How to Become a Better Entrepreneur by Building Mental Toughness

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Name one thing that you believe is absolutely 100% essential to entrepreneurial success.

Go ahead, actually take the time to think of something. I’ll wait…

Did you say creativity? The willingness to work hard? Hustle? Motivation? Passion? Communication skills?

If you said any of the above, you’d probably be right in thinking that it’s important to success.

But there’s one thing that I believe is far more important than any of the above. You might be able to guess, seeing as how it’s in the title. But I’ll repeat it anyway:

Mental toughness.

To succeed as an entrepreneur, especially as an Internet entrepreneur, you. Need. Mental. Toughness.

It’s essential. It’s critical. It’s vital. It’s required. It’s … (I’m running out of adjectives).

Why is it so important? That’s a good question. To answer, it let’s talk about Joe, a hypothetical entrepreneur who doesn’t work at building mental toughness.

Joe has just built a software product that he believes will change the way people use the Internet. He quits his job to focus full-time on building a business around it, because he’s convinced that there’s no way the business won’t make money. 

One month in, Joe is highly motivated, super-enthusiastic, and 100% ready to take on the world. He has an awesome website up (which he paid $5000 to have designed) and a marketing strategy in mind. Everything is going dandy.

Fast forward six months. Joe is still working hard on his business and he’s seen a little revenue trickle in, but he hasn’t even begun to break in. But that’s cool; these things take time, right? After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

A year later, Joe’s experienced some legal setbacks. As a result, his customer base is still rather insignificant and Joe is still in the red. He’s not able to put food on the table, and because he doesn’t have the mental toughness to stick out the lean times, Joe goes to his ex-boss to ask for his old job back.

You can have incredibly marketing chops, off-the-charts productivity, and be highly passionate about your business. But without mental toughness, you won’t be able to stick it out when the going gets tough.  

So how exactly do you build mental toughness?

I’m glad you asked. Here’s a list of five no-fluff ways you can start building mental toughness—today.

Be a Duck

Say what? What the deuce do ducks have to do with mental toughness?

Hold on, I’ll tell you.

Have you ever seen a duck swimming around in water? Either in video or in real life, it doesn’t matter which.

If your answer is yes (let’s be honest, of course it is), then you’ve also no doubt seen the way a duck bobs its head under water for a quick second, then lifts back up. The water on its head then goes streaming down their back, but doesn’t stick; the drops just roll off (Wikipedia page if you wanna know why).

Mental Toughness

That’s how you should be when you make a mistake—don’t hold on to your failure, but instead just let it go. Take Taylor Swift’s advice, and shake it off.

As an entrepreneur, you’re guaranteed to fail. Nobody’s immune to failure—we all make mistakes, take one too many risks, or just plain don’t work hard enough.

But don’t let your mistakes get to you. Don’t let one failure drag your entire business down.

Instead of letting your mistakes “stick” to your back and become a burden, just take failures in stride and shake them off. Learn from your experience, but don’t let it get you down. Just move on.

P.S. If you want further reading on the subject of failure, we’ve talked about it a lot at Foundr; specifically here, here, and here.

Get with the Right People

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. – Jim Rohn

As an entrepreneur, there are always gonna be people who are thinking that you’re out of your mind. For some people, the safety of a day job is much more important than a “chance” at financial and workplace freedom, and so they don’t understand when you give up the security of a 9-to-5 to build your dream. That’s fine, though; some people are just hardwired differently.

The ugly part is when some of these people start to talk you down because you’re trying something different. They insult your efforts, criticize without offering advice, and are just generally nasty.

These people are toxic to you, both mentally and professionally. Get away.

As the quote above says, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If your friends are people who are forever  talking about your business and your life choices in a negative light, how could you ever hope to build up mental toughness while you’re being constantly put down?

Don’t ever give people an opportunity to badmouth your decisions. Even though you may think that you’re not affected by their words, subconsciously the opposite may be happening.

The best thing to do is simply to move on from them. Restrict contact, and don’t let them get to you.

But don’t get me wrong: “toxic” people are not the guys and gals who offer you constructive criticism.

If someone who is actually concerned about you spots a flaw in your business or in your personal life and tries to tell you about it, then it’s in your best interest to listen. Constructive criticism can be invaluable not only in business but also in your personal life, because it comes from someone who can give you an objective opinion unbiased by your own viewpoint.

That’s the type of people who you actually want to be around. Instead of putting you down, they’ll actually encourage you in your entrepreneurial efforts and help you to succeed.

There are several ways you can start getting in touch with this kind of people.

Mastermind groups: Typically, a mastermind is comprised of a group of like-minded people trying to achieve a common goal (in this case, entrepreneurial success). When you join a mastermind, you’ll share your progress in regular meetings with other members as you try to reach this goal, thereby holding yourself accountable to those in similar positions who would actually care about your success.

Conferences: Most of us pursue businesses that are totally Internet-based … so even the thought of committing to something offline, like a conference or a networking session, is completely contrary to our nature (as an introvert, this is especially true for me). Nevertheless, you have to suck it up and get yourself out there. Find a business conference that’s local to your area (if necessary) and relevant to your industry, and attend. The relationships you’ll build and the friends you’ll make are nearly always well worth it.

Blogs: Believe it or not, a blog isn’t just a marketing tool; it can also be a great place to connect with the right people. For example, Alex Turnbull is sharing his company’s journey to $500K/month at the Groove blog. From the comment section, it’s easy  to see that there are quite a lot of people who are tracking his progress with great interest. These followers not only add their insights and experiences in the comments, but they also serve as a way to keep Alex accountable to his goal.

Celebrate Your Successes

One important mental toughness strategy is making yourself think positively.

The best way to do that?

Celebrate your successes. Every. Single. One.

Did you just add 1000 subscribers to your list with a new marketing campaign? Celebrate your success.

Have your social media channels been exploding in growth? Celebrate your success.

Did your latest infographic get picked up by major sites in your niche? Celebrate your success. 

It’s important that you celebrate each and every milestone that comes your way, little ones and big ones alike. (But celebrate in proportion—don’t take a week off just because you decreased onsite bounce rate by 10% 😉 )

By recognizing your victories, even the smallest ones, you’ll constantly give yourself a mental boost and reinforce positive thinking.

So even though commemorating a highly trafficked infographic may soom foolish right now, I guarantee that you’ll find yourself reinvigorated and highly motivated every time you do so.

Don’t Sweat What You Can’t Control

There will always be some things about your business that you just don’t have control over.

For example: press coverage. Sure, you can use strategies like these to ensure a higher likelihood of your business getting press, but at the end of the day you can’t force a journalist to do a writeup on your company. You just can’t.

It’s not in your control.

And if it’s not in your control, stop worrying about it.

Do what you can and then move on.

Trust me—the best thing you can is to sometimes just let your biggest worries go.

Not only will it be a relief to you mentally, but you’ll also find yourself with more time to focus on the stuff that you actually control. And that, dear reader, is one of the best ways to skyrocket productivity.

Prepare Beforehand for a Crisis

Wanna know how to deal with any major crisis that seems sure to ruin your business? Pay attention, cause I’m only gonna say this a gazillion times:

Prepare beforehand.

It’s really just as simple as that. To successfully navigate just about any difficult crisis that may arise in life or business, you need to prepare beforehand. 

Not sure how to do so? Here are some examples.

Let’s say that you’ve recently launched a new SaaS and your marketing is motoring along quite nicely. You’re writing awesome blog posts, pitching your company to relevant press sites, smoothing out customer onboarding snags, and doing all sorts of cool jazz.

But all of a sudden, something big happens in your personal life (the hospitilization of a loved one, for instance), and you can’t be online for a couple weeks.

Prepare beforehand for this sort of crisis by having a ready pool of VAs you can choose from to handle all major tasks while you’re unavailable. That way, even though the small things might not get done, your business won’t burn to the ground even in the time that you take off.

Let’s take another example. This time around, you’re getting sued for something or the other by a no-good scoundrel who, for some twisted reason, wants to see the world burn.


However, you’ve already hired a crack lawyer during the launch phase of your business to solidify everything about your business legally. So the aforementioned scoundrel really has no case, and even if he does, you have an excellent lawyer ready and able to take him/her on.

Preparing yourself for crises beforehand will help you to build mental toughness by giving you a sense of security, knowing that you’re ready for anything life may throw your way.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Wrapping Up

Have you been able to overcome significant setbacks or failures that threatened your business? If so, how did you have the mental toughness to stick it out?

Please add your thoughts in the comments below!

  • 21st Century Sarah

    This is very insightful. Yes, many small start-ups starts with sparks of motivation and passion but soon the sparks dim down because there are chances the wind might blow your creativity lights out. But wait a minute, rather than investing your time on blaming the wind, why not invest the time on finding ways of not fighting the wind, but rather find ways of working around to shield the light from the wind. Thank you for sharing, this is made my day. Looking forward for more tips for start-ups.

    • Jonathan John

      The wind makes another great analogy, Sarah, thanks for sharing it. We definitely shouldn’t blame any demotivation we experience on our circumstances, but rather figure out how to keep that spark of excitement and motivation alive.

      P.S. The other writers on this blog share some really great startup tips like you said you were looking for (e.g. Jonathan Chan), so definitely stay tuned!

  • Dean Appleton

    Awesome article! Thank Jonathan!

  • Lauree Sayne

    Thank you for inspiring and equipping us to move forward. I don’t share with my family what I’m doing because I only want to talk to people who believe in me enough to celebrate each victory. What we speak comes true, guard your tongue. Same goes for what we allow other people to speak around us.

    • Jonathan John

      Glad you found the post helpful, Laureen. Good to hear that you’re hanging out with the right people.

    • TERESA

      Hi Lauree, I am doing the same 🙂 I only speak about my dreams with those I know are going to keep pushing me forward!

  • Jon Woodbury

    This is a great article with some very practical suggestions I am exploring further. To expand on the duck analogy, even when they are kicking wildly under the surface, they have the ability to appear calm and confident above the water. That’s a definite skill that can be learned. Some of the biggest challenges for us have been personnel problems. Practicing loyalty without sacrificing productivity takes a lot of practice and thought. Candor is the key to being able to move forward with a renewal of both. Thanks again for the great read!

    • Jonathan John

      Jon, that’s an awesome analogy, thanks for your input!

  • Maria Lutin Lakhansingh

    This was such an AHA moment for me. Amazing article!!!

    • Nathan Chan

      Glad you enjoyed it @marialutinlakhansingh:disqus! @disqus_QW1narqBFs:disqus did such a fantastic job!


    Thanks for this great article Jonathan. I have lots to think about! 🙂

    • Jonathan John

      Thanks for the kind words, glad to help!

  • Hakim Taliaferro

    Great write! Thank you!

    • Jonathan John

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  • PeterAaronDiaz

    Never though to celebrate every success! I think that will help a lot! Thank you!

    • Nathan Chan

      Very important @disqus_zrMYAUrZAQ:disqus 🙂

  • Helen Mays

    I designed a great unique product in New Zealand and then had it shamelessly copied by a UK company.. who made better use of it because of a bigger population. It totally gutted me, then i figured imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and if I can’t take it to Uk and the world needs it, then maybe I better be glad they did it for

  • Venky S

    When a startup is not really getting to success, the point at which to decide whether to continue or shut down is difficult to identify. Some masters prescribe perseverance in bad times, others prescribe to fail fast and move on! But in most cases, guess running out of money will automatically shut the founder out without choice…:-)

  • Ariel Ayangwo

    Great advice Johnathan,

    This is a great look into what it takes to be successful in any entrepreneurial endeavor. Giving up is so easy. And I’v learned so much in my journey. It feels good to exercise the mental muscle of being tough and sticking through the hard times. Especially when you see only “trickles” of results instead of the floods we’ve hoped for.

    Your article is very encouraging and I’v taken away a lot from it. Thanks, and keep up the good work 🙂


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