Being Physically Prepared is the first post in a five part series called “Enjoying the Ride.” Comparing a start-up to surfing, this is a simple guide to turn your grueling start-up battle into a more soul fulfilling experience by helping you battle the sets and pick the right waves so you can enjoy the ride.
“…I get them in excellent condition….Knowing how the mind is and the tricks it plays on a person and how an individual will always look to avoid a confrontation with something that is intimidating, I remove all possible excuses they’re going to have before they get in there. By getting them in excellent condition, they can’t say when they get tired that they’re not in shape.” ~ Cus D’Amato
Legendary boxing trainer, Cus D’Amato, recognized early on that being in excellent shape was the most important factor in helping a fighter overcome their mental fears of entering the ring. No different than when you enter the water to surf or jump into a start-up company it takes incredible mental fortitude not to give up. A start-up can be an incredibly satisfying journey, but at the same time it can physically crush you like a powerful wave pounding you back into the sand.
To make matters worse founders and start-up employees don’t recognize the incredible forces they are up against. Instead they take pride in under-sleeping, overworking, and pushing their bodies to the brink of exhaustion.
When running Contour I came up with every excuse in the book about why I wasn’t taking care of myself. Even though my wife was a personal trainer, I still managed to justify why my physical being was second to the needs of the company. Constantly saying I was too busy was my way of using brute force to survive, even to the point of physical exhaustion. My approach seemed justified at the time, but in retrospect was never going to last.
In contrast, when I started surfing my approach of using brute force to battle the waves didn’t work. I tired out quickly and in turn I began to panic, especially when the waves increased in size. The physical and mental strain I was under led me to pick the wrong waves, which in turn shifted my focus from enjoying the ride to worrying about my survival. It wasn’t until weeks later when my physical shape improved that I figured out how to manage the sets so I had a chance to even think about picking the right wave.
Building a great company can take years. It’s like a surfing session that never ends. The waves don’t stop so you can catch your breath, instead they only get larger as you become more successful. This is consistent with the reality that there are few overnight, Instagram-like successes. Instead most companies were started years before you ever heard about them. Therefore, in order to survive long enough you need to be in incredible shape.
Here are some things you can on a weekly basis to better prepare you for the physical requirements of the journey ahead. If you aren’t in great shape you will never enjoy the ride.
You should pride yourself on the hours slept and not the hours missed. There are dozens of research articles on mental performance and a lack of sleep, but the bottom line is that you are thinking about really hard, stressful problems all day long. You need more sleep than the average person, not less!
You may think you do your best work late into the night. Unless you are going to sleep until noon, the truth is you don’t. You also can’t transition from work to sleep just because you close your eyes. There are hundreds of nights I didn’t sleep and generally they started because I went from work to lying in bed without any transition. I found that completely disconnecting from the computer, phone, and internet, two hours before going to bed meant a world of difference.
If you really want to sleep well, learn to meditate. I used to mock this, but laying on your back with your butt up against the wall, putting your feet together straight up the wall, and taking slow, deep breaths can help your mind make that important transition. I know it feels like just watching TV is better, but it’s not. Watching TV means your mind keeps going, taking in more inputs. To sleep you have to turn off the inputs.
“I believed then, and I believe even now, that no matter what amount of work one has, one should always find some time for exercise, as one does for one’s meals.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
This is a little secret, but you actually control your own schedule, which means it’s up to you to block out time everyday for exercise. I understand your free time can vary dramatically when you are on the road, but I recommend a minimum of 45 minutes everyday. It’s a non-negotiable block of time.
Even if you are on the road, it doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. Pack the running shoes and stay in a hotel with a gym. If you can’t afford a hotel with a gym then I highly recommend working out in your room when you wake up. A round of sit-ups, push-ups, squats, dips, burpees, etc. are better than nothing. You can also drop in on local classes, like yoga, for as cheap as $10-20 almost anywhere in the world.
If you can afford it get a personal trainer. They can be great at motivating you, holding you accountable, and making sure your workouts don’t get stale. Remember, you are no different than a world class athlete. The best athletes in the world don’t workout on their own, they have plenty of help. You should too.
Another way to go is to buy one of the dozens of health trackers on the market. I haven’t tried them all, but so far I like FitBit the best because it gives you a complete picture of your day including your sleep and your activity levels. Wearing a device is a great reminder to get up from your desk and get some exercise.
Eat Good Food
You may think it’s cheaper to eat fast food than healthy food, but it’s not true. Fruit, brown rice, eggs, and basic meats are examples of inexpensive healthy options. Most popular metropolitan grocery stores (like Trader Joe’s) even carry items like these ready-to-eat and at affordable prices. Even though professional athletes are in McDonald’s commercials doesn’t mean they actually eat there.
Along with eating healthier food, take the proper time to eat it. You aren’t competing in a hot dog eating contest so you don’t have to eat your lunch everyday as if you are competing for the world championships. Take 30 minutes, without your phone or computer and enjoy your lunch. Another trick I found was to bring small snacks to work that I could eat between meals. Foods high in protein are excellent like hard boiled eggs, nuts, and edamame.
Get a Weekly Massage
Everyone carries their stress in different ways. A weekly massage is an excellent way to relieve that tension. If your company doesn’t have medical insurance you can belong to places like Massage Envy, which offer multiple locations and relatively affordable massages. Getting a massage is part of the weekly cost of running a company. It’s worth the expense.
Being in a start-up is a personal choice, so if you’re going to make that choice, taking care of your body is key to your success. No different than trying to be the best athlete in the world, your body is the most important tool you have. Take care of it!
I am an entrepreneur. A creator. A builder. I want to build companies that make the world a better place, one product at a time. I have come to believe that if you let life unfold itself, you will experience it like never before.
My first start-up and therefore my first love. I co-founded Contour in a garage almost ten years ago and was fortunate enough to have lead the company from inception to a multi-million dollar business with hundreds of thousands of customers around the world. I am most proud of the award winning products we create, which are thoughtfully designed and incredibly easy to use. Contour.com
Image Credit: By Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office http://www.flickr.com/photos/ftmeade via Creative Commons