I never fully understood how my mother’s pervasive belief system would influence me later in life.
As a dedicated follower of Buddhism, she focused every childhood lesson around the Buddhists practice of mindfulness and understanding. “Be aware of the karma you are creating for yourself,” she would say as I recounted a disagreement with a high school friend. “Be mindful of your thoughts and actions; try to take yourself out of the situation and put yourself in her shoes.”
As a 16-year-old, I couldn’t imagine a more frustrating response from a parent.
Now, her beliefs and the teachings of Buddha have become the foundation for the way I try to live my life and run my business.
So, how do you apply Buddhism to business?
It’s all in the practice of mindfulness.
According to Buddhist belief, mindfulness is the ability to see things as they really are without the cloud of feelings, prejudice, or even mood. And while you may not be looking for a spiritual fix at the moment, the practice of mindfulness has many applications for entrepreneurs who simply want to clear their heads and become aware of reflexive, emotional reactions that can lead to bad business decisions.
Let’s get in to specifics. Part of applying mindfulness to business means accepting a situation for what it is, without adding your interpretation and emotional connotation. For example, a friend tells you that the your site is difficult to use – “you should add this, or change that…this feature is annoying and X company does it better.” Being the co-founder of the business, my instinctive reaction would be to protect my baby, to respond defensively and justify the reasons why we decided to put this function here and omit this button there. I can even hear myself thinking, “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he’s never built a website before!”
It’s important to step outside of your interpretations and reactive emotions and accept the situation for what it is: your UX design is far from perfect and it needs to be improved.
In theory, every entrepreneur knows that listening to and applying feedback is the only way to improve your business. The real challenge is having the patience, discipline, and mindfulness to listen to EVERY opinion and snippet of feedback that comes your way. Entrepreneurs can fall victim to selective hearing – we listen to advice when we want to hear it, from people we want to hear it from. We must remind ourselves to accept the realities of our business by being constantly mindful and aware of everything being said about our company, no matter who is saying it. While you don’t want to dwell too much on the deluge of advice you receive from others, be awake. Keep your eyes and ears open. Sometimes the smallest, most seemingly insignificant comment can have the biggest impact for growth.
Another way to practice mindfulness is to be aware of your emotional mood when difficult circumstances arise.
Buddhists often say, “It’s all about state of mind.” I relate this to business in the way entrepreneurs respond to challenges. Anyone who has worked at a startup knows that mistakes are inevitable. Reacting with panic will always make the situation worse because it keeps you from responding in the most effective and efficient way. When we first launched DivvyDown, I would let emotions get the best of me in the face of crisis. I focused so much on the mistake itself that I wasn’t actually in the right state of mind to effectively respond to the problem. Thankfully, my business partner, Torie, always responds to a situation without letting emotions cloud her judgment. For example, one Saturday was so busy that our vendors didn’t have enough tubs for the amount of kegs ordered, not just by us, but by a few other customers as well. When Torie got the word, she didn’t freak out. She responded. Twenty minutes later we were on the subway with 15 new tubs, ready to help out our vendors’ customers, including our own. It was an effective response to a problem – a team play that ended up bringing us even closer to our vendors. The lesson learned here: react less, while responding more. The best solutions are found when your mind isn’t clouded with fear, anger, worry or stress.
In summary, when you’re running a startup there is something to be said for slowing down, redirecting attention, staying calm, and focusing on the little details in your day-to-day operations. Being mindful in the present leads to the bigger picture goal that we all want to achieve in the future – a successful and meaningful business.
Kendall Bird is the co-founder of DivvyDown – an online delivery service liquor, beer, wine, mixers, and party supplies. She’s passionate about brand strategy and developing new and authentic ways to connect with consumers. She’s also a dog lover, book reader, party-goer, bar-hopper, beer drinker, and music / cheese enthusiast. Follow us on twitter for updates @DivvyDown!
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