This post originally appeared on SujanPatel.com
In 2011, I lost 42 pounds in six months, and it was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. As a result, I learned plenty of invaluable lessons. Not only did I learn more about myself and how far I’m able to push my body and mind, I also found that many of the lessons I learned helped me to push my business to the limit as well.
Here are a few of the different lessons I learned. I hope you find them helpful, whether you’re trying to lose weight, get in shape or expand your business:
Bad habits sneak up on you
I wasn’t always fat – in fact, most of my life I was underweight. It wasn’t until I started working in an office that I gained weight, at a pace of 5-7 lbs a year over six years. It sounds strange, but the fact was I didn’t even notice (I mean *really* notice) that I was overweight until about four years in.
Business habits can be the same way. Taking a shortcut here or cutting corners there doesn’t affect you immediately and might not seem like that big of a deal in the short term. But in the long run, these compromises and bad habits could come back to haunt you years in the future.
Your environment is a catalyst
Losing weight isn’t easy – especially when you’re first getting started. In general, the people who are most likely to succeed are those who receive motivation from their friends, family members and colleagues. For me, I found it hugely motivating to post weekly status updates on Facebook tracking my weight loss and to “check in” on Facebook whenever I went to a gym. The number of “Likes” I received for each post kept me motivated, even when I felt like giving up.
Unsurprisingly, the amount of support you receive as a new business owner plays a role in your success as well. Think about it – wouldn’t you be more likely to stick with a project if you received support and encouragement from your contacts, rather than derision or skepticism for pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams?!
It’s always been difficult for me to find passion in exercising – it has always seemed monotonous. That all changed when I discovered kickboxing. I’ve always been a fan of mixed martial arts and Batman, so I took up this activity that got me started on losing my first ten pounds. From there, excitement took over – making exercise less about fulfilling some arbitrary quota and more about exploring my newfound passion.
Like kickboxing, SEO is another passion of mine, which is why I’ve been so successful with Single Grain. If I had started a business based around some other profitable field that I wasn’t as passionate about, there’s no way I would have had the level of commitment needed to push through the hard times that come with any new startup.
Anything can be overcome
Losing weight is hard. If it was easy, you wouldn’t see nearly as many overweight people in the world today.
But just because something is hard doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. When I was losing weight, there were plenty of days when I was tired, starving and out of energy – but I kept going. It wasn’t easy and it definitely wasn’t always fun, but I forced myself to stick to my decision that losing weight was more important that taking the easy way out and remaining overweight.
Obviously, the same thing goes for businesses. Starting a company isn’t easy, and even as you go on and become more comfortable in this role, you’ll face new challenges. You need to get past this. No matter what field you’re in, you’re always going to be facing struggles, so you need to learn how to endure and get used to it!
Proper planning prevents poor performance
For me, planning ahead was vital to my weight loss success. If I didn’t plan ahead, I found myself tempted to take the easy way out by compromising on unhealthy foods “just this once.”
As a result, my plan became: A protein shake when I woke up, go to the gym, have a whey and oats protein shake for a snack, eat fruit for lunch, enjoy a late afternoon protein shake, eat an early dinner and finish off with a casein protein shake before bed. It took me a while to get this routine perfected, but once I had it, I stuck to it daily for four months because it did a great job of minimizing my hunger.
In business, the odds are good that you won’t create a perfect business plan and execute your company’s launch flawlessly from the start. However, you can plan ahead and focus on creating proper structures – including hiring practices, management structures and how day-to-day tasks will be handled – so that you can thrive and grow over time. You may need to refine your structures over time, but eventually, you’ll come up with the right recipe.
Invest early in the right tools
After a few months of working out and dieting, I found a few mobile apps that helped keep me on track. I used an app called Lose It! for counting calories and a program called Jefit to monitor my weight lifting stats. Because I had these tools in place, I was able to check my stats daily, weekly and monthly in order to understand what was working for me and what wasn’t. Seeing my numbers improve also helped to keep me motivated when I felt like quitting.
In the same way, I’ve found that having the right tools in place has made a major difference in terms of team productivity at Single Grain. At first, I noticed that, as we hired more employees, their input wasn’t increasing our company output (as in, the client load we could handle) as much as I’d hoped. After careful observation, I found that staff members were being bogged down by remedial tasks and internal communication problems – both of which I was able to resolve with the use of tools like the Basecamp project management program and HipChat’s group communication system.
I didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to lose weight today!” Well, technically I did on January 7th, 2011 – but the real story is that I’d been trying (and failing) to lose weight for years. I’d tried home gyms, dieting, personal trainers, running and more throughout the years, but each time, I’d stick to something for a few weeks and give up when things got hard.
Eventually, I learned that it takes around one month to form a habit. As soon as I discovered that, I shifted gears and attempted to find something I could stick with consistently for just four weeks. For me, that activity was kickboxing (where an hour class burns nearly 1,000 calories). Not only was I able to make this a consistent habit in a way I hadn’t before, I was having fun while getting in shape at the same time!
The same thing goes for startups. You’re going to fail; that’s a fact. However, you have to keep going and keep learning from your mistakes. It took me nearly six years of failed ideas and thousands of dollars lost before I was able to start a successful business, but the moral of my story is that if you’re persistent enough, you’ll eventually succeed.
Treat yo’ self
Strict dieting and eating low amounts of calories over time slows down your metabolism, which is why it’s so important to take breaks! In the beginning of any weight loss plan, your breaks should be less frequent, but over time, you need to establish some “cheat days.” On my cheat days, I’d eat so much pizza, ice cream and candy that I’d feel sick – and you better believe I was ready to get back to dieting hard core for five days straight!
When you’re starting a business, it’s a given that you’re going to have to put in long hours and do whatever it takes to get your business off to a good start. However, over time, this can lead to burn out. And since burn out has the potential to seriously impact your productivity, it’s important that you find time to take vacations, get away from the computer, drink yourself silly and go buck wild! When you find ways to release your energy apart from building your business, you’ll find that you’re much more creative and productive following your time away.
An object in motion stays in motion
At first – after being out of shape for so long – it was hard for me to get in the habit of being active. I’d go to the gym for an hour and be so tired that I’d need three hours of couch potato time just to recover.
Over time, though, I adapted and I found that changing up my activities kept me engaged and active. Instead of just weight lifting, I’d go hiking, biking, kick boxing, rock climbing – really, anything that would break up the monotony. As I added in these activities, I was surprised to find that I had more energy – not less – even though I was working out more than ever.
I’ve found the same principle to be true in my business as well. When I invest time in creative thinking, I tend to have even more creative ideas. As a result, I try to change things up and work from coffee shops half the week in order to change my environment regularly. Staying active keeps me engaged and helps ensure that these trends continue.
The first push is only part of the battle
Our culture tends to glamorize weight loss, when really, it should be putting the same amount of focus on maintenance. I’m proud to have kept my 40 pounds off for over a year, but I’ve known plenty of people who are so caught up in losing weight that they don’t take the time to plan how their lives will be difference once this initial push is over.
For me, I’m still on a diet, I still count calories and I still go to the gym 5-6 times a week. These activities are necessary for me to keep the weight off, in the same way that adopting good business practices is necessary to ensure that Single Grain thrives in the long run. Starting a business can be an exciting time, but it becomes pretty obvious when you aren’t in an idea for the long haul!
Strive for perfection
Perfection doesn’t really exist, but you owe it to yourself to try and get as close as you can.
My weight loss has always been a series of challenges. I’d meet one mini-goal and then use the momentum that created to propel myself forward to the next one. And even though I’ve reached my weight loss goals, I’m still trying to put on muscle and get a six pack. I’m not quite there, but wanting to get as close to perfection as I can keeps me motivated.
In the same way, just because you’ve built a successful business doesn’t mean that you’re “done.” There’s never a true “done” – it’s just time to work on doubling your success. By setting a series of small goals for your business and focusing all your efforts on hitting them, you’ll be able to maintain the motivation necessary to reach even higher heights.
Of course, keep in mind that every person and every business is different. The things that I described above as having worked for me may not be as effective for you, but the important part is that you try. Applying the lessons listed above to your own life and measuring the impact on your life should help you to reach your goals – whether you’re trying to lose weight, build a business or hit some other major milestone.
Sujan Patel is the CMO at Bridge.us, a startup that helps simplify the U.S. immigration process. His experiences include: