Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, in a commencement speech last year, spoke about changing the world, and how it can start with a very simple act: making your bed in the morning. Accomplishing that one task to start your day encourages you to complete another task, and so on.
This idea resonated with me. I start nearly every day by accomplishing a fitness goal that I think gives me the same kind of motivation Admiral McRaven spoke about. As an entrepreneur, competitive triathlete and a CEO, I’ve benefitted immensely from my love for and dedication to endurance sports. This past year, I completed my second full Ironman Triathlon and my first New York City marathon.
Being “race-ready” (meaning I’ve signed up for a challenge, be it a new sport or a distance race) means having to make time for vigorous and time-consuming workouts, and the demands of the workday typically mandate that I start my day with a training regimen. Accomplishing my exercise goal first thing, whether it’s an hour-long swim, or a long-distance run or bike ride, sets me up for success for the rest of the day and the week.
It’s no coincidence that people who tend to be successful in the competitive sports world also tend to be successful in business. Studies have shown that aerobic and strength training are beneficial for focus, memory, mental accuracy, and cognitive performance -- in addition to longevity, of course.
Reflecting on this further, I think that competitive athletes and successful business people have much in common. For example:
- Planning a race strategy is not unlike planning a business strategy. Both require goal setting, laser-like focus, training, resources, preparation, crisis planning, measurement and evaluation.
- Physical fitness has an amazing therapeutic effect. Making time for exercise in your day positively impacts you professionally and personally.
- The networking opportunities among competitive athletes are highly valuable. Endurance sports draw those who are competitive, driven and are constantly moving forward in life and in work.
When I started competing in 2008, I was fit, but not at the level I am today. Professionally I’ve noticed that my schedule organization has improved. Another added benefit is an improved work/family balance since I have started planning my days more strategically.
Being race-ready can pose challenges when coupled with a demanding job, but the key is to make time for exercise and maintain your fitness goals no matter the situation.
Consider investing in a coach.
My coach keeps me honest, and designs workouts that fit my hectic schedule.
Make time to train on business trips.
Look for hotels with good gyms or gyms nearby. Always pack workout clothes. Maintaining consistency in a fitness schedule that is immune to work distractions is crucial.
Find training tools that work for you.
I use the app TrainingPeaks to plan, input and track my workouts and a GPS running watch that tracks distance, pace, heart rate and overall fitness. I am partial to Garmin watches.
Find training buddies.
The workouts go faster when you do them with friends. You will inevitably work harder and faster too when training with others. Joining a running group or tri club is also a great way to make training both functional and social at the same time.
Never deprive yourself.
Nearly every day I’m in meetings with trays of sandwiches, chips and desserts. Your strict workout regimen means you can eat what you want to eat (within reason).
Most importantly, sign up for a race.
No matter how serious you think your fitness routine has become and how committed you think you are to your goals, nothing solidifies that commitment more than signing your name on a race’s roster. The distance does not matter -- from 5K races to Ironmans. Signing up for any race shows a dedication that will undoubtedly trickle over into your professional life.
What matters in both fitness and business is that you constantly get out there and challenge yourself. And never DNF (did not finish).