You may feel that the people and events in your life are good at pricking you in the right spots, at the right time to provoke a certain emotional response. But these people and events are not the source of these emotions -- you are.
It's natural for the people and events that make up our environment to affect, and even dictate our moods. But it can be an enlightening exercise to take a step back and realize that in reality, you are the source of your own happiness or lack thereof. Emotions flow in one direction: up from deep inside you and out through you onto other things, people, and events.
To illustrate, imagine a newlywed couple, snuggling cozily on the back porch of their newly bought home, gazing up at a clear, bright full moon. To them, the moon appears majestic and fantastic, gliding effortlessly across the starry backdrop. The same cannot be said for the guy next door. He’s in the middle of an ugly divorce. To him, the moon appears dull, lifeless, and even intolerable. How could this be? It's the same moon! It's because the moon itself is a blank slate for everyone to color with their own perspective.
This may seem like a simple and obvious concept. But think about what this really means in relation to how you feel about the different relationships you have with people, things and events in your life at the moment. Maybe there’s someone you’re angry at. Consider the possibility that the anger you direct toward this person is actually boiling deep inside you, and this person just happens to be a convenient screen to project that anger onto at the moment. Now, consider the possibility that your anger really has nothing to do with the other person, and everything to do with you.
The exercise is simple: once a day remind yourself that you are the source of your feelings toward other people and things. Meditate on whatever emotions are strongest inside of you that day, and follow these feelings back to yourself. Don’t fight any particular feeling, and certainly don’t judge yourself for your feelings. Merely sit back and observe. And set aside a solid 10-minute block of quiet time to do this. It may be helpful to do it the same time each day. Maybe in the morning when you first wake up, or during lunch, or when you get into bed. Whatever schedule you choose, be consistent.
Applying this to the startup environment
This exercise can be particularly useful in a startup environment, where tireless interaction with a whole range of people and events can send even the most levelheaded entrepreneur freewheeling through a rainbow of emotions. Some particularly positive results I’ve personally experienced are a healthier work-life division, and an enhanced ability to find new opportunities.
Creating a healthy work-life division. Sometimes when work is frustrating, there may actually be a deeper, unrelated issue at hand -- work is just a convenient way to express your feelings about whatever else is going on back at home. Following your emotions back to the source can lead you directly to the heart of any underlying issue. This realization can help you separate the two, and change your perspective.
Being receptive to new opportunities. Opportunities present themselves to us all the time. A good entrepreneur is a master at noticing opportunities and then acting on them. But this is very difficult to accomplish if you’re in a funk. A couple months ago, there was a project at work that had me so confused and flustered that I felt totally unable to focus on anything else. The problem was, our company was actively hiring and I was in charge of the recruiting effort, which had to be done immediately, regardless of my mood. And so I just remember watching in horror as resume after resume saturated my inbox, feeling like recruiting was the absolute last thing I could deal with.
It was time for a little introspection. I turned within and meditated on my anxiety and confusion, observing it without any judgment. As I envisioned my anxiety flowing back into my Self, I started feeling lighter. Before I knew it, 45 minutes had passed and I literally couldn't recall what was making me anxious in the first place. Refreshed, I began rummaging through my email, and eventually stumbled upon an application from someone who ended up being an integral part of the team.
Being in a bad mood about something at work has the unfortunate ability to cast a dark shadow on everything else in your life, including your startup. But the consequences can be dire for business because it can cause you to shut yourself off to anything good that comes your way. Seeing yourself as the source of your emotion can help you keep a more open mind about people and events, opening yourself up to positive energy that otherwise would have been shaded out.