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On The Importance Of Freeing Yourself From Pressure

In sports, there is a term called “choking”. The term is commonly used to describe when an athlete’s or a team’s performance suffers greatly under pressure. In cricket, South Africa has, in fact, made a name for choking. They play well throughout the tournament and fail miserably in the finale. When a player chokes, they fail to perform.

Even the best of the players perform the worst under pressure when they fail to manage the pressure. They could not think and their well-planned strategy goes out the window. They struggle to do common things they’ve practiced hundreds of times. Their mind goes blank when they most need to think on their feet. This is why mental training is such a big thing in sports. Clubs spend millions on training their athletes on mental toughness.

Timothy Gallwey the author of the widely read book The Inner Game of Tennis, popularized an idea to handle the pressure which he named the “quieted mind” - a quiet mind is a focused mind, and doesn’t give into future worries and negative thinking. It is busy doing the task at hand. Kristin Keim, a sports psychologist who trains competitive athletes, teaches her clients to focus on what they can control and pay attention to the task at hand.

Interestingly, choking under pressure is not just a sports thing. It is everywhere.

We cave under pressure before a big presentation. Our palms sweat when we face our boss and so on. Pressure makes us anxious. It disrupts our performance. Makes our heart rate speed up. Makes us struggle to breathe. Thinking clearly becomes difficult. You may lose some control of your physical and mental abilities. Your capacity to execute shrinks.

Facing pressure is stressful in every situation and it does hamper our performance if not handled well.

This is true for building startups as well.

Let’s begin with finding ideas. When you are actively trying to find ideas, you are likely to be misled because you are in a hurry to find an idea to start a business. There is no room for experiments. You need to come up with an idea and that too an exciting one. This sense of urgency may lead to terrible ideas.

The second predicament is an active mind. An active mind that is looking for ideas could make terrible mistakes. Because it is calculative and aware and may fall into more common traps such as looking for ideas that are successful, looking for hot trends in the market, looking for inspiration in other industries, and trying to come up with profitable ideas whereas startup works in a completely different way.

Best ideas don’t come on demand. Rather best ideas come when you are not actively looking for them. Uninhibited. Relaxed. Daydreaming.

According to a 2016 study by cognitive scientist Scott Barry Kaufman, 72 percent of people have their best ideas in the shower. Kaufman goes on to explain why, “the relaxing, solitary and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely”. This is the psychological side of not looking for ideas actively.

Look somewhere else instead

“The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas,” writes Paul Graham in his famous essay on how to get startup ideas.

Instead, look for problems. Find solutions for those problems.

Start a side project.

I can give other ideas about how to find problems.

Keep a problem notebook. Maintain a journal. Observe.

Meet tons of people.

Be interested.

Be curious.

Finding a problem or starting a side project is much easier from a psychological perspective. The commitment is low which allows mental space for you to come up with interesting ideas.

A side project means not something that serious. You could tinker and tweak and experiment and change. This would eventually lead to somewhere more fascinating. Then gradually graduate your idea to a startup.

Courtesy: Photo by Keegan Houser on Unsplash

Originally published on 23 June 2019, updated on 4 September 2023

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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