If you mention the words 'emotional rollercoaster' in a room full of entrepreneurs you'll see a sea of heads nodding along. With a greater awareness of mental health and self-care it's a phrase that's almost become synonymous with small business ownership. Emotional rollercoaster is often used to describe the conflicting feelings that come with working for yourself; the highs and lows and also the twists and turns that growing a business can take.
What does it feel like?
If you've ever ridden a rollercoaster you'll be able to imagine how this metaphor might work. If not then I'll give you a taste. There's a heady mix of anticipation, nervousness and excitement as you are strapped into your seat followed by a shot of adrenaline as the ride starts with a jolt. As the speed builds so does your sense of vulnerability and you hold on for dear life. At some point there is a long ascent and as you chug higher and higher to the top you realise you can't quite see what's on the other-side. At the pinnacle there is a moment where you are suspended in mid-air, groundless and powerless, totally out of control and then whoosh! Your stomach will be in your mouth as you drop, like a stone off the edge of the precipice, not knowing what will break your fall but screaming all the while. As you plateau out you wipe the tears from your eyes half laughing and half crying, not exactly sure how you got there but ready with a deep breath to buckle up and go through it all again.
What does it prevent us from doing?
I have a love/hate relationship with rollercoasters, the overall effect is thrilling and very dramatic but there are some parts where I close my eyes and simply pray for the best. For a start I'm strapped in and can't get out unless someone
else presses a button. The seats are normally bloody uncomfortable and I always wind up with a bruise from the general jolting and bumping. I don't get to choose where I go, a computer does that automatically and it's the same route over and over again. It's noisy so I can't talk to or listen properly to anyone else. And while a rollercoaster can be fun to go on now and again, too much and I start to feel really sick.
And now I'm writing and thinking about the rollercoaster metaphor I realise it's definitely not the way I imagined running my business; powerless, occasionally retching and mascara running down my face. In fact being in control, deciding
the direction and more flexibility around how I work was exactly the reason I left my job in favour of self-employment - what about you?
So what do you need to know if this sounds familiar?
Choosing to get on and ride your business like an emotional rollercoaster is just one way you can manage your feelings alongside your work, it's not the only choice you have. And it can be useful to know a bit more about your emotions and how they work when looking at how you might create a different experience for yourself.
Getting off the emotional rollercoaster.
Have you ever asked the average person how they manage and process their emotions when they are doing something important and scary, like running a business? Surprisingly for all the increased mental-health talk there tends to be a surprisingly low level of self-awareness around managing our feelings.
It's at times like these that I look to the goddess that is Brene Brown for some evidence backed explanation, and when it comes emotional processing she does not disappoint. In her book Dare to Lead Brene explains that when something hard happens we react emotionally, she describes it as an emotional hook. Before you panic - it's alright, we all have them, it's part of what makes us human.
For example, when I wake up on a Monday morning and think about the enormity of showing up and growing my business it feels overwhelmingly hard, I can start to feel very wobbly and my thoughts turn to staying in bed. I feel excited and nervous and panicked all at the same time. I start to worry about doing the right thing, picking the correct focus and my mind goes into overdrive. Fast forward to a couple hours later and I'm consumed with self doubt, scrolling mindlessly through Insta-land irrationally comparing myself to every other business owner that walked the earth and feeling a little out of control. Needless to say I'm fully at the mercy of the emotional rollercoaster and all productive and meaningful work has ground to a halt.
But all is not lost. Brene explains that the first stage is to notice the emotional trigger (uh - tick) and from there we have some options; Numbing, Transferring or Getting Curious.
Not many of us choose to take the time to get curious about our emotions and it's not really surprising. In a culture of hustle and pushing through the pain, it seems that despite being emotional beings most of the time we’d rather poke our eye out with a sharp stick than start a conversation about our feelings. But I think that without these conversations, the result is that we never really develop any tools for accepting and managing our feelings alongside our work. And the danger of that is we buy into the idea that the rollercoaster is the only way. We can't see any other way of doing it - let alone getting off.
So what can you do if you want a rollercoaster alternative?
Here are my favourite go-to tools for managing my emotions and creating a business on my own terms, without the use of a rollercoaster.
Notice - Get awareness on how your emotions are showing up for you. Ask yourself 'what can I notice?' when you feel an emotion well up. It can be very helpful to write down or journal what you notice. If you’d like a more structured way of doing this feel free to check out my worksheet on overwhelm.
Focus - create goals and actions for you and your business that don't rely on a rollercoaster experience. Make them include what you want to feel and experience, as well as what outcome you are looking for. Think about what you would do differently if you put your attention fully on achieving that kind of goal.
Decide - when do you make your decisions about your business? Do yourself some kindness and make your business decisions where you feel safe and grounded, i.e. not at the top of the rollercoaster about to drop to into the abyss, screaming your head off - practically this might look like a reviewing what's worked in your business on a weekly basis.
Whatever technique you choose to try, the more emotional awareness you'll develop, the better position you'll be in to get off your own emotional rollercoaster. It will take practice, so be kind and surround yourself with likeminded people for support. It could be the most important skill you gain in 2021, for you, your business and for the future.
Lisa Townsend from Change Your Badge helps women entrepreneurs to work with more purpose with business coaching & strategy. Lisa lives in a tiny village on the wilds of the Cornish moorland with her family and dog Berty.