Exercising is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. I suspect that this resolution is so common, almost ubiquitous because all of us know the physical and mental benefits of exercise. Working out improves your sleep, helps you think clearly and most importantly, helps you look good naked.
But, what does going to the gym and working out have to do with entrepreneurship?
Turns out, a lot. Both of them are mental games and for you to win, you need to master both the mental and technical aspects of the game.
As an entrepreneur, you have probably seen skilled business people with excellent ideas fail to achieve them. You have doubtlessly also seen not so skilled people with average ideas succeed where many more have failed.
So you wonder, what gives? What separates those who fail from those who succeed?
Here are a few lessons that I have learned from consistently going to the gym for about six months that will help you win at the game of entrepreneurship.
The Importance of Coaching
My gym instructor is a kind lovely lady, with beautiful Michelle Obama arms. But, she does not play! She does not let me slack off or whine about the workouts. She teaches me how to exercise correctly, encourages me and points out areas where I can improve. She holds me accountable and monitors my progress. I honestly owe most of my progress and consistency to her coaching and guidance.
Entrepreneurs are often encouraged to have mentors who they look up to and who guide them about their big strategic goals from time to time. A coach is different from a mentor. They know you, they know your business and understand the business environment that you operate in. Crucially, a coach sees you not as you are but as you could be. A coach will push you to take action, to work on your goals and to aim higher. They will also encourage you, give you expert advice and give you the much-needed applause when you succeed.
What trips up most entrepreneurs is not the lack of a vision, we all have visions, that’s why we started the venture in the first place. The challenge is the daily execution of the vision, prioritization, dealing with stress and strategic decision making. It’s not that you do not know the right thing to do, you just need a reminder, which is why coaching is so important.
The Magic of Just Showing Up
There are moments when the time to go to the gym comes and I think of how we are going to do like 3 reps of like ten different exercises and I just get tired. I feel like saying ah, I’ll go tomorrow. Then I discovered a little trick: all I have to do is show up. That’s my only job, get dressed and get to the gym. The end. I have found that once I get there, I am always able to enjoy the exercises.
You might decide to start a website for your business and then you are sucked into thoughts of “How will I design it? How will I choose the swankiest theme? What about the copy? It needs to be JUST right. What if I do all this work and people do not like it?” And oh wait, “What if the designer scams me or someone hacks my website?” Soon the whole thing looks like it’s going to be a big disaster and you just leave it alone.
This is where the power of just showing up comes in handy. Just choose a domain name, it might already be taken (great minds think alike), but you’ll show up again and choose another one. Choose a theme and your colors (you can always change this later). Then just think of the home page, show up again, and sort that one out. Then work on your about page, contact page, and portfolio page. And surprise, surprise, you might actually have a website! You’ll deal with the website security and the cool bells and whistles later, when you actually have a website.
Whatever it is you’re putting off, it might be sending that pitch, hiring a freelancer to help out or launching a new product. Just show up, and keep showing up, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The Power of Breaking Down a Task into Small Pieces
I know you’ve heard this one before, you think you know it, but I think it needs to be repeated all the time. Picture this, its challenge day: 4 exercises, eight 20 second reps per exercise, 10 second rests. Do you want to run away already? Me too. Hold on, we’ll only focus on the first rep of the first exercise, air squats. So we start, first 20 seconds, 10 seconds rest. First rep done. Rinse, repeat until all the eight reps of the first exercise are done. Continue the process for the rest of the exercises. Before you know it, you’re done!
Imagine you have to hire a freelancer: you have to create a job description, circulate it, trawl through hundreds of applications, make a shortlist, interview candidates and then finally make a decision. I’m already overwhelmed by reading that list alone.
But you can focus only on writing a job description that fits your needs, then look for job boards to circulate your advert, then focus on shortlisting. You get the drift. Break down the tasks and then focus on ONLY one task at a time.
The easiest way to deal with big tasks is to break them down and focus on only one task at a time. That way you can grow your business without having to sacrifice your life, health, and sanity.
Rest Don’t Quit
The thing about physical exercise is that there is immediate feedback on your energy levels. When your lungs are done, they are done. You’re gasping for breath and you stop because you have to. You feel like you cannot possibly workout again, ever. You’re done. The surprising thing is that when I feel like I’m totally done, after a 30-second rest I’m always ready to do the high knees again.
Most of the times, entrepreneurship feels the same way, you have been writing that pitch for the last two weeks and you’re not making any progress. It looks like crap and you know that even you would not accept it. So you think that maybe pitching is not for you. Maybe this whole entrepreneurship thing is a bad idea, seeing that you cannot even do the basics like writing a simple pitch.
Maybe what you need to do is to rest, not to quit. So take a break, forget about the pitch for a while. Relax, read a book, spend time with friends and family and then come back to it later. You will be amazed at how often rest is all you need to help you accomplish difficult tasks.
Progress not Perfection
Fitness is definitely a long term goal. No, you’re not going to lose 20 pounds in two weeks. You think you are but you will not. Will you lose the weight? Yes, but not in two weeks. I think that most people give up on exercise because there is no immediate feedback like lost inches or pounds after the aerobics class that nearly killed you. You look at yourself in the mirror and your gut is still jutting out, proudly, after 3 weeks of going to the gym consistently. And the instructor still expects you to come back again tomorrow.
It’s the same with entrepreneurship, even after spending the whole day working on your website’s home page, you still do not have a website. You’ve worked on your portfolio but you still have no clients. You have worked on your product prototype for six months but it’s not yet complete.
In both cases, you have made progress, it might not be visible yet, it might not be perfect yet, but it will be. If you keep going and if you keep showing up. Progress, not perfection. Keep showing up and the results will show up too.
Just like exercise, entrepreneurship is a mental game. It goes beyond having the best ideas and skills. You need to overcome hurdles, persevere and keep pursuing your vision even when you do not see immediate results.
Here is where training your mind and spirit comes in handy. Getting a coach to push and motivate you helps you execute while focusing on your long-term goals. Learning the power of showing up and breaking down tasks will help you get over resistance and fear while trying to accomplish big goals. Finally, measuring progress instead of always striving for perfection will help you achieve your long term goals and perhaps even perfection.
To your good health, and that of your business.