When faced with life’s emergencies, there are few qualities that will serve you better as a small business owner than a strong mindset. A strong mindset not only allows you to keep your composure in the midst of a crisis, but it also gives you the determination you need to reach your goal. So, what’s the secret to maintaining such a powerful outlook? In this episode, Jon Aidukonis and Gene Marks along with Small Business Silver Lining Founder and CEO, Carissa Reiniger, offer strategies that will enable small business owners to keep a strong mindset even in the direst of circumstances.

Executive Summary

0:23—Today’s Topic: How Can Small Business Owners Keep a Strong Mindset during a Crisis?

1:14—One quality that distinguishes business owners with a strong mindset is their level of commitment; they are disciplined enough to follow through with their goals regardless of whatever challenges they face.

5:17—If you feel like you’re stuck, you may not be setting clear enough boundaries. Failure to respect your limits can often leave you feeling depleted and cause your work to suffer.

8:28—There are three strategies you can use to stop feeling stuck: “10-10-10,” “retreat and treat,” and “I will.”

8:57—The “10-10-10″ strategy is a 30 minute morning routine which requires you to start each day with 10 minutes of reading; 10 minutes of thinking; and 10 minutes of writing.

9:59—The “retreat and treat” strategy encourages business owners to take one day every month to retreat from work and give themselves a treat.

11:00—For the “I will” strategy, you need to create a list of monthly goals that you intend to achieve and then, revisit that list at the end of the month. Depending on the outcome of each endeavor, you must make a decision to apologize, delegate or reprioritize.

12:16—Clarity is the foundation of a strong mindset. However, in order to maintain it, you also need a dauntless sense of optimism.

16:51—Three lessons that we should take from this pandemic are the importance of authentic leadership; the value of rest; and the realization that dramatic change is always possible.



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Jon: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Small Biz Ahead. The small business podcast presented by the Hartford. This is Jon Aidukonis. And I am joined today by my co-host Gene Marks and a very special guest Carissa Reiniger. Carissa is here to talk to us a little bit about how to keep a strong mindset during a crisis. A little background on her. She owns a small business herself called Small Business Silver Lining, and they are an expert organization in behavioral change and helping business owners achieve their goals through establishing routines enabled by technology and driving good decisions. With that kind of behavioral lens, we’re excited to have a conversation today about the past year, which has probably been a lot for most people, especially small business owners. And I’m excited to have you join us today, Carissa. How’s it going?

Carissa: Thank you. I’m well, thank you. And thank you so much for having me. This is one of my favorite topics, so I’m excited to be chatting with you guys about it.

Jon: Well, thank you so much for joining us and I guess we can probably jump right in, but 2020 was a big year. Global pandemic, major shifts in politics across the globe. A lot of people facing levels of uncertainty that they’ve never probably faced at the same time before, or really kind of in this lifetime to any degree of what the past kind of calendar year was. And that didn’t really go away on December 31st as we kind of set the year anew. So I think it’s been a common conversation between me and my colleagues and friends and clients, but people are having a little bit of a hard time kind of keep staying focused and staying on track. And I think there’s been a lot of things to be reasonably distracted from your day to day goals and kind of interested on your thoughts on what you’ve seen over the past year, especially with your fellow small business owners as they’ve been trying to stay focused and achieve what might have been goals that had to change pretty drastically.

Carissa: Yeah, so we work with small businesses in 25 countries. And as you’ve already said, I mean, there’s not a small business on the planet that hasn’t been dramatically impacted by the events of 2020 and the events that will continue to be true in 2021 and beyond. And one of the most interesting things that we’ve observed… We work with businesses to help them set their financial goals and set their impact goals. And then we give them the structure that behavior change science says you need in order to actually take the right action to hit those goals. Before COVID, one of the things we talked about a lot and is built into our program is the power of mindset, right? The first pillar of behavior changes that you need to be committed to the process itself. You can’t say you want to lose 20 pounds, but never commit to doing Weight Watchers or never commit to joining the gym.

Once you’ve made that commitment, though. One of the things that I believe is true, that science really backs up and that we’ve really seen demonstrated in real life in this last 12 months, is that holding strong and doing the things that keep your mindset strong are really the difference between people who hit their goals and those who don’t, even in a pandemic. And I would argue maybe even more so in a pandemic. So what that means in a really practical sense is the small businesses that we’ve worked with through this period. What we’ve noticed that’s been really stark is that their mindset doesn’t seem to be correlated to the depth of the crisis they’re in. So we work with some businesses who maybe have lost 20% of their revenue. They’ve found alternative ways to pivot and keep their business going.

They’ve certainly had a hard year like everyone has, but it hasn’t been dramatic, but their mindset isn’t great. They feel like they’re victims of circumstance and they’re frustrated all the time, and they’re mad they didn’t get more support, and they’re really struggling. But their mindset struggle doesn’t correlate to their financial struggle. On the other side of the coin we’ve got business owners that have literally lost 95% of their revenue. Don’t know how they’re going to pay rent or feed their kids. They had to take side jobs. They’ve watched sort of their dreams, these businesses that they’ve built, 20 years building, evaporate before their eyes, but they’ve stayed focused. They’ve stayed disciplined. They’ve focused on gratitude for what is good and they’re amazing. And they’re going to be fine and they’re going to find a way through this.

So it’s just been a really stark example, basically. Proof of this idea that mindset’s not correlated to circumstance. And when business owners really take responsibility for the fact that the number one influence we have on growing our businesses is our mindset and not the circumstances around our business. That is where I think success starts to happen. And it starts with that responsibility. And then of course, there’s things we can do to foster a strong mindset, which we can talk about. But if you don’t have total responsibility that you take for your mindset, then it’s really hard to put the other things in place that allow for success.

Jon: That’s an interesting point because I think it is really easy to feel like so much the past year and in life in general lately, it’s just kind of out of someone’s control that it’s hard not to kind of give in to just wanting to feel a little bit defeated or justifiably wanting to take time to figure it out, whatever it is to you, right? One way I personally sometimes dealt with that as I dive into things. So work used to be a good distraction for me and I feel like over the past year work and life have blended in, in this like remote environment we’re in, but definitely have been one of those people who feel busy all the time.

And I used to think that feeling you could handle a lot or kind of feeling like you’re at capacity or busy was kind of an example of a strong mindset because it showed that you had the wherewithal to take on a lot, but from things I’ve heard you say before, and kind of other statements you put out busy and kind of capacity and feeling bold enough to take on a lot, really isn’t necessarily an example of a strong mindset. And part of that also goes to kind of setting better boundaries and learning limits too, right?

Carissa: Absolutely. And I think one of the things that we’ve taught our business owners is what we call the four stages of stuck. The first stage of stuck sounds like I’m too busy, right? When you start hearing yourself say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so busy.” That means that you’re in stuck stage one. The second stage of stock sounds like, “Oh my gosh, I’m overwhelmed.” Right? “I’m overwhelmed.” We hear people saying that all the time. All right, well, that’s stuck stage two. Stage three is, “Oh, I’ve lost my passion. I just don’t care anymore.” That’s stage three. And then stuck stage four is, “I want to quit. This isn’t working, I want to quit. I don’t want to do this anymore.” And what we want people to understand is this vernacular, these things we go to, I’m busy. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t feel passionate. I want to quit. Those are actually indicators of fatigue.

They’re indicators of being out of alignment. They’re indicators that our mindset isn’t strong. And so the risk, as exactly you’ve said, Jon is the risk of letting ourselves get into busyness, overwhelmed, constantly working, having this badge of honor that shows, look at how much I can handle, as opposed to I have a handle on what I know I need to do to stay successful. And I’m going to put the right boundaries in place that I can do that, regardless of how insane my circumstances get. And in fact, the more insane my circumstances get, that’s actually a sign of real maturity, but our culture doesn’t support that.

And so it’s actually, in my opinion, it’s actually counter culture to have a strong mindset. It’s counter culture to be disciplined and focused. And I think one of the reasons we see such high failure rates in small business owners, is that the story of entrepreneurship where all being sold, is this lone ranger, raise millions, sell for billions, work 24 hours a day, sleep under your desk, do it all at all costs. That’s not true. That’s not what it takes to succeed. And so there’s a culture shift that I think is necessary to actually create the conditions and the reality that will set people up for better success.

Jon: Awesome. And how does someone start to kind of develop that? So if you’re someone who’s like, “Okay, I have a habit of getting stuck. I don’t really know like what a next step is to kind of get me back on track.” What are some things that people can do to start to change those behaviors?

Carissa: Great question. So there’s three things that I think are literally life changers and I’ll just describe them really quickly. Number one is, and this is something that I learned from one of my business advisors, Warren Rustand, and it’s called the 10-10-10. And it’s a commitment that the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning, not grab your phone and look at it, not run to the coffee maker and chug caffeine, but actually take 10 minutes to read and then 10 minutes to think, and then 10 minutes to write and focus the beginning of your day on positive thoughts, gratitude for what is, big thinking and start your day like that. And basically make a decision that the first 30 minutes of your day will set the tone for the rest of the day.

It sounds cheesy and we all hear about morning routines, but I really know the difference between the version of myself that I am, the leader I am when I do it and when I don’t. And the power of sort of starting our days on our own terms. And as you said Jonathan earlier, actually taking control back of our time. When so much feels like it’s out of control, we can control what we do the first 30 minutes of our day. So that is one powerful, simple, and very difficult thing. It’s amazing how hard sometimes the simplest things are, but that’s one, the second that we encourage every business owner that we work with to do, and that I do is once a month, we call it retreat and treat. So take a day and retreat and give yourself a treat.

Each of us have things that inspire us. When I’m in water, I feel like I can figure anything out. Or when I go to theater, I feel inspired by the tenacity and the commitment of the people on the stage that I’m getting to experience. So when I retreat and treat, I take a day away from my computer a day away from meetings a day away from my team. And I turn my phone off. I check it once every couple of hours and I basically go retreat. I have a notebook, I have a series of questions I ask myself to help me think and pause and reflect. And then I give myself one treat. One thing that I know will either spark inspiration or give me rest, give me joy, because I know as a business owner, my best ideas and I solve most problems when I’m inspired, not when I’m dog tired.

And so 10-10-10 is a daily routine. Retreat and treat is something that I really think should be done monthly. And then the third thing that can help us get on stock and really keep us in flow and keep a strong mindset is what I call, I will. So instead of having a to-do list, I have an, I will list. Every time I say the words I will, I write it down. And once a month I sort of take a couple of hours. I log out of everything and I look at that I will list. And I look at everything that I’ve committed to saying I’ll do, since the last month when I looked at that list, and I have a rule that I have to either apologize, delegate or reprioritize anything that hasn’t been done. And what that does is it actually holds me accountable.

I have to look myself in the eye once a month and say, what am I saying yes to, where am I committing to things? Where am I getting busy instead of productive? And how many of those times do I have to apologize to someone for making a commitment I can’t deliver on or where do I need to use my team better and delegate? Or where do I just need to reprioritize and get this work done? But it’s a really simple way to keep holding ourselves to truth about where we’re really spending our time, what we’re committing to, and if we’re really living in a focused way. So those are just three little tricks. They’re fun, they’re simple, they’re easy and I know when I do them and when the businesses we work with do them, it really helps you stay out of stuck and stay in a strong mindset.

Jon: I like those a lot. I feel like I could definitely take some of those as tips to my life as a non-business owner. So thank you for sharing those. I’m also a little curious just on… When we think about how we might define a strong mindset? So we talked a little bit about stuck. We talked about avoiding busy, but what are the components or kind of things that people should kind of be aware of or aspiring to, to kind of keep that mindset of productivity and positivity.

Carissa: That’s a good question. I think when I reflect on my own journey and then when I think about the businesses that we get to work with so closely, I think number one is definitely just clarity. I think we let ourselves off the hook a lot by being vague or by not naming exactly what it is we’re trying to accomplish. And sometimes accomplishment, sometimes a good goal is just saying, “I want my business to be alive a year from now,” whatever that takes, or “I want to make sure that I can put food on the table for my family every week,” whatever that means, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes, but I think really being clear about what matters to us and what we’re trying to accomplish. I find that we are not often honest with ourselves about what we really want.

And so we set goals or we have aspirations that are out of alignment with what we really care about and what we really think and what we really want. And whenever that alignment is out of whack, I think it’s almost impossible to keep a strong mindset. So being really clear and honest, which results in alignment, to me, that is the foundation of a strong mindset. And then I think in terms of how we continue to foster that strong mindset and what symptoms of a good mindset are. If we think about symptoms of being stuck, the opposite is symptoms of a strong mindset. I think it’s someone that can see the positive in things. It’s someone that chooses gratitude. It’s someone that looks at the circumstances around them and finds the thing that is good about it, not bad about it. It’s someone that’s living and taking responsibility if something’s not going the right way, or they want to change something, they say, “Oh yeah, I’ve got agency. I can change that. I understand what I need to do to maneuver.”

So I think that idea of having clarity and alignment, being honest with ourselves, primarily living in integrity with that vision, feeling like we have agency and taking responsibility for the changes that we have to make. All of those things are basically under the umbrella of being committed to our best selves and taking full and total responsibility, telling the truth, being fully who we are. I believe that when those things are true, that’s what a good mindset is. That is when we’re operating at our highest and best self and that’s when we’re able to make really good decisions. One just quick definition I can give you guys, which was really powerful to me. One of my business advisors is a man named Henry Cloud and he wrote a book called Integrity. And his definition of the word integrity is actually challenging what we think of, right? We think of the word integrity, and we think of good or bad or moral or immoral. And he explains that the word integrity actually comes from the root word integrated and to be integrated as to be whole, to be complete.

And oftentimes we make bad decisions or when we let ourselves live outside of our ideal mindset or side of the life we want to live and accomplish. It’s actually not because we’re bad or because we’re not smart enough or because we’re not disciplined enough, it’s because we’re out of integrity. There’s something about how we’re operating that isn’t integrated, it isn’t whole and complete. And so when I see people who are fully themselves, unapologetic, and clear about what they want to accomplish, whatever that is with no judgment on what that is, and then making the decisions on a daily basis to move towards what they want, regardless of circumstance and without excuse, that to me is strong, integrated mindset in real life.

Jon: Awesome. No, that’s an interesting way to kind of flip that view because I do think that there is always this kind of consistent struggle with being honest, especially with yourself versus being polite or kind of softening or apologizing to your point or a message or for kind of going after something you want. So I do think it’s an important reminder that we need to deal with ourselves and our businesses with truth, because if not, we can’t really take next steps to anywhere because we’re living in perception versus reality.

So when we think about crisis, which we’ve all just kind of gone through, are there any lessons learned that you think are going to be relevant in the next year or going forward in general because the hope would be that things start to probably normalize or get back to pre-pandemic times, whatever that means for you, within the next couple months to a year. I do wonder how much of the resiliency and adaptability and strength that people found in themselves are here to stay? How much of that will be kind of left behind? And if you have any kind of thoughts or advice on how to keep the silver linings for what we can get out of the pandemic.

Carissa: Yeah. I think it’s such a good question. It’s something I haven’t thinking about a lot. I have been personally processing three things. One is that the leaders that we saw emerge in the last year in crisis weren’t necessarily the smartest people, weren’t necessarily the people, but they were really authentic leaders. They led and they had the ability to hold the complexity of the time, right? If we think about leaders that we all sat back and thought, “Oh, thank goodness for that voice right now.” They were people who said, “I don’t know what to do right now, but this is what we’re going to try next. I don’t understand the impact of this yet, but here’s what we’re going to do now.”

And I hope that what we take out of this is that lesson as leaders, what is required of us in crisis, and hopefully what a new brand of leadership will look like is authentic leadership. Not ego based, not needing to know everything, but actually saying, “Based on the information I have, here’s what I know. Here’s what I don’t know, but here’s what I think we should do. What do you all think? Let’s go. Let’s be in this together.” I think if we can take that with us then than not all will have been lost. Then this will in that way have been a gift that we have learned that together.

The second thing that I really, really, really hope we all do is rest. I’m a big believer that there’s a time to run, like during in a marathon and a time to run, like you’re in a sprint. And basically the whole world, certainly every single small business owner that I know has been sprinting for the last 14 months. And you can’t sprint that long, you get tired. And so I do really believe that in order for us to rebound and come back, there’s going to have to be a really conscious effort on people who have been sprinting for so long and probably still don’t even realize how exhausted they are and we are, to find ways to restore and rest and relax.

So I’m really hopeful and it sounds silly, but every business owner I’ve talked to, I just say, “Have you planned a vacation? Have you planned a good chunk of time off?” We are going to have to be really focused on restoration and rest. The third thing that I’ve been thinking a lot, and we’ve been talking about a lot with our business owners is just, what does it look like to take the realization that dramatic change is possible? We all have been told, “Well, you can’t change the system that much, or it’s not possible to change X, fill in the blank on that X? We are often taught or we have a collective belief that it’s just too hard to make change.

We’ve seen in the last 12 months. That is not true, incredible amounts of why changes happen. And I hope that we don’t forget that. I hope that we are consistently inspired and challenged by the reality that obviously change as possible, system-wide, global, massive change. And so we need to keep that hunger as entrepreneurs, and we’ve got to keep our convictions to change the world and make it better, and find new models, and find better ways, and be actually renewed by this hope, this proof that we now have that change really is possible. And so we need to not let go of that as we move forward.

Jon: Awesome. No, I think those are great tips. And I think there were definitely things that we can all kind of learn from and be conscious of as we enter the next phase of whatever this world brings us. So really appreciate the insight and advice, Carissa. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you today on this topic and for our audience, we were going to have you on for a couple. So we have a kind of short mini series with Carissa talking about mindset and kind of optimizing your business. So excited to kind of have you join us for that, so thank you to all the listeners. We appreciate your time and attention as always, and make sure you like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information, advice, articles, check out our blog@sba.thehartford.com and we’ll catch you on the next one.

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