What Running Has Taught Me About Business

7 Aug 2016
Alan Martin

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Today I wanted to talk about something crucial to the success of your business, and that is ‘Mindset’.

I am going to explore this topic through my experience with running and what it has taught me about this most fundamental of business skills.

Why Running?

Well, why not? Actually, I’m not a big fan of running if the truth be told but I had to do something! I was conscious that my lifestyle of sitting in front of a computer all day or traveling in the car to client meetings and training sessions, was not conducive to maintaining a healthy body. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing, so this stuff is important. Anyway, I was getting very little exercise and gradually putting on weight, which was not good.

I knew exercise was important but I could never seem to find the time. I was always too busy to take exercise (or so I thought), so the situation was just getting worse. Anyway, long story short, Mandy (my wife and business partner) signed me up to join a running group in St Andrews.

I went along on the first night expecting to hate it for a few weeks, until I had achieved a level of fitness that would let me enjoy the exercise. Anyway I loved it right from the start. I’m still no athlete but this Saturday I ran my first 5K without stopping, which was a major achievement for me. So what has this got to do with business I hear you say?

Well the answer is ‘more than you might think’! Here are the 6 top lessons that running has taught me about business.

NOTE: This article contains affiliate links for recommended books, which means that I would earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you made a purchase after clicking on a link. I only ever recommend books that I have personally read and that have made a huge impact on my understanding of the subject matter. Thank you for your support!

5 Lessons from Running

Goals, Vision and Measurement

What I’ve discovered is that running is all about having clear goals and targets in mind, to gauge improvement and keep motivated. For the last 6 months or so, my overarching goal was to be able to run 5K without stopping. When I first started running, I was really unfit so that was a huge target for me to achieve. I started off in a “walk/jog” group, where we walked for a minute, then ran for a minute. Over time our running duration was increased and walking time decreased until we were at the point where we could run most of the time without walking.

These small time-keeping challenges kept us on track and ensured that we were constantly improving. On Saturday’s Mandy and I would do “parkrun“, which is the same route and distance (5K) every week and is timed, so you can easily see how you are improving. When I started doing this, I had to walk/jog it and it was tough! I had to set myself mini-goals as I went around the circuit. “I’m going to run to this tree” or “I’m going to run to this fence post”. By doing this over time I was able to build up to “I’m going to run one lap of the park”, and ultimately to being able to run the whole thing.

So how does this relate to business? Most of us know that having a business plan and setting targets is a good thing right? But for many, that’s as far as it goes. For various reasons that plan never gets further than our heads, and is never fully articulated. You know you want more customers and to be more profitable, so what’s wrong with just trying to get as many customers as possible?

Well, unless you have worked out exactly how much money you need to bring in and how many new customers you need in order to achieve your goals, you are way more likely to consistently under perform in your business. As the old quote from Lewis Carroll goes “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do”. You need to know exactly how much you need to earn in any given month (mini-goals), so you can come up with strategies to help you achieve your targets. Yes, you will sometimes miss your targets but I can promise you that you will be a heck of a lot closer with clear goals in mind, than if you keep plodding on hopping that fortune will smile on you.

Resources

Click here to join Laura Lucas’s ‘Inspired Hustler’s Manifesting Lab’ Closed Facebook Group.
Click here to check out “The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure” by Grant Cardone on Amazon (affiliate link).

Consistency and Momentum

Darren Hardy once said “Lack of consistency is the subtle stealer of dreams”. This is as true for running as it is for business, or any other aspect of your life for that matter. When you are having a busy day at work, it can be really hard to rip yourself away from the computer to go out in the cold and run for an hour. There are always several reasons (excuses) why you should give exercise a miss. Maybe you have an important work deadline, or maybe you are feeling a little off-colour, whatever the reason, inertia is always trying to stop you in your tracks.

Now missing one training session might not seem like a big deal, but I’ve done this myself and once you miss one training session it becomes easier to miss another one and then another one and before you know it a couple of weeks have passed and the thought of putting yourself through the physical discomfort of training becomes less and less appealing, until ultimately you quit and you are left wondering what happened.

I’ve literally had to force myself to go out the door when I’ve not felt like training, but it is on days like this when you really feel the benefit of having done the exercise, and I’m always glad that I’ve done it when I’m finished. Of course there are times when you just can’t train, for whatever reason, but what I’ve found helpful on these occasions, is to substitute my regular training session with training at another time, rather than missing out altogether.

In your business there are lots of tasks that you need to do regularly, that you know are important, that can become a chore none the less. Maybe you struggle to find time to post on all your social media channels, write blog posts, newsletters, file expenses receipts. Whatever it is for you, you need to be consistent with these tasks for exactly the same reasons that you need to be consistent with your exercise over time.

The benefits that you get from these activities are cumulative and build up over time. Going running once a month will not be sufficient preparation if you want to run a marathon, just as one Facebook post will not make your business a success.

If you schedule time in your diary for these business activities you will have a much better chance of staying consistent. If it is social media you struggle with, schedule time in your diary to find content and then use a scheduling tool to have posts go out regularly throughout the week.

Stephen Covey once said, “The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”, meaning that once you know what activities are important to you and your business, make sure you plan for these first, then all the other minutiae that we are all involved with on a day-to-day basis in our business (AKA Busy Work) will take of it’s self. If you don’t do this it is easy to get bogged down with low-value tasks and never achieve that which is most important.

Resources

Click here to check out BufferApp for scheduling your social media content.

Believe In Yourself

Out of all the 6 lessons I think this is possibly the most important! Without self belief you have nothing! Theodore Roosevelt said “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there” and he was right.

As I mentioned above, my running goal had been to be able to run 5k without stopping. I was using parkrun as a way to monitor my progress towards that goal. Every week, I’d pit my fitness and stamina against the course, and each week I’d come up short. One week I managed to run two and three quarter laps of the park (5K is three and a bit times around the park that we go to in St Andrews), but was just not able to go the full distance.

I’m not sure what changed for me this week, but for the fist time I ‘believed‘ that I was going to do it. I didn’t start the race with this belief, but when I had gone two and a half laps around the park I became certain that I would do it this time, and I did!

In the last six months I’ve thought “I can’t do it” many times, and guess what? I wasn’t able to do it, but somehow I overcame these barriers. I knew that I was physically capable of doing it but what was stopping me was my mental self-talk. I was giving myself permission to fail.

Business is exactly the same; yes we can hone our skills (and I think that is a great idea) but ultimately we need to ‘believe’ that we are going to be successful. It’s not enough to want to have a successful business. I wanted to be able to run 5K without stopping but I still came up short; you need to believe that you are going to be successful and these two things are poles apart. Don’t stop believing!

Run Your Own Race

“If you continuously compete with others, you become bitter but if you continuously compete with yourself, you become better.” – Unknown

Another mistake I made with my running was that I’d constantly compare myself to others and get frustrated that I was not even close to their times. It can be a bit demoralising when you get lapped before you’ve even completed one circuit of parkrun, but I came to realise that the only person I should be competing against was the person I was yesterday.

As long as my running performance was improving that’s what I should focus on, not how others are doing. Also, you don’t see other people’s struggles, you only tend to see their achievements. Some of the people that would whizz past me at parkrun, would walk at times too I discovered, yet I didn’t see that part.

It’s exactly the same in business! We look at others that we think of as successful and wish we had an email list of 50,000 people or 130,000 fans on Facebook, but really all this serves to do is to make us miserable and feel like a failure. You need to set your own targets and measure your performance towards these targets, but don’t measure your success by comparing yourself to others.

It’s Easier in a Group

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” Helen Keller

Okay so I’m going to come right out and say it, “I don’t actually like running”! I’ve never been a fan of running and whenever I’ve tried to get fit in the past and go out for a jog, I’ve never got very far before stopping. I find it quite boring actually, so I was very surprised when I joined the running group in St Andrews (STAART) and absolutely loved it!

As it turns out, running in a group is vastly different to running on your own. As well as the social aspect of it, you feel a sense of accountability to the group and if the group is running, it propels you onward to run further than you would have done on your own.

The same is true in business! You may have started your own company but that does not mean that you need to do it alone. Indeed, just like my early experiences with running, if you try to do it alone you will be miserable and more likely to quit. Now obviously I’m generalising here, but I’ve found huge benefits to working with referral partners and business colleagues as well as being part of various networking organisations such as BNI.

By helping each other, we have all become stronger as a result. Could I have achieved the same success without these relationships? Possibly, but it’s been much more fun working with others and I believe that my achievements have been magnified as a result.

When Things Get Tough Focus on What’s In Front of You

Similar to Lesson No.1 on setting goals, the final lesson I want to mention is about focusing on the path ahead rather than the end goal, when things get tough. Most running routes are not flat and there are usually a few hills to contend with along the way. In the St Andrews parkrun route there is one steep hill that runs up the back of the park. This is always the part of the run that I struggle with the most, because it is a real effort to get to the top and then keep going with the run. Rather than focusing on getting to the top of the hill I find it helpful to lower my gaze and focus exclusively on the path immediately in front of me. This helps to take the psychology out of equation, as you stop thinking about how daunting the hill is and just put one foot in front of the other until you reach the top.

Business is very similar! When we face a daunting task or an ambitions project, or when things are not going according to plan, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the huge challenge ahead of us. Rather than worrying about the end goal, we need to focus on what’s immediately ahead of us and get that done. If we keep doing that whilst making sure that we are heading in the right direction, we will achieve our goals much more easily.

** Update **

This article first appeared on the Chat Marketing website in March 2016, since then my running abilities have improved steadily and I am now training to do a half marathon in 8 weeks time (Alloa). Another lesson I’ve learned, that I wanted to share with you, is to ‘aim for the stars and hit the moon‘. Last weekend instead of the usual parkrun, we extended it for another couple of laps to give us 5 miles in total. We did a lap before the official start-time, then we did parkrun and then followed it with one extra lap. The interesting thing was that each lap we did got slightly faster than the one before it, which got me thinking. I am normally struggling to complete the 3rd lap of parkrun, but this time things were different. I think the key difference was that I knew I had another lap to go at the end of the official parkrun circuit, so I was aiming at a further away target.

This also relates to business, and setting stretching targets is a great way to make sure you are achieving your more realistic goals. For example if you would like to bring in £8,000 worth of business per month, try aiming for 10,000 per month and see what happens! The book I mentioned above by Grant Cardone is all about this concept.

Conclusion

Running has taught me a great deal about business, but probably the most profound lesson is that when all is said and done, running a successful business is more about developing a champion’s mindset, setting goals and monitoring progress than it is about acquiring new skills and knowledge. If you don’t master your mindset first everything else becomes so much harder, however with the right mindset, acquiring skills and knowledge helps you become more effective.

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