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.
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.
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.