The Entrepreneur's Guide to Better Wellbeing in 20 Minutes or Less
The journey of the average entrepreneur is one of a lifetime that requires a strong mind, body and spirit.
The reasons for business failure are manifold. While they most often all ladder up to some version of running out of capital, that is only the symptom of a disease that began some time ago — poor decision-initis. Okay, I’ve coined that term, but as Annie Duke describes in How to Decide, there are only two things that determine our outcomes in life — the decisions we make and the luck we experience. We’re wholly in control of the former, not at all in control of the latter. Thus making good decisions is really, really important. You have made a decision to build a business. That was a big one and a courageous one. You’ve made a decision to read this article. Hopefully in about three minutes you’ll feel that was a good one. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs have also been sold on a false narrative that another right decision is to work themselves to the bone in pursuit of success and at the cost of their health and wellbeing.
Hustle culture is out there lionizing founders who work sixteen- to eighteen-hour days. You can’t open your Instagram or Twitter and not feel a certain degree of anxiety that you might not be working hard enough because everyone else is burning the candle at both ends. While we tend to know that most of what we see on social media is a fabrication, we still can’t entirely shake that feeling of delinquency. So we usually respond by deciding to work harder and longer, in an effort to quiet that voice inside telling us we’re not doing enough.
Ironically, when you stop taking care of your wellbeing, the quality of your decision-making diminishes fairly rapidly. It ends up becoming a vicious cycle — you’ve made the poor decision not to care for yourself, which in turn leads to further compromised decision-making capabilities and progressively poorer decisions. Enough poor decisions alongside some mediocre luck and your business will be hard-pressed to succeed, independent of how great an idea or product you might have originally had. As if to add insult to injury, all those extra hours of work and sacrificed sleep yielded a worse result than if you’d just taken a bit better care of yourself.
Taking care of yourself is a fairly pat prescription — easier said than done type stuff. You have a business to run. How in the world are you supposed to squeeze in time for sleep, exercise, meditation and the eight thousand other things Gwyneth Paltrow prescribes. It can be daunting and more likely than not a few people reading this are getting anxious just thinking about how hard it is to be healthy. So with that in mind I built a simple, straightforward playbook (all entrepreneurs like playbooks) that, if followed, can go a long way toward managing your wellbeing.
If you take one and only one thing away from the list, this is the one. Here’s the thing — even when you say you got eight hours of sleep, you likely didn’t. Much to their dismay, any wearer of an Oura ring or Whoop band likely knows this. For most of us, especially the perpetually stressed-out entrepreneur, your sleep could use some improvement. Even the above-average sleeper wakes up several times throughout the night. This means that the actual amount of sleep you get if you went to bed at 10 PM and woke up at 6 AM is probably more like six and a half hours. That means that you actually need to be in bed around nine hours to get eight hours of quality sleep. Now, there are plenty of things you can do to optimize the amount of sleep hours you get relative to the amount of time you are in bed. Lest this article becomes entirely a treatise on sleep, I’ll point you to Matthew Walker's 11 Tips for Improving Sleep Quality as the ideal starting point. Time: However much you’re currently deficient on
Before the pandemic, most office workers spent their morning commute in the car or train, the subsequent eight to twelve hours in the office, and then another commute home in the evening. The longest single period of contact with the sun oftentimes involved the walk from the car to the front door of the office. Suddenly, during the pandemic, that commute was now gone and many people found themselves never even leaving the confines of their home during the day. Almost regardless of your job nearly three quarters of people are vitamin D deficient. Problematically, no dietary source of Vitamin D comes anywhere near effectively replacing just ten or so minutes of sunlight and the impact of Vitamin D deficiency can be quite profound on, you guessed it, your mental state. And that is just one benefit of being outdoors. New research suggests walking barefoot on the grass and simply breathing fresh air can both be incredibly impactful. None of these protocols require spending meaningful time outdoors, a simple walk during lunch will do the trick for twenty minutes a day. Time: 20 minutes
For many entrepreneurs, this has often felt too fringe — perhaps simply something that there isn’t enough evidence to substantiate its benefits and thus its worthiness of time. That has rapidly changed over the better part of the last decade. In Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s 2015 book, The Body Keeps the Score, he goes into great detail of the myriad benefits of mindfulness and other meditative practices in helping victims of extreme trauma better manage their internal systems. Now building a business is a far cry from being in actual war, but it certainly can come with plenty of moments of extreme stress. For those who are cautious about where to start, Headspace has a great, free introductory course and Wim Hof has free videos for some of his breath work exercises. Experiment and find one that suits your interests. Time: 20 minutes
I don’t need to proclaim the benefits of exercise to you. Presumably, you already have heard about the profound effects exercise has on the brain or how effectively it can manage stress. What you might not know is how little exercise is necessary to get a significant amount of the benefits. As little as fifteen minutes can make a meaningful difference in your brain chemistry, to say nothing of the obvious physical benefits. The trick, if exercise is something that has eluded you in the past, is merely doing something you actually enjoy. Don’t try running if you hate running. Don’t lift weights if you find it boring. Experiment until you find something that matches both your schedule and your interests. Time: 20 minutes
This list isn’t comprehensive. It wasn’t meant to be. I wanted to just cover the four simple practices to enhance your wellbeing and in turn substantially increase your chances for success in your entrepreneurial endeavors. And notwithstanding any changes you make to your sleep schedule, the total amount of time these practices will require is one hour out of the day. That’s about 4% of your day — 4% of your day for better wellbeing that will yield better business results and leave you feeling better while you’re at it.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor