In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about mental health and how to stay mentally healthy while you are building a startup.

When you’re building a startup, staying mentally healthy is really important. Way too many entrepreneurs try to be strong and save face when circumstances are bad and this can lead to depression or worse.

Tune in to this week’s episode to hear Steli and Hiten on the importance of mental health, best practices to stay mentally healthy in a startup, what you need to do, what to avoid doing and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:49 About today’s topic.

01:20 Why this topic was chosen.

01:51 Why you should seek help if things are looking really bad.

02:04 Best practices to stay mentally healthy in a startup.

02:39 How things change constantly in the startup world.

03:29 Why having awareness of your emotions, your mood, and your feelings is the goal.

04:10 The importance of self-awareness.

04:48 The need for self-improvement.

05:59 An example of being self-aware.

06:54 One of the hardest things for founders to do.

3 Key Points:

  • If you’re in a really terrible place emotionally seek help.
  • Having awareness of your emotions, your mood and your feelings is the goal.
  • In the startup world, things can change constantly.



Steli Efti: Hey everybody. This is-



Hiten Shah: Shit.



Steli Efti: Steli Efti . I love that I recorded this.



Hiten Shah: K.



Steli Efti: Because, what is said before I hit recording was, “All right. Let’s record the next episode, Hiten, mental health,” and I hit the record button. As I was introing Hiten is like, “Shit.” I love that raw moment. All right. So, today we’re going to talk about mental health, and how to stay mentally healthy while you are starting a startup. Hiten, bless us with your genius and your wisdom. What is everything I need to do-



Hiten Shah: This is the startup chat.



Steli Efti: There you go. This is-



Hiten Shah: This is the startup chat. We don’t know anything about this. Aw, man.



Steli Efti: How do I stay sane in a startup? What do I have to do? What do I have to avoid. I mean, I feel like we’ve recorded a lot of episodes that relate to this. Right? The emotional side, the mental side of things, but I wanted to do a quick episode on this. I’m not sure if you want to talk about the more serious cases of mental health. I surely don’t. I mean, I’m interested in it, but I don’t feel like I have an authority or confidence and experience to talk about real depression, clinical mental health, other than, if you’re in a terrible place emotionally, seek help, and seek professional help. I think way too many of us, especially entrepreneurs, are trying to be strong, save face, and it becomes a very lonely place. I don’t want to talk about the most severe cases of this, but staying mentally healthy is I think a real priority and a real threat in a startup. I know that you and I have a lot of experience personally, and with a lot of our friends, and people that we work with. What are some things that come to your mind in terms of best practices to stay mentally healthy in a startup?



Hiten Shah: Oh, man. I don’t think you get the luxury of always feeling sane if you’re going to do a startup or run a business. The one reason I’ll say is because most of us, I think all of us don’t really grow up being built for it. As a kid, you’re there to have fun, you’re going to get educated, you’re going to go to school, people tell you what time to show up. You’re not dealing with change. Literally, in a startup or a business, things can change constantly, almost in every moment sometimes. You can really feel like everything’s really great or everything’s really shitty. This is where my shit came from earlier. Sorry for the language, but it’s not as bad as some of your language Stelly. I think I’ve calmed down with my language lately. But, speaking of insanity. I don’t know. This is something where I think people’s go … If you plan on doing this stuff, and think you’re going to be sane or think that’s the goal. You’re wrong. I think the goal is, to me, and I guess my first thought on it, and I’d love to hear what you think, because I’ve already said I don’t think sane is a good goal. Having awareness of your emotions and your mood and your feelings is that goal. That will give you more longevity in your career … If you want to call it a career, which I don’t … As a founder than anything else. I would say that for any human on the planet, which is this awareness of your emotions, your mood, your feelings. I say those three things very specifically, because that’s all you got. If you have that awareness you can at least figure out what you want to do. You can figure out what’s impacting you, and why you might be either doing or saying or thinking the things you are, or feeling the things you are too.



Steli Efti: I love that. I think self awareness … Oh, man. Self awareness is so key, but then the next point is self acceptance. Right?



Hiten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: Once you know how you feel, and you know what’s going on with you, figuring out this delicate balance between accepting that and forgiving yourself for it, and being okay with how it is. Then from that point of self acceptance, getting to self improvement, where you go, “Okay. I understand this is how I feel. This is okay to feel this way, and now that I sit with that acceptance for a little bit. How do I move on from it. What do I need to do next.” We recorded a bunch of episodes, actually, on self awareness. It’s a big topic for us, but I’ll throw out two that people should listen to, if you haven’t yet. It’s episode 45, Founder Self Awareness, and episode 65, How To Become More Self Aware. I think that, that’s really, really big. I’ll throw out … There’s obviously, a lot of practices that people will share in terms of mental health habits that people will bring up often times for founders. Things like physical activity: working out, going to the gym, doing sports is something that’s really important, yoga, whatever you want to call it. Meditation is something that we’ve talked about before, and people will recommend a lot. I really don’t want to talk about these types of things as much. I think you touch on a really important point with knowing what is going on, and having the self awareness to not … I don’t know … To not be in this hypnotized state where you think what you think and feel is reality, but you have this one step of removal it’s the reality in my current mood. That example of that is sometimes when I don’t sleep well or if I’m hungry I might have very negative thoughts and then I’ll catch myself, and be like, “Ooh. This is not you. This is you tired or this is you hungry.” What that does is it allows me not to believe myself, not to believe my thoughts or not to-



Hiten Shah: Right.



Steli Efti: Right? It makes me go, “Disregard all this thinking because you’re so tired right now everything you think is negative, but you can’t believe any of it.” That relaxes me instantly, so not I’m not in this hypnotic state where I think I believe everything I think to be true, I’m acting as if, but I step away from myself and I go, “Oh.” I observe myself and I go, “Oh. This is me not in a clear state of mind. This is me in a really bad mood, so everything I think right now I can not trust. I need to relax, and get myself into a better state first.” The other things I really want to highlight … one of the biggest and hardest things I think for founders to do … For me, I’ll talk about myself, and I definitely project this on many … I see this with many others. I don’t know I will just project or if it’s a reality I’m picking up on. I think founders have a really hard time … Humans maybe, in general, but founders in particular … To speak about their challenges, their problems, and their emotions with other people. I think finding someone or a group of people you can talk to, not to seek solutions. Not necessarily to even seek advice how to fix things, but just to be able to have somebody that can relate to you. So, you can share something to somebody that will understand it. Just that exercise can do tremendous things to your mental health. I had to learn this the hard way. For most of my life I kept all of my problems to myself. I was somebody everybody came to with their problems, and I just figured out my problems on my own. Then I tried to share my problems with others, but I always was like, “This is kind of pointless. They don’t have better solutions that I had. This is not really that useful to me. I don’t know why I should do this,” and then I got into this space now where I realized there’s a lot of value in talking to somebody that can relate to me and that I can relate to, and just sharing these things with no goal to have somebody fix it or give me a perfect solution. Just to be able to verbalize it, to physically get it out of my body and into the real world versus just keeping it in my head and in my body as emotions and thoughts. That alone, that release of saying out loud that I trust and that can relate to it and listen to me. That alone, that release alone is incredibly valuable to stay sane. Finding somebody that you can talk to about your deepest and darkest thoughts and emotions about your weakest moments, just have somebody you can openly share without any pressure to pretend to be something you’re not, and without any expectations for them to fix your problems, is incredibility valuable to stay mentally sane. In many ways, that’s what therapy is for many people. They pay somebody, professional listener, that won’t judge them and that is not really too closely related to their life to just listen to them honestly speak about their thoughts and emotions. I think that, that’s incredibly valuable. I don’t have a therapist, but I might try that at one point. I have a few people that I trust … You’re one of them that I’ll share some things with that I wouldn’t usually shared … 10 years ago I wouldn’t have shared with anybody, and it helps a lot to just have somebody who will listen to you, and for you to verbalize some of your problems. It helps with mental health for sure.



Hiten Shah: Yeah, likewise. I think you’re one of those people for me, and how could that not be true with 400 episodes, almost, down our belt, or on our belts. I think that this is a super important topic. It definitely impacts most people I know that are founders in one way or another, even if they’re not necessarily emotional or anything like that. You can just tell when you talk to somebody, especially if they’re a founder, and they’re talking to you and telling you about what’s going on in their business how they’re feeling. My friend the other day asked me … He’s a founder as well. He’s very happy. I see him every week and he asked me, “Are you happy?” I actually told him no. I’m not happy, and I explained why, and he’s first thing was … He helped me with some things that I’m working on, and I do the same for him. He gives me advice, and immediately did his best to figure out why I wasn’t happy, and help me in the context he could get to a place where I would be happy. I think that just happened randomly because he happened to be really happy about what’s going on in our conversations and all that, and I am too, but he asked me very directly, and I’m not going to lie to him. While, if someone else asks him. I’ll be like, “Yeah. I’m good.” Like, “I’m good. Yeah. What are you going to do about it?” While, this person I value the person so much, just like I do you, that if they ask me a question … It’s not that I’m lying that I’m not happy or that I’m happy when someone else asks me. It’s just more like, “Hey. I’m going to tell you what’s best for you to hear,” but someone else, depending on the person, I think you should be honest. So, find those people. It’s probably the biggest piece of advice, both you and I can give other people about this. At the same time, I think find your ways to awareness and find your ways to acceptance. I think awareness … One you pointed out about food and being hungry is super interesting to me because sometimes you don’t realize what it is. The really stupid basic thing you can do, and I call it stupid because … Excuse me. I think it’s valuable, which is just start logging your mood, if you can.



Steli Efti: Ooh, yeah.



Hiten Shah: Even just notes like this day this time I don’t feel great. I don’t know why. It’s this day this time. I don’t feel great. I’m not sure why. These might be the reasons. You’ll start finding your pattern. I tend to do that in my head sometimes. I tend to just take a moment and just say, “Oh. What’s going on here? How do I feel? Do I feel a little great? Do I not? Why do I not feel great? Okay. How can I just feel great?” Because, a lot of times just saying, “I feel great.” Believe it or not can make you feel great, regardless of what’s going on. A lot of times we just want to dig into problems. A lot of the job, when you’re going stuff as a startup or as a founder, is problem solving. If you keep using that muscle of problem solving all the time you can get into this mode where you’re just thinking about problems. I don’t know how healthy that is. If you’re always just thinking about problems when you don’t need to. Sometimes the problems you’re worried about might not be that important right now. I think that awareness of like, “How am I feeling? Is it because I’m just thinking about problems all the time? Is it because of something else? Does it help me when I go for a walk. Does it help me when I pick up that phone and call somebody or go walk over to someone’s office and say, “Hey. I’m thinking about this. What do you think?” It’s just about finding your ways once you’ve found awareness and the acceptance of those feelings or whatever it is to basically mitigate the emotion, and make it go away, and getting through it. I think there’s many ways that people can do that, but you won’t really know how to figure that out if you’re not discovering for yourself exactly what’s causing these emotions and these moods for you.



Steli Efti: Beautiful. I think that’s it for us for this episode. Stay mentally healthy. It’s so important. You can’t be an amazing founder if you’re emotionally and wreck.



Hiten Shah: Right.



Steli Efti: If you need to somebody to listen to you, give feedback, give advice, help in any way shape or form. If you’re struggling with this, just reach out to us [inaudible] We always love to hear from you, and help if we can. That’s it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you very soon.



Hiten Shah: See ya.