A Navy SEAL's Guide to Thriving in Close Quarters, Part 6: Exercise
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The sixth and final action to the R.E.M.O.T.E. lessons learned while leading SEALs in submarines is Exercise. As simple as it might sound, exercise is the most important action you can take when faced with mountains of uncertainty and isolation. All of the actions I have shared with you over the past few weeks have been about focusing on the few things we can control. In fact, that’s what SEAL training is all about: mastering what I call our “controllables.” In Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, one of the first tenents we are taught is understanding our weapon’s platform, which is simply our mental, emotional and physical capabilities. I call this our action platform in my most recent book: UNSTOPPABLE TEAMS: The 4 Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership. How we think, what we believe and our subsequent ability to take action define our direction and represent the single most important pillar of how we lead ourselves.
I suspect when you first hear the word “exercise,” you’re thinking, “Oh great, another Navy SEAL talking about workouts that I will never be able to do.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. You see, entrepreneurship is an athletic event. Seriously. Have you ever worn a heart rate monitor when you’re on a sales call? How about when you’re trying to raise capital? Or maybe delivering tough news or making a “bet-the-business” decision? I haven’t worn one for all of those occasions, but I have for several, and definitely have on sales calls. In a 90-minute sales pitch where I was actually speaking for 60 minutes, guess what my heart rate was: 129 beats per minutes on average with a high of 152 beats per minute!
At the time, I was 48 years old, which put my heart rate in the 65th percentile of my max rate. That’s the range recommended by performance coaches for building aerobic endurance (and fat burning!). The point is, even though your muscles are not conducting traditional workout movements, your heart and your head are handling significant amounts of stress, and your body doesn’t know the difference.
But wait, there’s more!
Entrepreneurship is an athletic event more akin to running marathons day after day after day, and that’s just the physical component. What about the energy required to fuel your brain to make decisions? Every entrepreneur I know always starts off as a “jack of all trades” decision maker, and only after time and a little success are they able to hire people to help them make better decisions. The amount of energy your brain needs to process the vast number of problems to solve — from go-to-market strategy and supply chain inter-modal challenges to design and manufacturing and cash-flow monitoring — can be mentally taxing.
Guess what helps fuel your brain and can literally make you smarter over time? Yep, you guessed it: Exercise. For more on the science behind exercise and our cognitive abilities, check out the book SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by Dr. John Ratey, MD. The point is, exercise not only helps you physically, but also mentally.
But wait, there’s even more!
One thing no entrepreneurship class mentioned when I was going through business school is the emotional toll it can take on a person. Specifically, depression. The fact is entrepreneurship can be a very lonely journey, and it is even lonelier when the decisions you made are the wrong ones. Dealing with failure is hard physically, mentally and emotionally. Exercise can help you fend off those demons of doubt that come knocking during your darkest hours when you’re questioning yourself, your path and business. Did you know that on average roughly 80 percent of all Americans experience depression at some point in their lives? And guess what can help offset up to 50 percent of most forms of depression? Yep: Exercise.
In my first book, BE UNSTOPPABLE: the 8 Essential Actions to Succeed at Anything, I liken exercise to a magical pill and pose a series of questions regarding the value of this "magic" pill that helps you perform better, feel better, think better, look better and live better (exercise is also proven to fend off a wide variety of diseases). I then offer up the fact that for the pill to work you must commit 30 minutes a day. Often times when delivering keynote speeches, I will ask audiences what they would pay for such a magic pill. I’ve heard people shout out as high as one million dollars!
Exercise really is our own magic pill if we are willing to commit. There are three basic tips to understand. The priority of exercise is frequency, duration and then intensity. By far and away, the single most important action you can take is committing to a frequency of exercising. Experts suggest exercising first thing in the morning because it activates your metabolism, you’ll feel great throughout the day and avoid letting daily tasks get in the way of working out later in the day. After you have frequency figured out, here are a series of steps that will help you stay committed to exercising:
Pick exercises you enjoy: walking, yoga, biking, hiking, swimming, weight lifting, etc.
Make exercise something you look forward to doing; use music and team up with others to keep you committed.
Put it on your calendar. Think of exercise as part of your work day; it is and should be considered a daily task.
When you start, make your routine doable. If it’s too hard and you struggle through it, you’ll most likely find ways to avoid doing it in the future.
Forget about the scale and focus on enjoying the experience. Even if weight loss is part of your goal, don’t let the scale become your focus
Remember, the first three weeks are the hardest in forming a new habit. However, if you commit to exercise the improvements you gain physically, mentally and emotionally will help you professionally and personally at finding opportunities within the uncertainties we face. I often say: Take control of your body and you’ll take control of your life. I promise you that if you focus on controlling what you can control you will find success. Afterall, success comes from persistence and guess what powers persistence? EXERCISE!