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How your brain changes when you become an entrepreneur

One minute you’re dreaming of bright lights, flashing cameras and the trappings of success. The next minute you’re in a state of near panic, gripped with a migraine, swirling thoughts and nausea, seriously wondering if this new venture of yours has all been a huge mistake and a job is what you need.

Transitioning from employee to entrepreneur is a huge change

As an employee considering making the shift, there’s often a lot at stake, from a steady income to perceived expectations from family or industry peers. 

It means taking on risks and turning your back on the traditional pathway to success. Our education system and families often expect us to study, get a job, find a spouse, buy a house, have kids, and retire if we are lucky with our health and sanity at 65. We are told to follow the rules, get a degree, climb the corporate ladder, meet KPIs, keep our heads down and get on with the job. 

Entrepreneurship means walking away from convention and creating a pathway in line with your personal vision and version of success. This can be wildly exciting but also hugely anxiety-inducing if you’re used to following the traditional model. 

Succeeding as an entrepreneur is all in your head

While there are various pathways to entrepreneurship and no one-size-fits-all approach, at some point, the balance tips. Mentally, an individual becomes more business owner than employee, even if they are still working a full-time job with a side hustle. 

The job then becomes a means to an end, with the dream of side hustle becoming the main hustle. Eventually, it is time to leave the job and embrace the entrepreneurial journey. At this point, another huge shift occurs. The safety net is gone, and you are on your own. 

This is one scenario, but regardless of the pathway or motivations for becoming an entrepreneur, it means thinking very differently to an employee. 

Suddenly, everything is up to you. 

And you can’t expect it all to be plain sailing. 

Even if you have a steady stream of customers starting out, you are bound to face obstacles down the track and quiet, nerve-wracking times are inevitable. 

Will the downtime or setback make or break you? It’s hard to tell when starting out. It can be a time when getting a job with a steady income starts to look very attractive, or your vision becomes so compelling you will do anything to climb the mountain in front of you, with the belief that regardless of what you encounter and the setbacks ahead, you will succeed. 

Rewiring your brain for success 

There is a lot of talk about mindset in business. Taking time to envision and manifest your dream business, thinking positively and embracing failure for growth are key. But is there more to mindset? What actually happens to your brain at a chemical level when becoming an entrepreneur? And is it possible to change your brain from a rule-following employee to a risk-taking entrepreneur?

Link Success is a company dedicated to neuroscience for business. Its owner, Vannessa McCamley, says it is possible to change your brain and make the successful transition from employee to entrepreneur. It’s all about rewiring your brain for success by understanding the role of neuroscience and neuroplasticity and having the desire to change. And yes, chemical changes do occur. 

In her new book, Rewire for Success, McCamley shows that it is possible to create new connections in your brain with the right insight and commitment, which can positively influence behaviour. This will allow you to achieve your entrepreneurial aspirations while also supporting a healthy life and wellbeing. 

She says it takes 90 days to embed one to three habits when dedicating ourselves to change, but successful change is down to our stress response and how that stress affects us. 

McCamley says that stress is inevitable when starting out as an entrepreneur, but it’s about understanding the balance of dopamine versus adrenaline. If you’re feeling excited, driven and passionate, you’re more likely to view your business journey as a challenge to conquer and will be less likely to become overwhelmed by the risk and fear involved with going out on your own. 

“The brain is an energy-conserving organ and will resist change because it takes cognitive effort and uses up valuable sources of oxygen and glucose”, she says.  

“The key to making change is the judgements we make about whether to take action or not to take action based on the sum of risk value + reward value.

“It means if we perceive the reward as less than the risk, we are unlikely to engage in making change. The brain will decide it is not worth the effort.”

How do you prepare yourself for success as a new entrepreneur? 

McCamley says it’s all about:

Being clear about your purpose

You need to know why you are driven to achieve certain outcomes for your customer. It’s about having clearly articulated goals and then giving yourself permission to be adaptable.

Priming yourself for the unknown

The human brain seeks certainty, but things are not going to go to plan, so you need to run through scenarios that could happen and have a kind of fire drill. This will help combat fears and make ‘putting out fires’ feel like a normal part of business, rather than something to lose your cool over. 

Prioritising downtime 

You need time in your schedule to relax because a brain that is overwhelmed and busy all the time will miss things. Burnout is a big risk for entrepreneurs, but downtime will allow you to continue for the long haul. 

Understanding how much sleep you need 

Getting enough sleep is essential for business success. It’s just as important as diet and exercise for entrepreneurs. If you are healthy, you are giving your business the best chance of good health too. 

Protecting your deep thinking 

Just as downtime is important, rewiring your brain for success as an entrepreneur means honing your innermost thoughts. These provide you with the seeds of creativity, the lifeblood of a growing business.  Paying attention to your intuition will guide you and is as essential as a marketing strategy.

While entrepreneurship may mean significant changes and a massive shift in mindset, most seasoned business owners will tell you it’s well worth it. Finding a supportive entrepreneur community, reaching out to coaches and mentors, plus embracing lifelong learning are all part of the adventure. 


Read more: Why all entrepreneurs should have a growth mindset


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