How to Be a Corporate Athlete

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As I’ve ramped up my training for my Ironman this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an athlete. They don’t just exercise, they train. They don’t eat, they fuel. They don’t just race, they compete. They don’t just rest, they recover. All critical parts of being a world-class athlete. So how can we apply these same concepts to the business world and create corporate athletes?

I already know most of you think like athletes in terms of growth – you want to improve day after day and are always working on that next goal. But what really sets athletes apart is not the training, the competition, the fueling… it’s the recovery. We’ve got to start thinking like athletes who put extreme focus on recovery – emotional, physical, mental, social, professional, and spiritual recovery.

Remember, all gains are made in recovery. Have you ever seen a cyclist after a big competition? They will literally lay down, legs out straight, and not move and sometimes barely walk before or after a race. And when you break down muscle fibers during intense exercise, they rebuild themselves stronger during your recovery periods in order to be prepared for the next intense session.

The same can be applied to your business. Entrepreneurs, leaders, business owners all work extremely hard, but too few of them are making time for recovery. Without recovery, you’ll break. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to take weeks off at a time and completely unplug. In fact, too much recovery is bad for you. Think about it – sleeping 15 hours a day will hurt your body and emotional fitness. But on the flip side, too little sleep, 3-4 hours, is bad for you too. You’ve got to find the sweet spot. The optimal amount of recovery time will vary slightly from person to person, but we must make time for recovery of our minds, our souls, and our bodies. This recovery time will in turn make us stronger and prepare us for the day ahead. Remember, after an intense day at the office, you must recover so the cells in our minds can recover and rebuild in order to handle the next big stimuli (i.e. problem). Think of it as a staircase. You step up (intense session which breaks down your mind/body), then there is a flat landing (recovery session). This repeats over and over again on your way up the stairs (growth). As you recover, each step becomes easier and your growth will start to compound.

So, the key is to incorporate recovery points throughout your day. Here are a few examples:

  • Sleep 7-9 hours each night (which means you’ll have to say no to things at night in order to go to bed early – nothing good happens after 8:30pm anyway!)
  • Take 5-10 minutes every 90 minutes to clear your mind, breathe, meditate, do some pushups or handstands, whatever will clear your mind in order for you to recover and refocus
  • In the middle of the day, take 20-30 minutes and breathe, read a book, meditate, go for a walk
  • Get up an hour early to start your day with meditation, journaling, reading, thinking
  • Add 30-45 minutes of daily exercise – just get moving! Run, walk, dance, swim, do yoga or martial arts, hike, chop wood . Just do something that creates energy within your body. This is where clarity comes from.
  • Take a vacation (even a long weekend), take time off and get out of your daily routine

Start small. You don’t need to master recovery in one day. Start by taking a 10 minute break and walking around your office or turn your chair away from your computer screen and practice deep breathing. Just stop and take action. You will start to feel the effects of these recovery periods almost immediately. Once you start with these small recovery points, you’ll eventually start adding more recovery time to your life.

As a leader, you’ve got to take this one step further. My Ironman training coach, John Spinney, always likes to remind me that his number one job when coaching professional athletes is to manage recovery. It’s his job to know when to make the stop. Just like John manages his athletes, you must actively manage the recovery of your team members. Create daily recover periods for everyone. Push your team hard, push for the results, but allow for recovery time. Take a group walk, do 10 jumping jacks on the hour every hour, have a dance party a 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Build these recovery habits for yourself and your team and you’ll be building a big life and big business faster and more effectively.

Athletes and corporate athletes have the mind set that if they aren’t making large enough gains or gains at all that they need to put more stress on there body (i.e. work harder) which then puts you into a vicious cycle of less recovery and poorer results. In order to get that pop or jump in fitness (or life) we need to recover so that when we are working we are giving it 100%. There should be no gray area. You’re either on or you’re off. You are either fully engaged or strategically disengaged.

To be a corporate athlete, you must take time for recovery. Recovery equals results.

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This One Thing is Keeping You from Finding Happiness

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I was at the airport earlier this morning after a quick trip to Austin for instructor training for a new leadership and leverage course. Airports, the happiest places on Earth, right? Right… But, they are an interesting case study for the human race. Airports are a snapshot, a microcosm, of the country. And you can easily see who is engaged, who enjoys their work, who has completely checked out, who is impatient, who is calm, who is entitled, who is gracious, who is happy, etc.

Here’s what I think is happening here. Those people who are stressed, unhappy, and disengaged have certain expectations for how their life should be (maybe even what is owed to them) and their current life conditions aren’t matching up. Sounds pretty simple, right? But it’s actually a major problem that is keeping all those people at the airport, and all the people in the world, from truly being happy. People who are “suffering” suffer because they don’t feel like they can change their situation. Wake up. Get out of victim mentality. Everyone has the ability to change, you just have to want to.

Let me give you an example. Nick just graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Business and a minor in Finance. He played right wing on the hockey team for four-years, started a non-profit on campus, and had an internship on Wall Street. He started interviewing for jobs 4 months before graduation and believed he should land a job at a top investment banking firm in NYC. Graduation day arrives and still no offers. Fast forward 6 months and Nick has taken a job at a local credit union and has moved in with his sister to save money. Nick is unhappy. Why? Because his current life conditions do not align with what he thinks he should have.

Here’s another example for you. You’ve booked first class and are ready to sit back and relax and enjoy your flight. Expectations – early boarding, extra leg room, and sparkling water over ice. Then, your first flight gets canceled, you’re rebooked on another flight and aren’t sure if you’ll make your connection. Your current life conditions have just changed and are no longer in alignment with your expectations. Do you get mad or do you accept it and move on? Well, when you’re trying to get home to get to your daughter’s dance recital… you adjust your expectations quickly. You take whatever seat they’ll give you – even the middle seat in the back row next to the bathroom (and just hope you don’t get your ass kicked in the process!).

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have big goals and big visions and be constantly working towards them. Nick should keep sending resumes, building his network and skill set and keep pushing to land that job in NYC – if that is really what he wants. And by all means, keep booking first class! But I would challenge him (and you) to look at your expectations for yourself and question whether or not that is really what YOU want, or if that’s what you think you SHOULD have based on what your parents want, what society says you should have accomplished by the time you’re 30, or what the media is saying millennials want. Stop and really consider what you want. Dig deep. And then go deeper.

Okay, so you’ve done some extensive self-examination. Now what? What do you do when your current life conditions don’t match your expectations? How can you bring your expectations and vision for your life into alignment?

You have two choices. One, you can adjust your expectations. When you really took a look at what you thought you wanted, did you still want it? Maybe not. Perhaps that dream of owning your own business was really your grandfather’s dream and you would prefer to take a salaried position at a start-up. Perhaps your belief that all of your free time should be spent volunteering was really developed from your community’s belief that you should give back, and you would rather just write a big check and call it a day! You don’t have to be anyone that you don’t want to be. You are in control of who you become. How you spend your time is your choice. If you’re not happy, you may be striving to live up to expectations that aren’t even your own. Recalibrate. Choose the path that is right for you and boom – your current life conditions will come into alignment with your expectations.

If you took a look at your expectations and decided that yes, those are exactly the things that you want, then it’s time to change your current life conditions. This is not going to be easy. It’s going to require time, discipline, and consistent effort. Your life isn’t going to change overnight. But the journey will be a hell of a lot easier if what you are moving towards is actually what you want, and not what someone else told you you should have. When your daily actions and daily disciplines (no matter how hard) are moving you towards your goals, you will be happy. It’s when these aren’t in sync where the stress, tension, and unhappiness come in.

People are not happy when their expectations (whether their own or ones imposed by others) are not matching up to their life now. But the beauty of the situation is that you can do something about it! The happiest people have the lowest expectations. They don’t have expectations of what they want or who they must be, but rather their expectations revolve around just experiencing life. The happiest people are the ones who are grateful for just waking up and having another day to live. When you have that mindset, then anything else that happens that day isn’t stressful, because you’ve already had a victory for the day – waking up! This doesn’t mean that you don’t strive for growth, it just means that when you are building a massive business or working out five hours a day, you’re enjoying the challenges along the way and letting go of your pre-conceived expectations.

Want to be happy? Change your expectations, or adjust your daily activities to get to you goal. Your choice. Your happiness is entirely up to you.

3 Things To Do to Build Mental Strength

success magIf anyone has ever gotten into conversation with me for longer than five minutes, I will probably bring up Navy SEALs at some point. I have huge respect for those who serve our country. So, when I was in the airport grabbing some seltzer water and almonds and saw Jocko Willink – the ultimate SEAL – on the cover of Success Magazine, I had to grab it. There was a killer article about Jocko’s training routine, mindset, schedule, and business ventures. And it got me thinking about how important mental strength and emotional fitness are to success. In fact, it’s everything. All success hinges on overcoming the voice inside your head that is trying to hold you back and hold you down. Though, I wouldn’t mind having Jocko’s voice inside my head every day. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Go check out his podcast. It’s good.

When you master that voice, you win.

You’ve probably all heard the term self-mastery before. Self-mastery is nothing but overcoming that voice inside your head that says “No,” or “I can’t,” or “I’m too tired,” or “I shouldn’t have to,” or “I’m not good enough.” Life is about setting goals that cause us to push through challenges and obstacles. That’s where growth comes from. The interesting thing about setting big goals and finding a way to conquer them is that most of the time the grind of business building or the grind of training for an Ironman isn’t fun. It’s just not. It’s boring. It’s requires sacrifice. It’s hard. But when you grow, you build mental strength.

Here are 3 things you can do to build mental strength:

  1. Get up early. Which means you have to go to bed early. Nothing good happens after 8pm anyway. But the key is that you have to have a purpose to get up early. If you have a reason to get up in the morning, you go to bed. So, when your opportunity clock goes off in the morning do you hit the snooze button or do you choose victory? When you choose victory first thing in the morning, your building mental strength. Every time you hit the snooze button you are training yourself to break your promises. And the crazy thing is, these are promises you’ve made to yourself! Set the stage for your day and get up early. Get up early and read, meditate, go for a walk, journal, or exercise. It doesn’t really matter what you do. It’s about that victory in the morning that sets the stage for future success. Getting up early allows you to have time for you. No demands. No distractions. You get to set the course for your day.
  2. Implement small daily disciplines. Discipline is freedom. This is a gem I borrowed from Jocko. The more disciplined you are the better habits you create and ultimately the more freedom you end up experiencing. The discipline to get up early gives you the freedom of more time later in the day. The discipline to not buy the latest iPhone or a new car gives you financial freedom. The discipline to workout every day gives you energy, strength, and physical freedom. Small daily disciplines start creating small daily habits that eventually start leaking into every aspect of your life. If you don’t allow yourself to cheat on your daily discipline of flossing your teeth, then you are training yourself to not cheat on your daily workout, or not cheat on the time you have set aside for your family. But discipline isn’t easy. Discipline is hard. This is where mental strength is forged. Focus on your long-term goals and then the daily habits you can take to get you there. And then take action. When you do what you say you’re going to do – DAILY – you will create a huge life.
  3. Challenge yourself in a structured environment. Do you want to live a mediocre life? No! I bet you don’t. But it’s easy to get comfortable, especially when you have achieved a certain level of success. So, you have to choose to get outside your comfort zone in order to grow and one of the best ways to do that is to take on a new challenge within a structured environment. For example, join a Toastmasters and start practicing your public speaking, or sign up to run a marathon and get a running coach, or take a course to help you start the business that you’ve wanted to start for years.

    When I decided to sign up to complete an Ironman, I had an instant mental shift from exercising to training. Exercise means you get a good sweat on, feel good, and have a decent routine. Exercise is great! But training means you get on your bike, or lace up your running shoes, or get into the pool with the intent of beating your previous pace. You are working on improving yourself but with extreme focus and purpose and with a much higher level of accountability. It’s the difference between reading for fun and reading because you know you will be giving a presentation and graded on it. It’s the difference between going for a jog and training for a Spartan Race with the intention of beating last year’s PR. You are no longer just going through the motions. You have a goal, you have a score card, and you are constantly being pushed by that coach or that program to go beyond what you thought was possible. That is where mental strength is made.  Because training gives you purpose, it strengthens your ability to push through when that voice is telling you to slow down or quit. And then that mental strength stays with you when the next obstacle or challenge is thrown at you – and you know there will be some.

Mental strength is built by embracing challenges and pushing through them. Struggles and obstacles are our greatest gifts because they force us to grow. Mental strength comes from believing you can’t do something and then doing it anyway. Do not allow yourself to give yourself an out! Commit to getting up early. Commit to daily disciplines. Commit to a new, structured challenge. You’ll be building mental strength each step of the way.

Choose victory.