In the section ‘The OpenUp of …’ someone openly tells about his or her life. Topics such as meaning, awareness, doubts and insights all pass by. We basically ask how psychology plays a role in their day-to-day lives? This episode we ask entrepreneur Floris Rost van Tonningen, co-founder of among others IEX and Hyves and investor in various startups.
How are you really doing?
“Well, I’m pretty busy with a number of projects that have gained quite some momentum. Which is a lot of fun on the one hand, because it gives me a lot of energy. But it’s also challenging to manage this well. I don’t like my attention to scatter too much which can be tough in such a situation. And I mean, you don’t always control that kind of acceleration, so sometimes it’s a bit more intense than others. I always try to find a good balance”.
We try to stick to our old rhythm as much as possible, we get up early, have breakfast all together and at 9 o’clock we all start working (or school).
“Besides the projects, we’re all working from home a lot. And with three small children at home… you get it, not that easy! Our known rhythm fell away, so we had to look for a new one. We try to stick to our old rhythm as much as possible, we get up early, have breakfast all together and at 9 o’clock we all start working (or school). During the break we also walk outside together. Keeping that structure helps a lot. Something with peace, cleanliness and regularity, wasn’t it?”
What gives you a fulfilling feeling?
“I get a lot of energy from ‘getting in the flow’. When I was twenty years old I read the book ‘Flow’ by the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and that was a great source of inspiration for me. Flow is all about experiences that people immerse themselves in, with all their attention. It can be something small, like a sport, a good conversation, or a creative challenge. But you can also see it broader, like being in flow with your personal mission.
If you really want to experience something for real, you have to manage all the noise.
Do you often have this kind of flow experience?
“Too little. Doing something with all your attention and not being disturbed in between has become more and more difficult. There are so many distractions around us, notifications keep coming your way all day. If you want to experience something for real, you have to manage all the noise. A source of distraction, for example, is my iPhone. It has useful tools like a calendar, maps, notes, the camera. That’s why you use it for many different things, but there is also a lot of distraction from less useful features. That’s still a challenge for me”.
How do you deal with that?
“I try to be aware of these kinds of distractions in my daily life and then manage them a bit. For example, I traded my iPhone for a simple Nokia for a while, but in the end that didn’t work for me. I think it’s more about becoming aware of the pros and cons of these kinds of tools and finding a good balance in them”.
“For example: how often should I check my mail per day? Is that ten or twenty times, or is one time enough? If I make it a flow experience, then I’ll work with my mails for thirty minutes with my full attention, without distractions, and then I’ll turn off my inbox again. I’m always looking for that flow modus”.
What works well for me is checking in or out several times a day. Let go of everything, slow down and then get back to work with a fresh perspective.
Has there been a moment in your life when, in hindsight, you would have liked mental help?
“When you’re very intensively working on a project, like with IEX and Hyves, you may forget to also pay attention to important issues that are not urgent. That something for later, you think. But a few simple practices of 15 or 30 minutes a day can make a big difference”.
“What works well for me is checking in or out several times a day. Let go of everything, slow down and then get back to work with a fresh perspective. Apart from the fact that this gives me more energy at the end of the day, it also helps me to make better choices”.
What does this slow you down?
“Someone once told me that as an entrepreneur you only have to make two or three really important choices a month. If you look at the bigger picture the rest is less important. But for those two or three choices you really have to make time available. Top athletes have known for years that you have to alternate peak efforts with moments of rest. They are experts at that. It is a form of daily maintenance. When you’re on all day, because of all the triggers and stimuli, you make different choices than when you’re relaxed”.
Whenever that happens I try to accept that, and try again tomorrow.
“I now try to apply this as much as possible, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes I am in a good flow for a couple of weeks, but I also have periods where my attention is drawn to distractions. That’s why checking out works well, that way I remind myself of these kinds of principles. And there are certainly days when that doesn’t work as well. Whenever that happens I try to accept that, and try again tomorrow. I noticed that if I don’t accept it, it becomes a thing in itself, which has the opposite effect of relaxation”.
Which characteristic are you proud of and why?
“Pride is not the right word for me. But when I look at what gives me the most pleasure, that’s learning new things. It’s really an intrinsic curiosity, I want to see and understand how something works. That also involves a lot of patience. Learning new things is tiring at the beginning, when nothing works and it still takes so much energy.”
“I always compare it to sports. If you want to learn how to snowboard, you first have to struggle for three or four days, especially with yourself. But that’s part of the process, which is awkward and uncomfortable. That too is part of the challenge and the experience. For example, I’ve wanted to kite for years now, but it’s not something you’ll learn overnight. So I went to Egypt with my brother for a week to learn it. Talking about flows… this allowed me to put my full focus and energy to kitesurfing for an entire week.
“But I also enjoy learning a new trade and keeping up with the developments in technology. I want to stay informed about what is possible and so I keep looking for what I want to learn”.
At what times do you apply psychology in your life?
“I try to apply a number of principles from positive psychology. For example the fixed mindset versus growth mindset, by psychologist Carol Dweck. This theory is about how you look at things that happen in your life. If you are fixated on achieving results in the short term, that can also limit your personal growth, she says. If you have a growth mindset, it doesn’t matter that you make mistakes, you look for the challenge and learn from it. And in the long term, the results are often even better”.
“I once read about a former chess world champion who applied the growth mindset. He chose to play against better chess players, so he often lost. But because of that he learned rapidly, he sought the resistance. If he had a fixed mindset, he would only have played against inferior players, won everything and therefore learned nothing”.
One of the principles of positive psychology is how you explain setbacks in your life to yourself. You can make it personal and all-encompassing, or approach it from a different perspective in which you accept that it happened and do it differently the next time”.
“If you are too preoccupied with preventing mistakes, you limit your personal growth and don’t try anything new.”
“With a simple setback, you can be unhappy for months, or grateful for the lesson hidden in it. But being thankful for setbacks can be difficult. It goes a bit against our nature and you don’t see much of it around you. On social media you see all day long the perfect lives of people who seem successful. If you take that too seriously, it sometimes seems as if making mistakes isn’t part of it. Plus, if you’re too preoccupied with preventing mistakes, you limit your personal growth and don’t try anything new.
What is the most useful advice you’ve ever had?
“Watch your breathing,” someone once said to me. Your breathing is always there, and it is a perfect anchor for awareness and meditation. To come back into the now. It is one of the few parts of our nervous system that we can influence self-consciously. In case of stress, you can bring yourself into a different state in a few minutes with the help of your breathing. And it also tells a lot about the state of mind you are in at that moment.
“Watch your breathing!”
“A breathing exercise can also be used as part of a flow experience. If you make time to check out after a period of focus, it works well. And sometimes this means that during a moment of rest you just stand still for a moment and stare into nothing, or you do it just before you start something. Your breathing is always there, it doesn’t cost anything and you can teach yourself some exercises in a short time that will help you. Brilliant in its simplicity.