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Entrepreneurs: These Habits Are Hurting Your Training

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By Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

Entrepreneurs are a different breed. They’re the risk takers and visionaries, the people who create opportunities by finding ways to fulfill needs unmet by current products or services. They’re driven and ambitious, often willing to work hard for little or no instant gratification, yet confident in the long-term payoff. Many are also drawn to cycling, where some of their habits work against them.

I have been an entrepreneur for the past 20 years. As an athlete I have seen how my habits have affected my training, for better and worse, and how being an athlete has helped me work through the inevitable ups and downs of running a business. More important than my personal experiences, here’s what I’ve learned from coaching a long list of entrepreneurs, early-stage investors, growth hackers, and venture capitalists.

Entrepreneurial Traits that Help Athletes

Many of the traits that make entrepreneurs successful in business are beneficial for endurance training. Two of the most important are resilience and optimism.

Resilience

Much like the growth of a new business, progress in training is not linear. There are fits and starts, setbacks, and periods of rapid improvement. Entrepreneurs are not afraid of failure and recognize that taking a step back just gives you another chance to move forward.

Optimism

You have to have an optimistic worldview in order to go against the tide and create something new. The likelihood of failure is huge. The chances of success are slim. Yet, despite the odds, every entrepreneur and venture capitalist I’ve worked with believes whole-heartedly that their idea will succeed and make the world a better place. Optimism is an important trait for athletes as well. No matter your starting point, you have to be hopeful and confident your hard work will yield future success.

Habits that hold entrepreneurs back in training

There are also some traits common to entrepreneurs that lead to behaviors that hold them back as athletes. Often, correcting or modifying these training behaviors also has a positive impact on their working life.

Always looking for a hack

Disruption is great for creating new business opportunities, but the pursuit of hacks can get in the way of purposeful training. That’s not to say innovation isn’t important. New products and services have significantly changed the face of endurance training over just the last several years (Strava, Zwift, Peloton, etc.). My coaching methods have changed as well, but there are fundamental principles of training that haven’t changed.

Many times, looking for training hacks means looking for shortcuts. And there are not shortcuts in training. You have to do the work, and sometimes the most effective work is repetitive and not very exciting. Sometimes I spend considerable effort getting entrepreneurs to focus on the big improvements and the easy wins instead of being drawn to the next shiny gadget or software.

To put it in tech terms, athletes start out as a “minimum viable product”. The essential functions are there, but underdeveloped and full of potential. Wise developers use an iterative process to bolster the core technology and functionality before adding new and advanced features. They know the new features will only work if they are added to a strong and stable platform.

The vast majority of amateur athletes still have a lot of work to do to build the strong platform, and will experience the largest improvements in performance by continuing to work on the fundamentals. You’re at V3.0 and the growth hacks and “marginal gains” come at V10.3.

Always full gas

Entrepreneurs are all-in on their idea and are often relentless in the way they pursue it. Time is of the essence because the pace of innovation is so fast your idea may be obsolete before you can go to market, or someone else will beat you to it. This mindset doesn’t always translate well to athletic training.

When it’s time to go full gas during intervals, there’s no problem. A moderate pace for an endurance ride is problematic. Not half-wheeling the rider next to them is something we often work on. And one of the hardest concepts to grasp seems to be the idea of going slower at the bottom of a climb so you can maintain a steadier pace and slow down less as you get closer to the summit.

Just because you can go faster doesn’t always mean you should. Sometimes going faster now, just because you can, hurts your performance in the near (and long-term) future.

Scoffing at rest days

Try telling someone who has been working non-stop to launch a new business that you want them to do nothing. It is hard for entrepreneurs to turn off that drive to do more, and they often apply it all aspects of life (just ask their family). Rest is absolutely essential to training. Rest days are non-negotiable. We can move them around to suit your schedule, but you can’t eliminate them.

As a coach, when I can help someone – and it doesn’t need to be an entrepreneur – get more rest and reduce lifestyle stress, they almost always experience a surge in improvement. Perhaps because it is happening in an environment outside of work or personal life, this sometimes results in an “ah-ha” moment. They start managing their energy and focus differently, giving themselves time to rest and restore their energy for both work and family.

More entrepreneurs are turning to mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness is a state of being present in the moment and focused on the full experience of the here and now. Meditation is a technique that can help people direct their thoughts and focus their attention. Guided meditation apps like Headspace have lowered the barriers to learning about and trying mindfulness meditation, and have helped expose many more people to it.

Mindfulness meditation can be very beneficial for athletes and company leaders. Quieting the mind and letting distractions fall away brings you into the moment so you’re ready to give your full attention, cognitive ability, and creativity to the task before you. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce emotional reactivity, reduce the tendency to ruminate and dwell on thoughts or situations, improve a person’s ability to adapt in stressful or negative situations, an improve a person’s working memory.

The entrepreneurial spirit has and continues to change the world we live in. We need people who see opportunities where no one else does, and who have the courage to take the risks required to bring those opportunities to life. But to have longevity and long-term success, entrepreneurs also have to learn to take better care of their physical, mental, and emotional health.


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Comments 5

  1. As is often the case with the difference between great athletes and those who strive to be, there are some big differences between great entrepreneurs and those who are entrepreneurial, but not necessarily best at it.

    Great entrepreneurs:

    Are “Always Opportunistic” rather than “Always On.” Being always on means you ride roughshod over the great moments of inspiration or you are too exhausted to be insightful. The great ones know “carpe diem” or seize the day means having the alertness and saved energy to jump when others are confused or tired.

    Are “Great Risk Avoiders” rather than “Risk Takers.” People constantly assume entrepreneurs love risk because the great ones seem to take the most risk; but the truth is that the great ones have learned so much about how to avoid and manage risk that they can take on risks others should avoid. The great descenders in the Tour de France don’t want to die, they simply are better are knowing exactly where their limits are.

    Are “pushing on many ropes” rather than “one dimensional and focused.” Making an entrepreneurial business succeed means winning all kinds of different battles and not wasting time on those that you cannot win today. Choosing what you can do effectively today and ignoring what you can’t is the same as an athlete choosing whether to ride hard or ride easy or go to the gym — pick the right battle for the day.

    Are “eating frogs” rather than “pursuing shiny objects.” The great ones address the hardest problems first. Why waste time solving lots of meaningless issues if you can’t address the big one. The cycling equivalent is the guy who only wants to “win races” but refuses to train on a cold rainy day. Have a big picture goal, do all the right things and good things are more likely to happen; but they may not happen exactly how, when or where you hoped so “be opportunistic” and be rested and aware enough to seize the wins when they are there for the taking.

  2. It all comes down to patience, perspective and discipline. True discipline is controlling the urge to push all the time. Athletes that have come through years of learning their trade and listening to those more experienced, don’t make as many of these mistakes. In many ways Training approaches often reflect the philosophy of the individual, towards many aspects of life. If they are gung ho in relation to most aspects of life, this will also come out in their training. This is usually a disastrous approach to training. Taking a systematic approach to training and then applying this to life’s other demands is more likely to be successful. But there will always be debate about what constitutes success.

  3. Chris,

    Spot-on article with one exception. I have long suffered with my passion and love for what I’m doing vs what I love to do when not “working.” Most successful entrapeneurs that I know seem to put in endless hours, like I do. I may not be at the office at 6am but I’m already working on email while I drink coffee in the morning. Then I may not take lunch because I’m too busy working on something at the office that’s going to be the next “million-dollar-a-month product we’re launching soon” and that’s exciting to me, so I justify skipping lunch. Then, not knowing it’s late in the day, I’ll find myself still at the office having to rush home to be in time for dinner with the family by 7pm. Then, at the end of the day after dinner, at 8:30pm, I really don’t feel like doing my workout even though I love cycling and bicycle racing.

    What I had to finally decide is that it’s ok for me to leave the office during lunch for two to three hours to do my workout. To actually schedule my workout time on my calendar. It wasn’t until this decision that I could find consistency in my workouts. I’m not sure if I’m a unique entrapenur but it would seem that cycling would usually suffer and be squeezed out of my day even though that time is something I needed the most.

    Mike

    1. Mike,

      Your situation sounds eerily familiar. As an owner of two businesses my schedule resembles yours almost exactly. When i was racing the full XC calendar here in CO I would always ride in the evenings after work. once I started my own business, my evenings were always filled with work and my riding got pushed to the weekends. I’m not an early morning person, well, except for the 6 AM email and laptop time 🙂 but have recently started “scheduling” time on the trainer for the mornings. This has made a big difference in the amount of training I have been getting in and also helps me start my day in a much calmer state.

      I recently dug out my copy of “The Time Crunched Cyclist” and plan to start my first 8 week cycle before my first race this year. I’m really glad to be getting back into my training in earnest this season and it does deserve a place on the calendar!

    2. Mike: Thanks for the good tips. Being able to “let go” to get in a good workout even for a few hours is always a good thing. Chris

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