It is guest blog time! Last week was a great post from our friend Jeffrey Dow Jones. Jeffrey has had some experience coming back from an entrepreneurial crisis. Take a read if you missed it as all of us have or will face tough times as an entrepreneur just like Jeffrey did.
This week we have a cool new topic and contributor. Drew Arnold is the co-founder of kiimby, which is short for “Keep It In My Backyard”. Kiimby is a loyalty and cause marketing service for local businesses. Drew has twelve years experience working in sales and business development marketing technology solutions to the Fourtune 1000 and public sector. Drew has also worked in executive management at an international non-profit that focused on providing leadership experiences for recent college graduates at companies such as MasterCard, Visa, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. He has been married for 11 years, is a father of two boys, and an avid basketball player that readily admits he is a “has-been that never was” when it comes to the hardwood.
This is an important post. I think you’ll enjoy it.
“Three percent of people use five to six percent of their brains. The other 97% of us use just three percent of our brains and the rest goes down the drain. I don’t know which half I am, but I’ll bet you my last dime, 97% of us think we’re three percent 99% of the time.”
The above tongue-in-cheek lyric (from Statistician’s Blues by Todd Snider) is useful on a couple of levels:
1) It’s great to recite during a dinner party when the discussion gets too high-brow, and
2) It alludes to the limitations of mental performance that we all face as we charge forward starting new ventures from scratch.
Another less amusing, squarely high-brow, but just as relevant quote comes from Alfred North Whitehead:
Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle. They are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.
Starting a successful company presents the ultimate mental challenge of “making it up and making it happen.” Because starting a business is almost always a somewhat lonely, multi-year saga into a huge amount of uncertainty, there are few things most of us can ever do that will test us the way starting a business can. My personal experience in starting a business has been a brutal lesson in how to stay mentally sharp, and recover as quickly as possible when I’m not.
I have come to love these quotes from Snider and Whitehead because they provide useful touch-points that remind me why I can’t always be on my best mental game in working to get our start up transformed into a successful and scalable business. After all, in the case of Whitehead, if one of the 20th century’s greatest polymaths found himself limited in mental cavalry charges, who am I to expect unlimited mental energy for myself?
Take a moment to consider how often we question that anyone in pursuit of an athletic endeavor, whether they are a professional, a weekend warrior or just trying to stay physically healthy, has peak moments and not-so-peak moments.
Almost never, right?
Its probably fair to say we’ve all felt physically more capable at one time more than another, even within the same day, or even hour-to-hour. Sometimes the muscles, ligaments and joints perform better than at other times, and there are all kinds of factors, such as rest, food, mood, injuries, emotional state, training, etc. that impact the potential for physical performance. This variance in physical performance from moment to moment exists at any age.
Now, take a moment to consider how often, especially as entrepreneurs, we are as reasonable, rational and understanding towards ourselves about the highs and lows of our potential mental performance from moment to moment as we are about our potential physical performance. I’m guessing for many of us who’ve ventured down the path of starting a business, we’re probably not quite as forgiving of our mental “funks” as we are our physical “funks”. We have a driving need to feel like we should always be on our mental game.
After all, during the very early stages of a company, if you don’t get it done, than who will?
So, what do you do about it?
The fact is mental performance is impacted positively or negatively by pretty much all the same variables that impact physical performance. This is very important to keep top of the mind as you find yourself needing to be in a place of creativity relative to your business. For me, this reality also has come to serve as a reminder to ask myself “What should I be doing with all the time in between those rare mental cavalry charges?”
While there are many helpful and wonderful directions you can go in answering this question, including everything from the sophisticated (e.g., developing a killer personal productivity system, ala David Allen’s GTD) to the sublime (developing a meditation practice) to the simple (eating a healthy snack, having a beer with a friend, spending some time with your significant other or child), there is one universal answer that always applies: Stay physical through exercise.
This may sound like a cliche but my personal experience is that it cannot be overemphasized enough. Especially as we get older since we often “collect” responsibilities that cut into the time we can mentally “unwind” through exercise. Through the magic of the bio-chemicals released during exercise, necessary space is created for the mind sit back, kick up its feet, and take a load off. Further, the body obviously benefits to the end of increased physical longevity, another overlooked requirement when starting and running your own business.
During the journey of getting one’s business off the ground and soaring, maintaining a regular exercise routine is one of those things that almost always at some point or another gets lost and de-emphasized. There are great and many negative consequences to the end of mental productivity and physical health when this happens.
It is always helpful to be regularly reminded that when the mind is exhausted, treat the body. It will reward the mind.
For myself, basketball is my exercise passion and has been since I was 12. I try to play three days per week, assuming my body isn’t hurting too much. Also, now that I am just south of 40, I have added lap swimming three times per week to my regular exercise routine. For the 30+ year old entrepreneurs out there, check out this great article at TechCrunch by Adeo Ressi, Founder of thefunded.com, about the fallacy of 25 as the peak age for entrepreneurship. As great of an argument as Rossi makes that older entrepreneurs often make better entrepreneurs, he doesn’t mention the fact that we also tend towards physical injury a little more (if and when we do maintain an exercise routine).
Here are a few other helpful things to keep in mind as you work to keep an exercise routine an important part of your entrepreneurial journey:
1. Be patient with yourself when you’re not on your mental ‘A’ game: If you’re not feeling the creativity, get out and burn some calories. The worst thing you can do when you’re feeling mentally out-of-it is negative self-talk. You’ll get the opposite bio-chemical reaction than when you’re exercising, which isn’t a good thing.
2. Develop an exercise routine that you enjoy: I can’t run a mile without a basketball in my hand without wearing out; with one, I can run all day. When you enjoy it, its play, not work, and you’re far more likely to make it a habit.
3. A little bit a lot of times: If you don’t have a long standing exercise routine, start simple and focus on doing the exercise of choice the best you can, however short, until you begin to see the progress that will drive the internal motivation to do more. Just remember to make sure its something you enjoy doing.
4. Find simple things to do outside of your regular exercise routine: When you don’t have time to really work the body, simple things to do that don’t take much time, include old standbys like jumping jacks, push ups, or maybe the best, go for a walk. Walks get you away from the desk and computer, and outside. Further, they can be great breaks from the busyness of cranking and allow for the mental space to be contemplative and even integrate much of the busyness running around in your mind.
What are some of practices you’ve found helpful in keeping exercise an active part of your life while starting a business?