The Hell of Future Spiraling: How to Manage Uncertainty
Future spiraling is a term I learned from my therapist. Future spiraling is what happens when you project into the future your present life. Usually when things look uncertain or unclear. It’s very scary stuff for most of us, especially those who really like predictability in our lives.
I’ve been deep in tech startup land for almost 2 decades and this is something that hits almost all founders at some point in their business, especially when times are really bad. You are running out of money, your CTO quits, your best customer stops paying or stops using your product and goes to the competitor. Usually something to do with running out of money. Things are dark. It starts to look worse as you further project this out a few months and you can’t help but despair. We can’t help it, we’re wired this way as humans.
“Studies have shown that up to 70 percent of our thoughts are negative (this statistic is weirdly soothing — I thought it was just me). Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to be this way; rather, our brains are hardwired to focus on the bad stuff. Once upon a time, this tendency was essential for survival. When venturing out of the safety of our caves to find food, we had to be constantly on the lookout for predators. Nowadays, our walk across the grocery store parking lot may not be as risky as a walk across the savannah, but thanks to evolution, our brains are still constantly on guard. But catastrophizing can lead to high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.” (Source:https://www.headspace.com/articles/4-things-remember-next-time-youre-spiraling)
I think we have all been here. And this has become even more common for everyone in a time of uncertainty like we have had in the last 2 years since the Covid pandemic started.
I’ve counseled countless founders when they get into the inevitable crisis mode. A situation that every startup goes through at some point in their life.
So I recommend 5 simple things:
- Cut their costs aka burn rate to lowest possible level
- Have a 1 day plan and 1 week plan and don’t look further than that. One step at a time. Keep a short to do list of 1–3 things
- Keep a short list (no more than 3) of Input goals and actions. Ie. for example instead of a goal of how much revenue you will make, focus on the amount of sales calls and emails you will send
- Make sure they try to meditate, sleep well every day and exercise regularly: this allows your body to cope better with the stress
- Take short breaks and watch comedy videos to take their minds off things. Laughing psychologically is also a great way to manage mentally
I followed this advice myself during my personal hell of 2020 and even now in 2022. And it does work. It forces you to take some hard action and not dwell or think too much. Having time to think about the situation is mental death. It paralyzes you. What I’ve learned is that once you start taking action, new opportunities inevitably arise for you.
Keeping yourself mentally fit allows you to turn things around and gain traction. You eventually do get your momentum back. Then it’s off to the races again. It gets you out of the “Future Spiraling” which just destroys you psychologically.