When Colonel Gerald Venanzi spotted a few fellow prisoners tied up near his cell, he decided to cheer them up:
Revving up an imaginary engine, he pretended to ride a motorcycle around the compound, including all the sound effects and occasional wrecks.
When his captors sent him to solitary confinement, Colonel Venanzi wasn’t fazed.
He invented an imaginary chimp named Barney Google that he brought with him to interrogations and debated with enthusiastically: “I can’t tell them that! They’ll beat the hell out of me!*
Being caught and tortured as a POW: it doesn’t get more serious than that.
But when researchers studied Vietnam vets from the ‘60s, they found that virtually none of them had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And some of them had been there as long as seven years, undergoing all kinds of physical and mental torture.
Guess what was the common thread behind their resilience: A sense of humor.
You had one too, in the early days of your start-up, remember? You were working hard but having fun too.
Now that you’re scaling fast, things have gotten serious.
There’s too much to do and so much at stake.
But taking things too seriously isn’t the answer. It only increases the tension, which increases the probability of making a mistake.
When you have a sense of humor, three things happen:
1️⃣ You can see the situation from a different perspective. Events become challenges, rather than threats. And that gives you access to unexpectedly creative solutions.
2️⃣ You feel energized. Laughing reduces the level of stress hormones and produces dopamine and endorphins, the “feel good” hormones.
3️⃣ You’re more resilient. By poking fun or finding the absurdity in a situation, humor acts like a pressure valve to release tension and help you stay in the game.
That’s what happened when former Navy SEAL Rich Diviney was going through “Hell Week.” The candidates were doing flutter kicks in the freezing ocean when one instructor called out that he had warm blankets, hot chocolate and doughnuts for anyone who wanted to quit.
The guy on Diviney’s right called out, “Hey! Do you have any chocolate-glazed doughnuts? Cause if you don’t have any chocolate-glazed doughnuts, I’m not quitting.”
Diviney burst out laughing and knew they were both going to make it. The guy on his left didn’t laugh and, lost in his misery, quit five minutes later.
Here’s the best part: Having a sense of humor is something you control, regardless of your circumstances.
And if it works for POWs and Navy SEALs, it can work for you too.