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How to Harness the Psychology of a Successful Entrepreneur

Learn to cultivate an entrepreneurial attitude and mindset.

Key points

  • More than 4 million Americans quit their jobs in April alone due to toxic workplace culture, overwork, and burnout.
  • According to the US Business Formation Statistics, 1.36 million new companies were started in the first quarter of this year. 
  • To build a business, one must develop the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur and learn to avoid common roadblocks.

There has been a surge in the number of new businesses launching as an understandable response to the economic and workplace challenges brought on by the pandemic, according to Charlene Walters, MBA, Ph.D., a business and branding mentor and author of Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur.

According to a summary from the Department of Labor, over 4 million Americans left their jobs in April alone due to toxic workplace culture, overwork, and burnout. And according to the US Business Formation Statistics (BFS), 1.36 million new companies were started in the first quarter of this year.

Dr. Walters explains that many of us want greater control over our careers, earnings, schedules, and lives. Entrepreneurship enables us to do that and is certain we’ll see more and more people exit the traditional 9-to-5 landscape and make their startup dreams come true. I asked her a few questions about what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur.

In your experience, what are some common psychological characteristics you’ve seen in successful entrepreneurs? How can people who are interested in being an entrepreneur cultivate those characteristics?

In my work as a consultant, I’ve found that some of the most common characteristics are resilience, tenacity, grit, patience, confidence, and the ability to take risks. Jumping into entrepreneurship involves a giant leap and a lot of faith. As such, you have to consistently focus on developing the right mindset. I like to refer to this combination of psychological traits as an entrepreneurial attitude. As a founder, you will encounter many obstacles and setbacks, so you must develop resilience and methods to cope with problems and snags so that you can keep pushing yourself and your business forward.

Some of these entrepreneurial characteristics come naturally, but many of them, you’ll have to work on. There is not a person who is 100% confident in business all the time, no matter how successful they are (remember that).

To grow more assured, I suggest that entrepreneurs participate in activities that will boost their self-esteem. I often recommend that they make a list of all their skills, qualities, and accomplishments and hang it somewhere in their office for those days when their confidence wanes. They should also practice and role-play before going into high-stakes events or those that are new for them. Additionally, entrepreneurs must find ways to turn their attitude around when they hit tough times. Business success and mindset are strongly correlated, so working on your entrepreneurial attitude as a founder is a must.

What are some psychological characteristics that may be challenging for somebody who is interested in entrepreneurship? For example, fear-based or catastrophic thinking. What can people do to better manage those psychological traits so they don’t lead to self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage and imposter syndrome can be prevalent for anyone in business or who is starting a new endeavor. Imposter syndrome is that feeling that you don’t really belong or that you’ve only gotten lucky with your successes. It can stem from an overemphasis on achievement in your family growing up, anxiety, or perfectionism. Seventy percent of people feel like an imposter at some point in their life or another.

Self-sabotage, which is similar, happens when you end up talking yourself out of positive things. Both can cause you to have a negative viewpoint about yourself and lead to poor business performance (which you clearly don’t want as an entrepreneur).

To combat feelings of impostor syndrome and self-sabotage, it can help to keep a journal of all of the good things that are happening in your life and in your business. This practice will enable you to focus on the positive instead of the negative. It can also be helpful to set goals for yourself and then formulate the steps that it will take to make them happen (following through on a regular basis). You can also come up with a mantra for yourself like, “You are amazing,” or “You’ve got this!” And, finally, pay attention to your self-care. The healthier and more well-rested you are, the happier, more productive, and confident you will be so make yourself a priority.

It seems like many people have a business idea or want to work for themselves, but never pull the trigger. What are some of the common roadblocks and how can somebody push past those to actually launch their business?

There are so many things that can thwart an aspiring entrepreneur from launching their startup, which I discuss in my book — for example, aversion to risk, having to deal with haters and naysayers, as well as poor self-esteem or a lack of financial confidence.

The best way to start a business (and feel more confident about the process) is to brainstorm and do your homework first. Think about your skills, expertise, and what you are passionate about. Research the businesses that might align with those areas. Then, learn everything you can about the competition, industry, and customers.

Look for a hole in the market, an unmet need, or something that you can do better. From there, you’ll go on to create your business plan, identify opportunities to generate revenue, pinpoint your target audience, develop your MVP (minimum viable product) and conduct a lot of market research before you actually launch your business. The more effort that you put into planning upfront (without stalling forward momentum, of course), the better.

It’s also useful to study and learn from other successful entrepreneurs that you can emulate, and work on developing your money mindset. You can do so by letting go of any financial baggage that you are carrying around with you, coming up with a money mantra, like “I deserve money and success,” and brushing up on your budgeting and negotiation skills. You’ll surely need them to become a thriving founder.