09.06.2020 Lifehacks

Mental Toughness: Consider Challenges as an Opportunity

F10 mentor, executive coach and mental toughness expert Matt Lanfear, PhD provided the Startups in the F10 ecosystem with tips on how to cope with uncertainty and stress. Journaling, meditation, and physical activity can play an important role in establishing mental toughness.

The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in many countries have severely affected businesses all over the world. The impact on Startups looking for funding or partners to conduct proofs of concept has been particularly strong. Global Startup investments have dropped significantly since the outbreak of COVID-19. If this negative tendency continues, approximately 28 billion US Dollar in Startup investment will go missing in 2020, extrapolations of data collected by the private capital experts at the SaaS company PitchBook and the research organization Startup Genome show. Since COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic, Startups all over the world started to lay off employees. In the San Francisco Bay area alone, over 2500 Startup employees have lost their jobs between mid-March and mid-April. Nevertheless, crises also provide opportunities for new players entering the market. According to the tech news platform VentureBeat, over half of Fortune 500 companies were created during a recession or bear market, and over 50 tech unicorns collectively valued at 145.2 billion US dollars were founded during the recession between 2007 and 2009.

“Seeing challenges as an opportunity is one of the factors of mental toughness”, Matt said during an online session on mental toughness and resilience for the Startups in the F10 ecosystem. As a seasoned executive coach, Matt works with entrepreneurs and executives operating in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments to help them increase performance, resilience, and wellbeing.

“Leadership and mental toughness are inseparable in high-performing organizations”

— Matt Lanfear, PhD

Matt focuses on accelerating leadership growth for individual executives and management teams in organizations undergoing massive change: either innovation-driven, high-growth entrepreneurial organizations, or multinational companies undertaking major business transformation and change management programs. Such organizational changes include business expansion through mergers and acquisitions, restructuring and company turnaround, as well as offshoring and outsourcing operations. “To not only survive but thrive in uncertain times, entrepreneurs need to focus on building resilience actively—in themselves and their organisations”, Matt says.

What is stress and how to cope with it?

According to the World Health Organization, the primary psychological impact of the pandemic and lockdown measures is elevated stress rates or anxiety. Stress often evokes negative associations but from a scientific point of view, it is just the body’s normal reaction to threats, challenges, or high demands. Among the potential responses to stress – namely long-lasting tension and lack of release phases – are fatigue, exhaustion, anger, ignorance, over-sleeping or sleeplessness, changes in the eating or drinking behaviour and abuse of alcohol or drugs. Your body does not know if it is dealing with physical or emotional stress and starts to produce adrenaline which plays an important role in the fight-or-flight reaction. This hormone alerts people and makes them resilient, but a build-up of adrenaline can lead to burnouts. It is, therefore, crucial to lower the adrenaline level in your body by moving. Physical activity helps the body release tension. It is not necessary to run a half-marathon after work. Taking a walk, light exercising, or swimming can also be helpful.

Anxiety means worrying, being nervous or uneasy about something with an uncertain outcome. During the COVID-19 crisis, people worry about their health, about the wellbeing of loved ones, about career prospects and the long-term consequences of the pandemic. Insights, studies, and assumptions about the new coronavirus are being published daily, with new information contradicting research that had been published just weeks before and countless articles spreading fake news. This uncertainty increases anxiety levels. Unexpected encounters with difficulties and uncertainty often fail our natural coping abilities and make us vulnerable to burnout and hypertension. To avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms, Matt recommends journaling or meditation, as well as daily physical activity, ideally outdoors in natural sunlight.

It is often easier to come up with solutions when writing

Journaling involves keeping a diary or journal that explores thoughts and feelings surrounding the events of your life. On the health and wellness information website “Verywell Mind”, the benefits of journaling are described as follows: “Journaling allows people to clarify their thoughts and feelings, thereby gaining valuable self-knowledge. It is also a good problem-solving tool; oftentimes, one can hash out a problem and come up with solutions more easily on paper.”

Journaling about negative events helps people process them by consciously exploring and releasing the emotions involved, and by engaging both hemispheres of the brain in the process, allowing the experience to become fully integrated within one’s mind. Journaling can also help you to focus on areas of your life that you like to focus on more often.

The mental health experts from “Verywell Mind” distinguish between three types of journaling:

  • gratitude journals to list aspects of each day that you are grateful for
  • emotional release journals to process your responses to events that have happened throughout the day
  • personal planning journals to unclutter your mind and keep track of goals

Meditation helps to control your mind

Thousands of studies prove the benefits of meditation on both mental and physical health and research indicates that the effects of meditating can be similar to antidepressants. Neuropsychological studies suggest that regular meditation also impacts the lateral prefrontal cortex, making us feel in control of our thoughts. “Meditation helps to control your mind”, Matt agrees. His advice regarding positive thinking is to differentiate between aspects of your life that you can control and what is out of your control. The ability to steer your thoughts, build resilience and develop mental toughness increases productivity. Not only successful businesspeople but also many sports stars use meditation to become mentally stronger. NBA player LeBron James – considered one of the most exceptional basketball players of all time – is a famous advocate for meditation. During the 2012 NBA Playoffs, he meditated during a timeout to help him refocus. James’ team Miami Heat won the championship series and he was named ‘Most Valuable Player’. By meditating regularly, everybody can become more vigilant and aware of their thoughts and emotions, which makes it easier to replace the negative automatic thoughts with positive ones.


Even while maintaining social distancing rules, F10 as THE HOME OF FINTECH brings the financial technology community together. To support the Startups in the F10 ecosystem optimally, the F10 mentors and industry experts share their knowledge and know-how on skills that are relevant during this uncertain time in online mentoring sessions. Before the session on mental toughness and resilience, topics such as user-centred design, remote selling and brand communication in crises had been covered.

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