Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lesson #20: Physical Fitness for Entrepreneurs, Part 1

Lesson #20: Physical Fitness for Entrepreneurs

Given a choice between having a morning latte and exercising, we'll promise to exercise tomorrow. Americans aren’t the most out-of-shape people in the world (that honor goes to Micronesia) but we’re pretty close to the top.  With the recent research on our brains, we now know that there is no separation of fitness when it comes to your brains from brawn. It’s safe to say that your success as an entrepreneur has as much to do with your ingenious marketing strategy as your physical fitness strategy. Just consider these findings:
1.     physical conditioning has proven to be the principle link to improving your mental capacity
2.     physical fitness promotes self confidence that attracts business relationships to you
3.     it’s a whole lot more fun when you’re healthy to enjoy the fruits of your labor
4.     you’ll live a lot longer with a higher quality because you’ll be preventing dementia

Simply put, physical fitness is a lot like entrepreneurship: it’s a lifestyle practiced over many years. You wouldn’t consider operating your business every three months and closing down operations for three months sitting in front of a TV. It just wouldn’t work well. So launching into your fitness regimen on January 1 only to give up on April 1 doesn’t do much good either.

The Real Key
In the February 2011 edition of AARP magazine, entitled “Super Athletes,” the author, Gretchen Reynolds, cites a research study conducted at the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. The study showed that contrary to conventional wisdom, active individuals in their 60s and 70s maintained almost the same amount of muscles as their 20-year old counterparts. These athletes were not elite humans with strong genetics; these were individuals who decided to maintain exercising as a regular part of their lifestyles. The study also showed that those who did not partake in exercising were riddled with the illnesses that we’ve come to expect from aging.
What would it take you to make physical fitness a regular part of your daily activities? That’s the question you have to ask yourself because we all know that exercising is good for us but very few of us take it seriously to manifest long term benefits.  What if you knew that physical fitness increased your odds of making more money? That your ability to think and act clearly without the grumpiness and depression resulting from low self esteem would give you a distinct advantage over your competition? That brimming with self confidence and a respectful attitude would attract customers to you?

Join a Gym and Create One of Your Best Networks
This is one of the best advice I can give you to generate a client base and a great referral system: join a local gym. Not only will you get in shape but something very relevant to your business happens: you start making friends and business contacts. The environment is conducive for meaningful relationships because of a simple fact: you’re all there for the same reason. A bond develops and people are more at ease because, for one thing, you’re all wearing the same uniform.
Think about it: if you were to make an appointment to see the CEO of a local small business, you’re probably going to see him for the first time in his office where he controls the environment. He’ll most likely play that role wearing his power tie. He’ll act cautious and even aloof and that’ll make you feel a bit intimidated. For these reasons, your presentation may not go as well as you’d rehearsed it.
Now consider the same thing if you were both in the gym. The usual scenario goes something like this when you initiate a friendly chit-chat:
 “I see you’ve set that angle on your treadmill for 8 degrees. Are you training for a hilly race?”
“Naw,” the old guy laughs, “it’s better on my knees and it gives me a great workout,” as sweat drips off his face and soaks his t-shirt.
You both laugh and carry on about the versatility of the treadmill. You’ll tell him your name and he says, “I’m Fred.” Now, as we always seem to do, you ask Fred what he does for a living. He tells you he runs a small solar panel installation company. And in turn you tell him that you’ve just started a marketing firm tailored for small businesses especially catering to green businesses.
“Good for you,” Fred says and he means it because you’re in a neutral environment where status or power doesn’t come into play. While nothing more may come of it at that point, you’ll continue to run into Fred each time you come to the gym. But there’s going to be lots of Freds all in one place!
Some real practical considerations to keep in mind:
·       You’re at the gym to get a good workout first and foremost
·       Meeting people and making friends is easier because you all dress the same
·       People in important business positions, work out in the morning; it’s a discipline
·       People who want to socialize exercise after work
·       In such a neutral environment, people tend to be friendlier and less status conscious
·       But (a key point), people do observe you and take note of your diligence and consistency

Watch What You’re Doing
This last point is important because for many observers, how focused you are about your workouts represents your diligence as an individual.  Having been a gym rat for over 30 years, I’ve noticed that those who are friendly and work out with meaning develop more relationships than those who merely go through the motions. I think most people want to be around those who are healthy and happy. It is natural for people to admire hard work in whatever we do including the gym. But at the gym, friendships are easier to make than at just about any other business-social gathering.
Some of my best referrals and business connections came from the relationships I gained at the gym. It wasn’t instantaneous but a gradual experience that grew. In our gym clothes, there is no hierarchy and that makes for the best and most honest relationships because there are no territories to protect, no proprietary information to hide. There is a genuine bond that develops because you see each other on a regular basis, like being in a family. So when you do speak about business in this kind of environment, the level of trust will never be higher.
I’ve met superior court judges, heads of large companies, venture capitalists, high level bureaucrats and directors of foundations during my early morning workouts – all out of context to what we represent during the rest of the day. As a result, when I did visit their offices, there were no formal protocols as our relationship from the gym carried over. Needless to say, it was a lot easier closing deals, boosting my referrals and expanding my businesses and nonprofits simply because I worked out at the gym! Believe me, it’s one of the best investments you can make for yourself and your business.

Defining Physical Fitness
 Let’s get this straight: physical fitness is not about dieting. Dieting is harmful to your entrepreneurial career because of the way your body reacts. What happens is that the reduction in food slows down your metabolism because the body goes into its primitive survival mode and thinks it’s starving. So in order to conserve itself, it naturally responds by shutting down some of its mechanisms. This causes a detrimental mental reaction by reducing the nutrition your brain requires in order to think properly. You get edgy, irritated and whiny. Who wants to do business with you?
This less-than-adequate nutritional intake will also dumb you down – a real problem for entrepreneurs, especially for those running a micro enterprise where every decision carries a great deal more weight (no pun intended).
A healthy body comes only with a combination of nutritious foods, adequate exercise, restorative rest, a clean environment and mental fitness.
According to the National Institute for Health, more than a third of American women and nearly a quarter of men are on some kind of weight-loss diet at any given time. The most popular means of pursuing weight loss are branded diet programs such as the South Beach diet and Weight Watchers. The various popular diets seem quite different on the surface, each claiming its own special reason for being more effective than the others, but beneath the surface they are all essentially the same thing: low-calories diets. And worst of all, we are led to believe that dieting is the same as physical fitness.

Supersizing Addiction
We in America can stand to eat less and cut out the “supersizing” addiction. According to the Journal of American Dietetic Association, when MacDonald’s served you a soft drink in the 1950s, it was seven ounces. It’s tripled since then. If you get the Big Gulp at 7-Eleven, it’s a whopping 44 ounces.
While I was in college, I worked part time at Coca-Cola in their syrup plant in the Hunters Point district in San Francisco. There was one giant 40-foot silo next door filled with sugar which was filled weekly from a tanker. I remember that in the recipe for the Coke syrup, we use to throw hundreds of pounds of sugar into the mixing vat, enough, it turned out that each 12-ounce can of Coke had 10 teaspoons of sugar or 40.5 grams. That’s 20 sugar cubes in 12 ounces. If you were to drink one Coke each day for one year, you’d be consuming 32 pounds of sugar and on average, gaining 18 pounds.
One important note: don’t think that drinking diet sodas is any better. Your body is fooled into thinking that the artificial sweetener is sugar calories. But since it gets no food value, it reacts by going hungry. Two things then happen: you as the eater reward yourself for drinking fewer calories and tricked by the chemical sweeteners, you end up eating more. Studies indicate that those who drink diet sodas actually gain weight. Also, some chemical sweeteners have caused cancer in laboratory mice.  

Our Bulging Population
I’m sure you’ve either heard about or taken the time to read the caloric and fat content of any hamburger from fast food chains. And while many fast food businesses have introduced salads along with fresh fruits and vegetables, once you squish the dressing on, it’s almost as bad as that burger you were trying to avoid.
Needless to say, the fattening of America can be directly attributed to the increase in fast food restaurants and our hectic lifestyles. While fast food restaurants were convenient, they’ve made us into a land of very chunky people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) states that in 1990, America had less than 19 percent of its population considered to be obese (or dangerously unhealthy). In 2008, Connecticut was the thinnest state with 21 percent obesity while Mississippi as the highest at 33 percent.
More alarmingly, the greatest gain in fat has been our youth, ages 12 through 19. Their obesity rate has tripled since 1980 meaning a third of our youth is too fat.  (In some southern states, the obesity rate is as high as 44 percent.) Obese kids are defined by a body-mass index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.  This means that these youths are now suffering some of the same diseases that use to only afflict adults such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. Moreover, many of these youths are also suffer from low self-esteem which then leads to depression which in some cases leads to drug addiction.
If this trend continues, says the American Diabetes Association, one in three kids – and one in two minorities – will develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Diabetes has been linked directly to heart attacks, stroke, blindness, amputation and kidney disease; and to die prematurely as adults.
One of the prime reasons for the increase in obesity among youths has been our neglect as parents to curb the amount of time our kids spend in front of the computer screen and the television. According to the ADA, youths spend an average of just over 50 hours per week in front of video rather than playing sports or other physical activities.
Obesity and its complications come at an expense of $147 billion annually to the United States. 

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