A reader writes: I could use some helpful tips in overcoming stress from not seeing success right away.

For many of us, the economic slowdown has meant less business. We can no longer count on steady growth and reliable money. It’s easy to become stressed when we aren’t seeing the results we expect.

In Western culture, we are rarely taught coping skills for uncertainty. It can be especially hard having patience and a clear mind when things aren’t going the way we want them to (witness our country’s difficulty with two weeks of uncertainty around our Y2K Presidential election!).

If you haven’t been seeing success right away, start by asking yourself “what constitutes success?” If you’re attached to an outcome—say, doing $10 million of sales in your first year—you’ll find that success is all-or-nothing; you’ve either reached the outcome or you haven’t. It may help you feel process to subdivide your goal into smaller pieces. Shoot for at least one milestone a week, so your progress is continuous. Your first week’s goal could be to get a face-to-face appointment with three prospects and land one sale. Each goal you meet will help you feel progress.

The key is that you’re not choosing your milestones just to manage the projects. This is about managing your emotions; choose milestones that will cause you to feel progress in your gut, even if the outside results aren’t there, yet.

You can also succeed with process goals. Process goals measure what you’re doing, not where you are. You’re shooting for three prospect appointments? You might set a process goal of calling 10 Widget Retailers from the phonebook daily. That’s a process goal. If you find you’re missing your process goals, asking yourself why can lead to you choosing a better way to reach your outcome. For example, if you miss your ten daily calls because there are only three Widget Retailers in the phone book, it’s a signal that you’ll need another way to find prospects. Process goals give you the chance for daily "wins" on your way to your bigger goals.

If you find yourself stressed even when you reach smaller progress goals, you might want to tackle the stress directly. Meditate for a half hour a day, get some exercise, and set aside time for yourself to relax and unwind. Choose a time for the day to be over and when it is, go home and do something completely unrelated to work. It can be a challenge, but separating work and home life can save your sanity. At least three times a week, leave your office by 6 p.m. and go play. Clear your mind. Get a massage. Indulge yourself in a bubble bath. Treat yourself well! (My personal touchstone is yoga.)

Of course, it’s possible your business might not be truly sustainable. The market may not be there, the distribution can’t be worked out, or competition makes it impossible to build a business that makes money. Set boundaries for yourself to keep yourself healthy. Decide now how much time/money/effort you are willing to put into the business, so you don’t someday wake up having overspent yourself. Also, think hard on how you’ll know if the business really won’t work. Just setting those limits can help. If you decide three months of consecutive losses is the signal that your specialty Pokeman Roller Skate Shop has outlived its usefulness, then you’ll know when it’s time to quit. And knowing there’s a defined exit point can really be calming.

But meanwhile, give it your all! With well-thought-out process and outcome goals, you may never have to worry about your exit conditions. You’ll know early on if what you’re doing isn’t working, and you can take action to insure your success. With hard work, skill, and a little luck, you main worries will be plotting your multibillion dollar expansion …as you relax in your mansion’s new whirlpool bubble bath.

So take a deep breath. Calm your mind. And Go For It!

Conquering the Stress of Uncertainty: Keeping Your…

read time: 3 min