Let’s be honest. Sometimes we work too damn much. As a general rule, we entrepreneurs are plagued with a relentless will to succeed, abnormal mental stamina, and an often unrealistic view of our own limitations and abilities. Try as we may to live in a state of equilibrium, we often find ourselves out of balance in one or more areas of our lives.
Over 7 years into my journey as a full time entrepreneur, my natural pattern is to oscillate between straight up hardcore crazy workaholic (sometimes working 36 hours straight or 7 days a week) and complete burnt out, lazy slug mode where I have to beat my brain into submission just to get it to squeeze out a few coherent emails.
Because of this it is incredibly important for me to take steps to subdue my workaholic tendencies, as well as try and avoid burnout. I’ve learned that a balanced approach is by far the easier, softer way.
While still far from a beacon of productivity and wellbeing, I’m a hell of a lot better than I used to be, thanks to some life-changing tips and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way. Some of the suggestions in this article may seem insignificant, or unrelated to success in business, but I assure you they are not.
There is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to a balanced life. I think the most important thing is to be aware of where you could use some improvement, and have the willingness to experiment and change. Think of this as a ‘sanity buffet’, of sorts. Feel free to pick and choose, experiment, and find out what works best for you.
Enough jabbering, lets get down to business…
In an interview Sir Richard Branson was once asked, “What is the most important thing someone can do to be successful?” He paused briefly, then said simply “Exercise.” He’s a pretty successful guy, so hearing him say it should be enough, but in case it’s not I’ll say it too…
Exercise! If you don’t currently partake in regular strength training and cardio then you have no idea how much you are short-changing yourself. You’re busy, I get it. Although weight lifting was a love of mine in high school, the healthy habit slipped away as I aged and started piling on careers, family, and endless obligations.
It took some work to get back into the habit, but now days I refuse to cut out my workouts. It’s amazing how just 20 minutes of lifting some heavy shit or going for a run can radically shift your perspective. Try it out for yourself!
Ahh, sleep. The arch nemesis of so many entrepreneurial souls. Many of us write it off as an inconvenience, something we haaaave to do for 3-4 hours a night lest we keel over in our corn flakes. But the fact is, sleep is incredibly vital to not only physical health and recovery, but cognitive function as well. Our bodies and brains desperately need quality sleep to function properly.
One of the biggest problems with sleep deprivation is that self-diagnosis is extremely difficult. The sleep deprived individual is simply unable to detect the loss of cognitive function in himself. Do you have trouble focusing? Does your vision sometimes blur? Headaches? Chest pains? Insomnia? Lack of sexual interest? All of these maladies and so many more can be the result of long-term sleep deprivation.
Speaking from experience, the only way to truly see how lack of sleep is killing your well-being and productivity is to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night for a minimum of two weeks. Keep a before and after journal. Nothing fancy, just spend 3-5 minutes a night writing down a summary of your baseline emotions, concentration and recall abilities for the day. You’re guaranteed to see a big difference, and if not, you can always have your bleary-eyed, tired ass old way of life back, free of charge.
Anxious? If you’re anything like me you do not need any additional stress and anxiety in your life. The funny thing about stimulants is that they trick us into thinking that they reduce our stress, help us cope with anxiety, and enable us to concentrate better. But in reality, the exact opposite is true.
If you’ve ever smoked, or been a super caffeine user then you know what I’m talking about. I spent years grinding my teeth to nubs while chain smoking and pounding espressos and energy drinks. I seriously thought that shit helped me to focus and work better!
It wasn’t until I quit that I realized that most of the anxiety and stress I was “treating” with the nicotine and excessive caffeine were in fact caused by those very chemicals. After I detoxed, my resting heart rate remained steady, instead of spiking all day long. I learned that I could handle stressful situations with newfound calmness and grace.
Interested in trying it out? Heres how, courtesy of Charlie Hoehn, author of Play it Away...
“Cut out any substance you regularly consume that’s correlated with increased feelings of anxiety. Common culprits include: caffeine, aspartame, gluten, refined sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. Keep it out of your body for one week.
If you have that substance in your house, throw it away. If the people you spend the most time with are encouraging you to consume it, politely turn them down and do something else. If you have strong cravings for that substance, find a healthy substitute you can consume instead (e.g. water, tea, sugar-free gum).
After the substance has been out of your system for seven days, you can reassess its toxicity by consuming a typical dose you’re used to taking. If your anxiety symptoms return within one hour of ingestion, you’ve found the culprit. Try to eliminate that substance for good.”
Meditation is no longer thought of as some “Woo Woo” new age craziness by folks in Wester countries. In fact, it’s pretty much the become new #1 habit of highly successful people. Check out interviews with anyone from Fortune 500 executives, to hedge fund managers, to billionaire investors and you will find that a high percentage of them practice meditation in some form.
Although fairly simple in theory, meditation, like exercise, is nearly impossible to articulate in a way that makes sense to someone who’s never tried it.
About 6 years ago, I was on the verge of throwing in the towel and moving to the Florida Keys to live out my childhood dreams of being a homeless guy who made baskets out of palm fronds for a living (hey, everybody needs a dream, right?)
I was running a successful company and making great money, but I was miserable. I clearly remember the mentality I had at the time, basically, “If this is all there is to life, I’ll take a refund. I’m not interested.” My life was empty. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t turn off my head. EVER.
In the midst of my despair, I was introduced by a friend to a man around 25 years my senior. Very successful in business, he had also spent over 15 years teaching meditation. For whatever reason, I ended up confiding in him my feelings of despair and fatigue and he gently nudged me towards meditation as a solution.
To make a long story short, and at the risk of sounding like a mushy gushy new age fanboy, meditation saved my life. I can attribute more of my current success, peace, and happiness to meditation than to any other single thing.
To get started, you don’t have to do anything fancy. Just grab a how-to book, or take a quick class or two and see how meditation can transform your life.
Burnout, overload, and fatigue are very real concerns for those of us who spend our lives pushing the limits, inventing, and exploring. Although we are all bound to get sucked into the vortex of excessive ambition from time to time, I hope that you will find these tips useful in re-establishing balance in your life when necessary.
One of the beautiful things about a community like CopyEffect is having other people who are walking the same path to lean on when the going gets tough. Never underestimate the power of a helping hand, or a listening ear.
What tips do you have for keeping your cool in high stress times? We’d love to hear from you!