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How Cognitive Distortions Impact Startup Founders

What Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can teach startup founders through the logical distortions of Fortune Telling 🔮 & Catastrophizing 🤯.

When I came onboard Quirk about 4 months ago, I honestly knew very little about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Cognitive Distortions. My brother had launched this little app and I just wanted to help him grow it.

At this point in my life i’ve been founding different startups for almost 7 years now. So with 7 years of experience, I can say this with absolute certainty.

Starting a company is a manic rollercoaster of a mind [email protected]#$.

I came from an extraordinarily privileged and sheltered background.

Yeah, I “dealt with stress” growing up.

I dealt with being forced to learn piano since the age of 7. With getting in trouble for getting B’s instead of A’s. With cramming for my SAT and ACT’s. Bragging to my friends about how I only slept for 4 hours last night.

See? “Stress.”

Entrepreneurship is a wake up call.

Failure doesn’t mean getting a B on a paper. Failure means not being able to buy groceries. It means that employee with 3 kids can’t buy groceries. It means those family and friends who pitched in on your early round are out money.

Stress from a startup is when you get a call from a client asking why your employee left a “pipe” outside their house.

Stress from a startup is when you maxed out a $5,000 27% APR credit card to buy inventory.

Stress from a startup is when that client decides they can bring your contract “in house”.

The highs of making a ton of money, landing a huge investor, and bringing on a new client is incredible. But the low’s can be rock bottom devastating.

How founders deal with this kind of stress and anxiety will literally make or break their company. If you aren’t familiar with CBT, a Cognitive Distortion is like a logical fallacy which is the root of almost all stress, anxiety, and depression.

As Quirk went through the Y Combinator S19 batch I watched and learned how Cognitive Distortions were affecting not only my batch mates, but my own company as well.

Fortune Telling Causing You Anxiety? 🔮

Personally, we are horrible at fortune telling.

Fortune telling is a logical fallacy where predicting the future causes you to be unhappy. This is probably the most common cognitive distortion because a HUGE part of a startup in the early stages is planning for the future.

It’s a tricky thing to deal with.

On one hand you are literally required to constantly think about the future and make plans. What happens if a competitor clones your product? Is hiring this employee going to end badly? Will this investor actually close my round?

It’s a terrible trap that founders fall into because they have to constantly think about the negative impacts of their actions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy states that your thoughts cause your mood. Well if you have to constantly think about what bad things can happen, that will severely impact your mood.

That’s why it’s important for founders to be able to recognize distortions like Fortune Telling.

We have to be able to analyze a situation, recognize the worse possible outcome, and then make a logical strategic decision. By recognizing when we are making ourselves anxious/stressed/depressed by predicting the future, it lets us take a step back and realize we don’t have to let a future problem impact our emotions and decision making.

Catastrophizing 🤯 Turning Small Problems Into Big Problems

Bad things happen all the time. We are ALL held together with duct tape.

Since we launched Quirk only 4 months ago?

  • We screwed up our Android trials, boom lost 500 subscribers & got a ton of 1 star reviews.
  • Over 100+ investors turned us down.
  • Still haven’t been paid a penny from $10k+ in sales on the iOS store.
  • And as I write this article, the iOS 13 update is causing ALL of our users Quirk apps to crash.

The world is filled with small problems, very rarely is something truly a catastrophe.

I can’t tell you how many times we thought Quirk was doing poorly. That this was never going to work. That we needed to pivot into XYZ product.

You know the best part about small problems?

They’re easy to fix.

We fixed our android trials. We found investors that wanted to come on board. iOS will eventually pay us. My Co-Founder is updating our app as I write this.

“Oh no all of our users are crashing!!”

It’s easy to turn this into a catastrophe and allow it to cause us huge amounts of stress, anxiety, and depression. But this stress and anxiety doesn’t help us solve the small problem that it truly is.

Maybe it’s a day of work. Maybe it’s a week. But it’s a solvable problem and just another 24 hours in the day of a startup.

Learning to recognize when you are catastrophizing makes it easier to not stress and become anxious over small problems, which lets you make better decisions and become more productive.

This article was originally posted on quirk.fyi.

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