3 ways competition can mess with your head. And a few tricks to help.

Soon Min Blog, On growth 19 Comments

If you’re involved in a business with no competition, congratulations. With the pace of change and availability of information, it’s easier and easier for other players to get in on the action. The speed and nature of these competitors are sometimes comical, with the more brazen of them becoming outright copycats.

In a couple of my ventures, the past year has seen the rise of more aggressive competitors. As I encountered them, I wished that I could just shrug them off. The more they appeared, and the more aggressive they became, the higher the amount of anxiety I felt. As I struggled to manage these feelings, I’m slowly realising just how much of it isn’t about managing the competition, but rather just managing myself. Here are a few ways it has affected me before, and some tips to overcome it.

The sprinter hijack

This happens when you’re chugging along fine and suddenly catch wind of a competitor’s actions. Your mind might go from zero to 100 in a split second, and inversely every big of action you’re taking seems inadequate or snail paced. The unnecessary anxiety can cause you to lose focus and obsess over nothing. It’s akin to having your head hijacked.

To help regain control, the first thing is to pause and remind myself of my ‘long game’ and that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Depending on the amount of anxiety I feel, this might not be enough. The other trick that I find useful as a next step is to open up an Evernote document and pen down what it is I’m feeling, and my action steps. Having things spelled out seems to boost that feeling of ‘control’ (or the illusion of it at least).

Tunnel vision

Another interesting effect of that anxiety is that it produces a certain tunnel vision. What happens here is that my attention zeroes in on that competitor and specific actions that he’s doing. The added focus in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it can get toxic if it combines with a belief that since the competition is doing something (versus my seeming inadequacy or inaction), it’s better than me!

I’ve seen this play out in my earlier ad agency days, when a client would panic when a competitor launches a new initiative. Now I understand that feeling first hand, and the risk it poses when we jump to conclusions that the actions they take ‘matter’ and that I should either follow suit, or strongly consider those actions in my next steps.

Breaking out of this involves getting some perspective. Change the scale by stretching your time horizon further out. Are their actions short or long term? How would you judge their actions in those 2 timeframes? The next is to get an objective perspective. Get facts that either prove or disprove their actions as being successful, as opposed to relying on a hunch.

The hammer of doubt

The final effect I run into, which is probably the most insidious, is the amount of self doubt that’s triggered. It starts as a small sense of despair, that the competition is pulling ahead or doing something better than me. That quickly becomes a negative self judgement that makes me question whatever I’m doing.   

Self doubt can be a healthy thing when it stops at being a trigger for you to work harder to improve things. The trick is to not let it get out of hand and stop you from taking action. The counter to this is to go back to that Evernote action steps, and remind yourself of the commitment to those action steps. Unless you’ve objectively assessed your action steps, you simply have to clench your fist, hang tight and continue to take one step ahead at a time.

Dealing with the anxiety of competition is something I’m still learning. As time passes, I’m hoping that the saying it true, that it gets easier with time. How have you learned to deal with yourself in the face of competition? 

Soon Min3 ways competition can mess with your head. And a few tricks to help.

Thanks CrossFit. Lessons that have helped me endure workouts, life and business.

Soon Min Blog, On growth 14 Comments

Exercise is something that’s traditionally talked about as ‘good for you’, but most of the times from the perspective of stress release. CrossFit in particular is a unique beast when compared to most other forms of exercise out there, primarily due to its intensity and community. In my years of being in the advertising industry, I’ve not seen a brand that has grown so quickly as it has, with such an engaged audience to boot!

Sure it’s a fun way to work out and de-stress, but as I crossed my first entrepreneurship year, I noticed that some of my tough times were better managed thanks to things I picked up from my 6 years of CrossFit. Here are some of those lessons.

You can learn to be comfortable with discomfort

If you’ve experienced or heard about CrossFit workouts, you’ll know that some of them get pretty brutal. A hero of mine from the community once said “just remember that it’s temporary”. The parallels of a workout with a finite time or workload versus business (which is ‘ongoing) isn’t exact, but the lesson still applies.

The highs and lows in entrepreneurship won’t ever go away, but by expecting the low bits and enduring through them, long term success is almost inevitable. This isn’t a blanket ‘NEVER QUIT’ statement, but simply a calm acceptance that there will be challenges, and that you can endure more than you realize.

Strive to have no ‘glaring’ weakness

One of the guiding principles of CrossFit is the preparation for the unknown and unknowable. In that, they believe that we should work on addressing our weaknesses to the point where there is at least no glaring hole there. 4 time Games champion Rich Froning had a remarkable failure back in 2011 when he lost the title thanks to his complete inability to perform one of the movements.

I subscribe to the same belief when it comes to being an entrepreneur. I don’t think it’s possible to be an expert in everything (it shouldn’t even be a goal), but I think there’s a definite need to know the essential bits of key disciplines. Eg; You don’t need to be a killer sales guy, but you should be able to communicate yourself clearly.

Patience and purpose makes a smoother journey

In my early days of being in CrossFit, my impatience was a big issue. I wanted to push myself hard to constantly get faster or lift bigger numbers. This reckless approach resulted in me getting injured, which further set back the progress I wanted so much. Time and a couple of injuries allowed me to develop that patience by having a deeper understanding of ‘why’ I wanted to CrossFit.

Today, in my early days of entrepreneurship, I face the same issue. I find myself getting frustrated at the pace of certain things, but thankfully have a little perspective to draw upon. During those periods, I remind myself of why I’m doing this and my long game, and a sense of calm returns.

Community makes all the difference

Till today, walking into the gym and seeing the group I workout with is a pleasure. There’s something to be said about enduring a challenging workout together. Beyond the social support and bonds, CrossFit also has one of the most vibrant communities around. There’s a wealth of information across a broad range of health and fitness topics available to the curious. Despite being a ‘gym goer’ since college, I never really took interest in those matters until thanks to the community, I was pulled right in.

Entrepreneurship, especially if you’re a solo-preneur like me, can be a tad lonely. Nevertheless, I’m thankful for the few partners that I’m engaged with, as well as other online communities. Asides from being fun, connecting with likeminded people and those sharing your goals helps speed up your own success.

Just cause you’re down, doesn’t mean you’re out

I have a confession. It’s been many months since I joined in a proper CrossFit workout. I suffered an injury early last year, and have since been unsuccessful in treating it. Despite this, I have chosen to modify my workout routine in order to do what I’m able and have since embarked on learning a whole new field of adult gymnastics!

Likewise with business, late last year was rough, but the extra free time allowed me to explore other interesting options. Since then, I have managed to launch another small venture, which allows me to spread my risk a little. When things can’t move forward for whatever reason, look up, down, left and right. You might just find a new (or better) path.

Even though the benefits I gained were from CrossFit, they’re not exclusive to it. As long as you’re actively engaged in some sport or other demanding side hobby, these lessons are likely there to be learned as well. How do you build your entrepreneurial muscle? 

Soon MinThanks CrossFit. Lessons that have helped me endure workouts, life and business.

Your guide to figuring out which mountain to climb in 2016

Soon Min Blog, On growth 18 Comments

It’s the first week of 2016 and if you haven’t felt that familiar urge begin late last year, you might be feeling it soon. That ‘this year’s gonna be different’ feeling, accompanied by a sense of resolve, followed quickly by a mild panic when you hit a wall when trying to figure out ‘how’ it’s going to be different. What business or venture could you possibly launch?

That feeling is close to that which we face in the creative industry; a lack of inspiration and feeling like you’ve hit so many dead ends that you MUST be trapped! Fret not friend. If you’re new to the entrepreneurial game, or are considering it, the bad news is that you’re going to feel this way often. The good news is, you’ll soon realise that it’s just part of a process. Here’s how it goes for me.

Stop thrashing around

Mentally that is. I understand that it’s difficult, and that your mind could be awash with impatience, frustration, and maybe even despair. Those are usually signs that you might be hitting your limit at this point in time. It’s like someone who hasn’t exercised in awhile, and tries to sprint a mile and realises his body can’t keep up with what he thought he could do. Like those muscles, your capacity to push for new ideas and action will grow gradually.

At this point, if you have yet to figure out your ‘long game’, spend time thinking about what is it you want to achieve in 5 or 10 years, not next month. By reminding yourself that you’re thinking about a whole new long term direction, you might realise just how strange we get worked up by not achieving something right this instant!

Start looking outside your normal circles

The feeling of being stuck and uninspired sometimes just means you don’t have enough input to work with. It’s like wanting to build an amazing Lego castle, but only having a few pieces. The more and varied the pieces you have, the better able you are to build that fortress of your future. When you’re in a calm state, you can begin to fill up your box of Legos.

Prioritise new input

You could be spending time at the usual spots you visit. These could be friends you talk to, websites/publications that you read, or even your TV shows. It’s time to prioritise what’s new. Browse TED.com for interesting talks, IMDB for new shows, amazon.com’s book lists amongst others.

Learn about other businesses

You can begin to narrow your input a little more by zooming into business in general. Walk around the shopping mall slowly while taking note of all the businesses in there. Skim popular sites like entrepreneur.com and inc.com and marvel at the different new startups. Pop by kickstarter.com and see what ideas are people trying to get off the ground. Google up business podcasts like smartpassiveincome.com, mixergy.com and/or eofire.com and listen to the stories of those that have walked the path.

Then turn inward and reflect

You’ve devoured a whole lot of external input and are just feeding your curiosity at this point. Nothing serious, just looking. It’s time to knuckle down and sit down quietly with your own notebook, digital or manual.

What are your interests and skills?

You would have noticed that some of the stories you read about might have really peaked your interest. Note which, and why. What have other people remarked that you are good at? What do others come to you for help with? Here, it’s important to put aside any possible ‘negative’ self beliefs that pop up (any form of emotional reaction that make you shy away from the thought). Put aside all censorship and just write.

What type of entrepreneur do you want to be?

This question was something I didn’t get to ask myself earlier, and upon reading about it, helped me come to terms with the frustrations with feeling like I wasn’t ‘following the right path’. The article I read pointed to 3 types in general; the mountain climber that has a burning need to revolutionise the world with his idea, the lifestyle entrepreneur that enjoys the life that’s built (not just raw impact and returns) and finally the craftsman who wants nothing but to do what he loves.

It’s probable that there are more, but it made me appreciate that I didn’t need to conform to one view of what an entrepreneur should be and that I can chart my own path. Similar to your ‘long game end goals’, think about the life you want to lead as an entrepreneur.

Trust in the ebb and flow of a process

Generate ideas by going in circles

Now that you’ve gotten lots of input and reflected, it’s time to just go crazy with ideas on what you could do. As you do this, feel free to run off on a tangent to explore those ideas until you feel like you’ve found something you’ve connected with.

It’s important during this process to trust that it’s a circular process, with you developing a hunch, followed by a hunt for information and input, then returning to getting more hunches. Let yourself go and you’ll be amazed at the engine of ideas you’re creating.

Grounding process

Once you’re comfortable with the ideas on your plate, it’s time to zero in on an option (or 2!) to look at the practicalities of it. With all businesses, for it to survive, there needs to be a market for it. If it’s an existing business, it’s likely there is ‘some’ market, but the more precise details you’re able to get, you can better manage your expectations on the results you can get. Test those ideas and see if any stick.

Finally, Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income had a great question you should ask yourself. What would your grandma think? If you went ahead to do this, would you be proud to tell your grandma? It might seem trivial, but it’s a great way to filter ideas that might seem profitable, but would possibly make you hate yourself in the future.

With anything important, it likely takes effort and time. Keep the horizon in view while you put in the patience and work. As long as you take action, step by step, one day you’ll look up and you’re on top of the mountain.

Soon MinYour guide to figuring out which mountain to climb in 2016