Information on how to become a successful entrepreneur (such as this article, heh) and “success stories” of people who managed to overcome impossible odds fill conference halls, bookshelves, blogs, and podcasts. There’s no shortage of experienced entrepreneurs who would readily dole out advice to prepare you for your entrepreneur journey.
But there’s a problem with binge-watching conference talks or reading 1,000 blog posts: unless you’re in a certain state of mind where a particular piece of advice can apply to you, the most poignant parts are often too difficult to internalize. You feel like you can ALMOST relate, but it juuuuust doesn’t quite connect — kind of like the lame puzzle piece that doesn’t fit but looks like it does.
The sad-but-true nature of advice, and self-help in general, is that that eureka moment doesn’t often come until the context of your situation or problem lines up with the context of the advice you’re receiving.
So my advice to help business advice stick better is … to get in shape. Yes, really.
If you’re struggling to get your business off the ground because setback after setback is hurting your momentum, getting in shape teaches you highly relevant and valuable lessons that will help you keep your head in the game and power through. The process to get fit is the closest experience you can simulate to building a successful business … without actually first building a successful business. And it gives you a framework for reading all those blog posts about business. Here, I can explain.
In both arenas, you start with a lofty, overarching goal — whether that’s to lose 30 pounds or to make enough money every month from your online business to quit your job. And to realize those goals, you need an action plan, ample resources (like time, money for a gym membership and groceries, and energy), discipline, focus, and support from friends and family.
Being “successful” in fitness equips you with a much better understanding of how to handle all the different setbacks — days you don’t feel like doing what you know you “should” be doing or when unpredictable events push back your schedule — that will inevitably happen from building your own business.
The fitness journey that helped prepare me to be a better entrepreneur
A few years ago, I committed to changing my physique to appear more lean and muscular (AKA, get super jacked, bruh).
The process involved a highly structured regimen of carefully monitoring my food choices — from weighing and tracking foods right down to navigating what groceries I’d buy that week to meet my nutritional goals — lifting all of the heavy objects in the gym, and measuring progress every week.
One indicator of progress was checking my body weight: Is it going up, or is it going down?
And there’s always this weird, ever-so fleeting flash of stomach-lurching anxiety and hopeful optimism right before the scale bears the full brunt of my weight.
Normally, I can keep my cool and rationalize what’s going on, since I understand that my body weight represents only a small, crazy-shaped piece of the puzzle. But during my weigh-in one morning, I nearly lost my mind.
The scale read 154 pounds that morning. The same body weight from a few days prior, and “only” down four pounds from the past month of hard work. Come the hell on! A month is a solid amount of time for me to make more progress than that! Is this thing busted?
I knew that, rationally, the scale and my body weight were neutral parties. But in that moment I felt as if they were in cahoots to set off my emotional fuse and laugh at my misery.
I cursed at the hunk of metal for being stupid and thinking that maybe something in my regimen was very, very broken and needed to change. I even turned that ire toward myself for having such a stupid goal in the first place. Why voluntarily do this to myself for silly vanity? Who cares if I’m jacked or not? So stupid! And vain!
The interesting thing about this slice of my fitness experience is that it revealed the numerous head games that I have (and continue to) experienced in building my business. You will likely run into these same mind traps, too. For example:
- “I’m not cut out for this … this feels impossible and this was stupid to try anyway.”
- “Why aren’t things happening fast enough like that other person?”
- “This tactic isn’t working as well as I thought it would — time to try something new!”
Just like how I flipped out over the scale, there were many instances when these head games made me doubt what I was doing and want to quit out of rage. I’m glad I didn’t because I wouldn’t have learned to accept first-hand that progress never happens in a linear fashion (ah, so the success meme is true!), among these other lessons I’d learned from fitness.
Fitness taught me what’s realistic
When I started my fitness journey, I was prepared to be in it for at least three months and make satisfactory progress. Most people may lose half a pound to two pounds per week, on average, with variations depending on how much weight they have to lose to begin with.
Well, hold onto your gym shorts: It took me almost eight months to lose 13 pounds.
EIGHT FREAKIN’ MONTHS OF DISCIPLINE FOR 13 MEASLY POUNDS, PEOPLE. That’s a galaxy away from those dramatic “I was on this diet and I dropped 28 pounds in eight weeks!” type of stories.
I should’ve been happy. I’d made incredible progress for myself, but I only felt disappointment.
My downfall: unbridled expectations.
I thought I had reeled in my expectations, but part of me went into this still secretly hoping to be “special” enough to make great strides in record time. (No, this process often takes years.)
This disconnect between where I thought I SHOULD be and where I had actually gotten was unsettling. It was not that my work ethic or discipline was lacking. Ask my coach and he’ll tell you that I did everything that I thought was right.
Reality didn’t care about my emotions. The chemical process that leads to weight loss doesn’t respond to my “motivation.” The results are the results.
The business analogue to this would be starting your website, throwing up a few blog posts and lead magnets, and expecting to rake in six figures within a year because you read that someone else “made it” in six months. And hey, maybe that COULD happen assuming literally everything goes perfectly in your favor, but real life can be kind of a jerk.
You may laugh uncomfortably at that earlier meme of what success looks like, but it never quite hits home until, again, you fumble your own way through and learn that progress really does not happen in a linear fashion, or as you’d expect.
Fitness taught me to trust in the process
Have you ever met anyone who was clearly fit and told you that they worked out “sometimes”? I haven’t either.
Oh, you have? That person is a liar.
I learned that the difference between the people who can keep up their fitness regimen regularly and those who repeatedly fall off and get back on, not getting anywhere, isn’t that the former have more willpower or that they’re higher evolved beings. People that stay in shape have placed a firm trust in what they do, through slowly programming these habits into their day-to-day. They know that their efforts will compound over weeks, months, and years.
And eventually, they just do these things without thinking about it anymore.
More than anything, fitness taught me that the results I get are often proportionate to the amount of work and effort I put in … over time. Things may not always happen quickly, but I trust that they will eventually, with consistency.
It’s the same with business. Focus on doing the right things — talking to your customers, writing compelling copy and content that your customers LOVE to read, and giving customers what they want — and putting in the consistent work, and you will get so much further than “doing it sometimes but not really.”
Fitness taught me that I don’t need “advanced” tactics
In the beginning, I thought that the most advanced muscle-building program would be better and get me results faster. I was a beginner who was desperate to prove that I wasn’t a beginner.
But after trying out an advanced eight-week program that kept me in the gym for two hours with each workout and left my body feeling so beaten up by the end of it, I switched to a beginner-friendly program that consisted of shorter workouts and more basic exercises.
It turns out that I got just as great, if not better, results from doing beginner workout programs. I wasn’t ready for or even needed anything advanced! And if a little of the basics can go a long way, why bother complicating things?
So many of us get sucked into chasing novelty rather than what works and end up flitting from one program to another, completely neglecting building a sturdy foundation with basics. You don’t need a four-day, push-pull split workout program if you can barely get into the gym twice per week.
Similarly, split-testing your call-to-action or paying $1,500 for a fancy service to increase your conversion rates are resource-sucking distractions if you don’t even talk to your customers.
Fitness taught me how to use feedback
I panicked when the scale didn’t budge for a week and immediately jumped to the conclusion that I needed to change something or “jazz” things up. I’d grown impatient and ignored other signs of whether I was making progress, like whether my clothes fit better or looser or whether my energy levels and mood had improved.
This is how many people spiral down a vortex of one quick fix or shiny tactic after another and get themselves stuck. They react to the situation emotionally rather than logically with different forms of reliable feedback to support their decision.
That’s why I used the scale as only one method to monitor my progress. If the scale went down, that was great. If not, then I’d look at other indicators: my food tracking app to see how much I was really eating or my progress pictures for an objective look at changes to my body, to name a few. Feedback like this help tell me what’s really going on before I react emotionally and make things worse for myself.
It’s easy to fudge your results and lie to yourself. But the data don’t lie.
If your goal is to build a profitable business, where you look for feedback can also deceive you. There are “vanity” metrics, such as the number of social media followers and how much traffic you get to your website. Those are important to a certain extent, but the one metric that matters to help your business thrive:
The number of paying customers.
Don’t get distracted by the vanity metrics.
When you achieve your goal in fitness — whether it’s to fit in your jeans better or get a six-pack — something amazing happens: You fully realize your potential to take your life into your own hands and do something productive. Success in fitness carries over to more than just business. I’ve witnessed friends and entrepreneurs apply the valuable lessons they’ve learned to excel in money, careers, hobbies, and relationships.
So try getting in shape first. At worst, you get and feel healthier. At best, you grow to understand that you’re capable of much more than you think.