Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about a founders guide to feeling feelings.

Running a business is difficult and comes witha lot of stress that if not managed properly can lead to a lot of problems for a founder. Problems that could affect your personally or worse, the health of your business.

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten what it means to suppress your emotions, why doing so might not be a good thing, how to get in control of your emotions and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic

00:32 Why this topic was chosen.

01:38 How Steli deals with his emotions.

03:25 One factor that determines how you deal with your feelings.

05:02 Another factor that determines how you deal with your feelings.

06:16 One way to get in control of your emotions.

08:35 The importance of recognizing your emotions.

09:05 A real-world example of dealing with emotions.

10:34 How Steli reacted to an emergency situation.

11:41 Why you can pay a big price if you suppress your emotions.

3 Key Points:

  • I can’t quite fully trust my emotions.
  • Think things through before you act.
  • Personality has a lot to do with how you express yourself to the outside world.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: And today on the Startup Chat, we’re going to figure out if founders know how to feel their feelings or they’re just thinking them. So, here’s why I wanted to quickly talk to you about this. Anybody that’s been listening to the Startup Chat for a long time knows we have talked a lot about the inner game of being a founder. We’ve talked a lot about it, we have a good amount of episodes around managing your emotions, managing your states, managing other people’s emotions, because it’s an emotional game. And if you don’t control your feelings, they might lead you astray and into problematic situations. One thing that I recently discovered about myself, and I wanted to quickly unpack with you for founders, because I thought this might be useful to people that listened to us, is this realization that I had about myself that I think at some point at a young age, I started realizing that I can’t quite fully trust my feelings, and if I just act on my emotions, I wreak havoc, and I create all kinds of problems. So, I started focusing more on controlling my feelings through my mind, and through thinking things through, and not acting immediately, and slowing it down, and de-intensifying my feelings, analyzing them first. Over a long period of time, very subconsciously over decades, I think that I mastered… I overdid this to the point where over the last many, many years, I think I thought most of my feelings, especially the negative ones, right? So, I could tell you here’s a situation that I think I was hesitant in and probably was driven by some kind of a fear, I didn’t feel fear or I didn’t feel hesitant, but I didn’t feel nervous. I just thought, “I’m probably nervous in this situation,” but it didn’t have a physical sensation. And for many, many reasons, I think that that’s not a good idea. It’s not a good idea to just think your feelings. I think it’s a much better idea to actually feel them, be present for them, not let them overwhelm you or runaway with you, but not run away from them either, but actually being fully present for the feeling. And then, you can still decide to think things through at times before you act. But, as I was thinking about all my friends that were CEOs and founders and entrepreneurs, I was wondering if this is maybe not so unique of a case. And what the downside, let’s just talk about that, the potential downside could be for founders who have lost touch with their feelings, who’ve lost the ability to feel their feelings and are just so cognitively focused, that all they do is all their internal experience is always just in their head, in their mind thinking and analyzing. So, first throwing that out there. Does this make any sense? Does this resonate? Do you think I’m crazy and alone or do you think, “Yeah, most founders are like that; that’s totally normal. That’s not special at all”? what’s your initial reaction to this?


Hiten Shah: Yeah, I would say that the there’s a few factors. So, there’s two factors that come to mind for me, as to how you deal with this or how this comes to be. One factor, which is probably the biggest one, is your personality. And personality is a longer topic, I’m sure. But, the reason I say that is your personality has a lot to do with how you express yourself to the outside world. And over time, as you run a business, your ability to bring out your personality in every interaction gets diminished. And the reason for that is most of the time in business, you are making decisions that involve other people and their wellbeing, as well as trying to bring those people on board with the decisions you’re trying to make. And you get really good at, honestly, not being yourself, if you want to put it like that. You end up becoming good at being a business person. That’s just what happens. And a lot of times that bleeds into all parts of your life and you end up suppressing your emotion and your personality unknowingly. And this shouldn’t necessarily be a negative thing. So, that’s one factor, which is what happens to your personality over time. This is inevitable. I don’t see anybody not hitting this, but their personality and then their own psyche and psychology points out like how this manifests in them. And I think the second piece that I’ve found with this is just this idea that when you are dealing with life, your first reaction for most human beings is emotional, and it’s really fast and it’s visceral. Some people would call it a gut feeling. Some people would just call it a trigger. Those things are what you start suppressing, is your ability to respond without emotion, ends up taking over the emotion itself and then you don’t even know what an emotion really is, and you start operating day-to-day, waking up doing the thing, going back to sleep, waking up, doing the thing, without having that feeling. And a lot of times your work takes over. So then your whole idea of life is really consumed by your work. And a lot of times this happens because you started the thing and you care that much about it, or for some people, some folks who are employees also get that same impact because of how much they care about the work they’re doing or believe they do. So, it’s not just founders, I think that are susceptible to this. I think the solution is just recognizing this might be happening to you, and in stepping back and actually finding ways to access your emotion at times when it’s safe to do so. Because I think what it really boils down to is that you don’t feel safe expressing your emotions to the people around you.


Steli Efti: Yeah-


Hiten Shah: Because that’s not you anymore.


Steli Efti: Yeah. That’s deep. I think also at some point, you attach to this new identity that is being created around you and so now you don’t trust yourself anymore to feel.


Hiten Shah: And that identity is a rules engine. That identity is a rules engine like you were saying, and that’s not emotion. Emotions aren’t rules. There’s no rules to emotion. There’s no rules to love. It’s a rules engine that you create because you’re like, “Well, when I’m in this situation, I need to react like this in order to get the best outcome possible.” Okay, cool. That’s great. But, how did you feel about it? Nothing. Why nothing? Because I’m not supposed to feel anything. Why aren’t you supposed to feel anything? Because we got this thing to do. That’s the thing that plays out in your head, right. And then eventually, you become that person and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Again, it’s just what happens. And then, you see this happen and I’m not going to… I don’t want to get into this, but I think it’s worth mentioning. The richest man in the world got divorced. Just think of that. And he got divorced because basically he didn’t want to be with that person anymore, go and be with somebody else.


Steli Efti: Maybe, yeah. Maybe he really was [crosstalk 00:07:58].


Hiten Shah: Yeah. I’m just saying. I don’t know. Either way, right? Something happened that caused that person to put half his wealth [crosstalk] sense.


Steli Efti: Which is not… Which is like…


Hiten Shah: I didn’t want to get into it because it’s his personal life. I don’t really care for it. It’s not my kind of drama, right? But dude, just think about it. You think that’s not from suppressed emotion? Oh, c’mon.


Steli Efti: Yeah, yeah.


Hiten Shah: For real? No, no, no. That’s 100% something from suppressed emotion. What? I don’t know.


Steli Efti: So, I think that, not to confuse, especially, young founders that are just feeling like they’re becoming more effective as they’re learning to suppress their emotions more and they’re like, Wait a second. Am I not supposed to do this?


Hiten Shah: No, no, no. You’re supposed to do it, it’s okay.


Steli Efti: No, no. It’s fine to do it. But, I think it’s important to recognize and then decompress, or then trans… You want to make sure that you don’t do this so much and so often that it becomes such second nature, that you just don’t feel any emotions anymore because then you dehumanize yourself. And then, you might accomplish all kinds of incredible things and be like, “Why don’t I feel anything? I wanted to be excited or happy or fulfilled. And just nothing. Look inside my body and soul is emptiness there. What happened?” And I think, it just popped up in my mind, we had an episode that I recorded once, where I lost one of my sons at a playground. And I was running for 30 minutes, searching around. Eventually like 30 parents in this entire big park were running around, trying to look for my son while I had the police on the phone. And then, we found him. I remember when we recorded this episode telling you that the entire time I was running around like a crazy person trying to find him, there were multiple dialogues going on. One was a very analytical like, “Okay, I’ve searched here, I’ve searched there. What’s the next logical point?” The next level of dialogue was just disbelief where it was just like, “This isn’t happening. This is just not possible. There must be some rational way. He’s not lost. It just need to figure it out.” And then, the third dialogue that was going on was a, “Why am I not feeling anything?” Right. “Holy shit, I’m really cold and empty and emotionless right now.” And I was telling myself, “Well, it’s probably because I just need to function.” And then we talked and laughed about this, where you like, “I would have been doing the same thing.” It was just, you have to function. This is an emergency situation. It’s not the time to feel pain or afraid or break down. You have to figure it out and then you can deal with your emotions. O. I think the important thing for me back then, this may be a good way to wrap this up or to pack this into a metaphor, was that once I found him and we went back home, I didn’t just tell myself, “Well, I didn’t feel anything. I found him. I managed the situation quite well. I’m a man. I’m a good dad. Whatever, let’s forget about this. Let me put on the television.” I was like, “All right, I brought him home, talked to his mom,” and then I was like, “I need to go on a walk.” And I went on a walk until I could figure out where are my feelings. Where is this? And then, I did feel them. And I had to be able to let go of all the panic and the fear and the stress that I felt during those 30 minutes. That was a very crazy moment, but in many, many other small stressful moments, I didn’t do this because I didn’t recognize and realize what was going on. And I think that you could pay a big price if you don’t make sure that, at times when you push away your emotions, you use the rules engine of your personality to strategically act and get the outcome for everybody that you then don’t forget that there still are emotions somewhere in your body that need to be processed. And if you don’t, there’s going to be a price that you’re going to pay that you’re probably not going to like. So, I don’t know. That’s the lesson learned and one maybe practical thing, because we always love to do practical stuff even if it’s philosophical or emotional. One thing that I started that I can recommend to anybody that’s like, “I don’t know if I have feelings or not.” You probably don’t. If you’re puzzled, if you don’t know, you’re probably in my camp. But, one thing that I did that yielded really good results that was really compelling, interesting, was just to start a little simple emotional diary. So, for a couple of days, I was just like, “Let me try a couple of times a day to write down how I feel.” And I struggled so hard with this exercise that it opened up a bunch of things and make me realize that a ton of things. It was super useful to me. So, just as a little pragmatic tip at the end of this crazy episode. If you don’t know if you have feelings, maybe try writing them down for a couple of days and see what happens.


Hiten Shah: That’s the best. I got nothing more to add. That’s good. Feel your feelings.


Steli Efti: Feel your feelings.


Hiten Shah: Just at the right times.


Steli Efti: That’s it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you very soon. Bye bye.


Hiten Shah: Yeah.