3. Show up every day
  4. Practice voluntary hardship
  5. Practice dichotomy of control
  6. Never play the victim
  7. Practice delayed gratification
  8. Ignore naysayers
  9. Find wise people to emulate
  10. Honestly review your day

Another great free resource with unlimited potential is the Tao of Seneca series provided by Tim Ferris. You can download all three volumes here. It is recommended to review 1-2 letters a day or purchase the audio book to listen to it on the way to work.

Art of not giving a F***

My recommended read to improve your focus is the recent bestseller,”The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***” by Mark Manson. The common misconception is that this book is about not caring about anything and as a consequence become successful. This is not the case. Manson is very clear that the goal is not to be indifferent to all things in life – we call these people psychopaths – instead we need to be comfortable with being different and find the most important things to give a f*** about. You are in control. The choice is yours to figure about what to care about.

Embrace the fact that millions of tiny failures amount to a singular success so apply that to your pursuit of focus. Its always a work in progress whether it is trying to focus on your vision to focusing your daily important tasks. It takes practice, dedication and perseverance.

TL:DR;

Start up opportunities to capitalise on are a plenty and the barriers to entry are not what it used to be. However, the evolutionary battleground of startups continues to have its fair share of busts. I believe the reason can be filtered down to mindset of the leaders and picked out 5 key areas to help improve your start up mindset to beat the odds. The first on is cultivate focus which is ongoing process which can be heavily influence in the right direction by:

  1. Working on achieving flow state
  2. Using Agile lists
  3. Developing Self Discipline (Stoicism)
  4. Giving a f*** about only the important stuff
  5. Just do it!

NEXT MONTH: TIP #2 to strengthen your start up mindset: Maintain Energy

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