The Art of the WordPress Startup: Part 5

Founder Fitness

This post is part 5 of a series on how to launch your startup on WordPress. Last time I talked figuring out how much your startup should spend on marketing. Today’s post is on a much different topic, and one that’s hardly ever talked about in the busy startup world; the connection between the body and mind.

The Mind-Body Connection

Over the past 20 years much research has been done demonstrating that our mental health can affect our physical health. There are well documented studies showing heart disease for example is affected by a number of psychological (mental) factors. On the flip side, treatments that are primarily psychological such as relaxation, meditation, and visual imagery have been demonstrated to help with things such as easing symptoms of disease, managing arthritis, and even chronic long term pain. So if having great mental health can prevent and treat physical ailments, what can physical health do for your brain? Well, quite a bit.

Gym Rats Make Great Hackers

Sounds ridiculous right? But it’s the truth. Whether you’re doing traditional hacking, growth hacking, or hacking your way to chess grandmaster, being in great physical shape will improve your mental edge. Let’s take one notable example. The inspiration for this post came while watching 60 Minutes the other night. They had a segment on Magnus Carlsen, oftentimes referred to as the best chess player of all time (he recently beat Bill Gates in 9 moves at just over 1 minute).

He mentioned that being in top physical shape was the only way he could concentrate for hours and hours on end, in order to avoid “psychological lapses”. By being able to concentrate over longer periods of time, it enables him to maintain high standards of play over extremely long games and even at the end of tournaments, while energy levels of his competition have plummeted. So while his competitors are spending all day at the chess board, he’s hitting the gym, and beating them because of it and not in spite of it.

Playing chess at a high level involves a lot of the same mental tasks required of creating and running a company. Whether it’s planning, memory, focus, or probably most important… mental endurance, they all benefit you as a startup founder and hence your company’s performance. You don’t have to start bodybuilding and drinking protein shakes all day, but doing 30 to 60 minutes of any type of exercise (particularly aerobic) will improve your mental performance.

Jeff Bezos and Marissa Mayer Hit the Gym

Your first thought is likely “but i don’t have time to exercise”. That’s just an excuse. How do I know? Because both Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) and Marissa Mayer (CEO turning around Yahoo) likely have a lot more on their plate than you and they still find time to get a workout in. Think of all the lines of business Amazon is in, and how complicated running a company of $75B in revenue and 100,000+ employees is. Think of how much work it would take to turn Yahoo around. I get nautious just thinking about that one. Yet both of these busy world-traveling CEOs understand what many people don’t. That even though exercising takes up maybe 3-6 hours a week, you actually get more done than if you hadn’t exercised. Mayer regularly runs marathons and Bezos is in such great shape that some speculate he’s nearly fit enough to be an astronaut.

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Output is What Matters

It’s easy to forget that all that matters is output. Here are two examples illustrating this fact.

When I worked in-house at a subsidiary of the world’s largest advertising agency WPP, I noticed that some people barely did any work at all. In the 8-10 hours they might have been at their desk they might have gotten 3-4 hours of actual work done. Whether it was sitting on Facebook or gossiping with colleagues by the water cooler, there were endless ways for people to kill time and yet senior executives were never worried about how much people were getting done. These employees were “in the office” and hence “must be working” in their mind. It was always the people who “worked remote” that they assumed were slacking off or not putting in a full day. However, those people were often getting more done because they didn’t have any distractions and because they felt they had to prove they weren’t out windsurfing. So the perception was actually the opposite of the truth.

You might assume that by spending 3-6 hours a week exercising that you’ll get the same amount of work done you do now, but minus 3-6 hours worth. So if you’re putting in 50 hour weeks you’ll end up with something like 44-47 hours of output. However, research has shown that isn’t the case. In fact, your output will likely be higher than the 50 hours you’re currently working, even though you’re only working 44-47 physical hours. Sounds too good to be true, right?

It isn’t. From politics to religion to UI/UX we often talk about many topics, have opinions, and worse yet, make decisions that are based on zero facts and make no sense at all. It’s important to start making decisions purely based on real research. That means ignoring what the commercial for that new GNC supplement tells you it’s going to do, or that X is true because Y told you so or you read it on some random’s blog created with Ghost.

Wikipedia has an entire article (with citations of real research) explaining all the benefits that physical exercise has on memory alone (more RAM in your brain means more money for your startup), and that’s just one aspect. You can improve your spatial memory, ability to learn new information, consolidation (converting memories from short to long term), and even retrieval. In addition, a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine by professors at Stockholm University showed that employees got more work done even while putting in less hours, due to the additional efficiency achieved by being in better physical shape.

So instead of sitting at that laptop for 12 hours a day with 2 of them down the drain due to “spacing out”, carve out an hour a day to do some exercise (preferably aerobic if you’re seeking mental benefits) and start spending 10 hours (takes time to shower and change) on there actually doing work. And even if you measure your output and it’s only the exact same as before, at least you’ll decrease your chance of Alzheimer’s, live healthier, and you know, won’t die as early. That’s kind of important too.

Full Series — Click here to see all articles in this series.