How an Entrepreneur is able to Develop Flexible Thinking


One of my positions as a graduate student at the University of Nevada in Reno, NV requires me to work in the NEW Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship. The other day while I was in the Ozmen Center an undergraduate student came in to talk about some of the barriers she was currently experiencing with her small start-up company. For ambiguity I will call her Jane. Jane’s biggest barrier she was experiencing was all negative thoughts that were flooding her mind.

Vorontsov M. 2015

Jane had started addressing all the right steps moving forward in a positive direction getting her business off the ground. Externally, Jane seemed to have her life and business venture in order. Internally however, Jane was feeling down and out because some of the people, almost all the people, she was seeking guidance from kept providing her with negative feedback and energy regarding her new business venture.  She expressed to me that all the negative comments were beginning to weigh heavily on her and she asked me how do I handle and process negative feedback as an entrepreneur.

My response to her was that I don’t handle it by ignoring it or believing it. See as human begins we have such a unique relationship with our thoughts. Sometimes our thoughts are negative and sometimes they are positive and when we are told time and time again our new entrepreneurial ventures are horrible it is difficult to go against the internal flow or thought processing that our idea might not be good. I am not saying don’t consider criticism. What I am inferring, is that we want to have some evidence supporting the person’s comment that our business idea is not going to work. So until someone can support their argument with evidence, try a few simple steps to create more flexible thinking.

1 – Become Present in the Moment

Working as an entrepreneur in a startup environment there are many moving pieces going on around you all the time. Becoming present in the moment will help you become more aware of your surroundings (eg. people around you, your work environment, your purpose, etc.) and allow you to act strategically on the task or goal that ‘sits in front of you’. You will be able to organically begin to work on one task at a time, slow down, and do less (but you are actually doing more by doing less).

2 – Provide yourself some space

This idea pigtails off of the ‘do less’ rule in that creating space mentally and physically. Creating space will help you organize your thoughts, schedule, and help you take one goal at a time. I tend to find myself cramming my schedule so tightly together that it feels suffocating making it difficult to get from one task to the next. By providing space in my schedule I will avoid trying to do too much in one day, and most importantly I will not be late to any of my other appointments throughout the day.

3 – Psychological Flexibility exercise

I am not talking about jumping on a pseudoscience application like Lumosity, rather try something that works! There are many evidenced-based exercises available to the public for creating a more flexible mind. One of my favorite exercises is called the ‘Leaves on a Stream’ (Hayes et al., 1999), metaphor. It comes from the work of Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT (pronounced as one word and not as single letters) is a scientific approach with the goal in mind to create more flexibility in a person’s thinking through the use of targeting 6 core processes (Acceptance, Cognitive Defusion, Being Present, Self-as-Context, Values, and Committed Action). To learn more about ACT please Google search, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, you will yield approximately 929,000 results in less than 0.26 seconds.

To practice creating more flexibility in your thinking please listens to the audio recording that I created for my undergraduate thesis project. The voice is Dr. Jenna LeJeune who is a licensed psychologist trained as a scientist-practitioner. Dr. LeJeune is also the co-founder of Portland Psychotherapy and its Director of Clinical Services.

leaves picture
Nelson Petilla 2015


Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K., & Wilson, K. G. (1999). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An experiential approach to behavior change. New York: The Guilford Press.

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