A few months ago, we interviewed therapist Emily Griffith about how to take care of your mental health as an entrepreneur.
Now, we’ve decided to continue this series with tips and best practices for taking care of your physical health. Jesse O’Brien, the founder and head coach of Austin-based fitness-business Central Athlete, specializes in individualized training programs that provide structure for clients who are searching for it and have busy or unpredictable schedules.
We sat down with him to discuss what entrepreneurs could do to take better care of their physical health, and how that could improve their lifestyle and overall productivity.
How do you specifically target entrepreneurs at Central Athlete, and what particular needs do those clients have?
“We’ve really narrowed the target market to create value for people who have a hectic lifestyle. And a lot of that hectic lifestyle is the unpredictability of a growth-minded company, whether that’s a startup or just someone who has that kind of culture. I’ve formerly worked with the CEO of Samsung’s US office and then also the people who bring cellular technology to emerging economies. And those are my two prime examples of people who have really inconsistent schedules. So one might be in London for five days of meetings and then 35 hours of travel to Australia, and then he’s on a vacation in New Zealand for two-weeks, and then he’s in his own gym.
But this is one of the biggest things that I’ve experienced from the entrepreneurial mindset is that they are always working and everything is prioritized underneath growing and scaling. I’ve had clients who had dedicated themselves to keeping their heads down and working harder than anyone else they knew for most of their lives, expend their health and then they call me in at age 55 to try and get their health back. And it doesn’t really work like that from a biological standpoint. It’s so much more challenging as you age. So one thing that I want to try and introduce into this community is how they can stay consistent with an inconsistent schedule.
People have to understand that you pay the price of admission. If you stay up late and eat convenient foods all the time, there may be consequences. But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are ways we can still have you moving towards the person you want to become without completely expending your mental and physical health.”
Do you think that sort of work/growth mindset consistently takes particular physical or mental tolls on people that you try to address when you work with them?
“In strength training, you need to both break down and recover. If you’re constantly breaking down and stressing the system, there is no balance. And life is really a balancing act. So we’ve created this mindset that more is better. It’s almost a badge of honor to say ‘I only got three hours of sleep last night and I’m still here and still working.’ They bring that into the culture, and I don’t think that’s an admirable trait. And we know where that kind of mindset goes now. The lack of sleep ages us faster and quickly becomes detrimental to your health. It doesn’t need to be that way, and I think a lot of young entrepreneurs make it that way because that’s the culture that’s been created and they think that it makes them better entrepreneurs.”
So what do you think the biggest misconception that people in the entrepreneurship space have about their physical health is?
“I think the amount of work that it actually takes. Most of the entrepreneurs that I work with always want to do things 100% percent. So I commend them on that effort of being a perfectionist, but I’d rather shift their paradigm from all-or-nothing to always something.
Rationally, we can sit here and say that it is unrealistic to do 5 hours of workouts and focusing your nutrition and health practices. But you might be able to do 2 and a half hours.”
How do entrepreneurs commonly neglect their physical health?
“The first thing that comes to mind is that we have a theoretical hierarchy of how we view fitness. At the most fundamental level is stress. A negative mental or physical environment is one of the worst things for physical health. Stress can either be your friend or your enemy, but a lot of people have no idea how to turn it into a positive stressors so they are just chipping away at their health. And our bodies react the same way whether it’s a real or a perceived stressor. After a while, your system burns out.
One of my favorite questions for entrepreneurs is asking them what they do to recharge. Having a conversation around that and incorporating forced breaks can be a good start. And that is a very individual experience.
The second tier up is sleep. The cognitive decline people have when they don’t get enough sleep is akin to being intoxicated. We need to build cultures where there is a definitive work/life balance. And the opportunity cost if a company is constantly burning through employees and experiencing turnover is astronomical. There are financial implications to that as well.
The third and fourth things are things that we always talk about and they are the reason why people usually see me, and that’s nutrition and training. But if people don’t have a good foundation, they aren’t going to get the results they want from training.
A lot of times, I tell people to just start by sleeping more and walking their dog. Because I have to shift their paradigm first.”
How do you go about shifting that kind of paradigm?
“It starts with education. The most beneficial thing I can do is give them the information and let them do with it as they please. But from a behavioral psychology perspective, the way we are wired is to handle only a small amount of changes at a time. And if we enact those changes correctly, they will effect long-term change. But a lot of people will try to do everything at once.
If you want to start working out more, that’s a new habit that you have to take on. And that’s hard enough. But if you also want to change your nutrition, your sleep, your stress maintenance, cutting off toxic relationships, it’s a lot to try and tackle at one time. That’s the wrong way to go about doing things.
It’s not a long-term solution when you tackle the problem like this. You have to be patient.
But it’s also about alignment. Are you truly aligning your deepest values with your daily behavior. That includes socially. If you are in a culture that is pushing you away from your health, that has a big impact on how successful you can be.
You have to look at your environment at work and at home. What does your support system look like?”
What are some preliminary steps that people can take on their own?
“Well, I usually recommend what I call the basic lifestyle guidelines: sunlight, water, movement (ideally 10,000 steps per day), and just taking your time with and chewing your food. Don’t even worry about working out unless you can take the time to pay attention to these guidelines. And just do something that you love, even for a little while, every day.
Entrepreneurs are in a culture where how much they can work is celebrated. But the balance of doing something you love and that relaxes you is really important. And it can go a long way to regulating your stress and improving your overall health.
You can’t hack your way around these guidelines. You have to build them into your lifestyle. But it all starts somewhere. What’s one thing that you can fit into your life right now? Whether that’s going outside and walking during part of your work day, or just incorporating more water, you can start building your way up today with just one small change.”