The following is adapted from Life Profitability.
As the entrepreneur of a financially profitable business, you’re accustomed to nourishing the life-sucking beast that consumes every mental, emotional, and physical aspect of you with its voracious appetite. In reality, at what cost, are you doing this? Are you overfeeding your business beast while malnourishing the more critical and holistic aspect of the self?
That was the position I found myself in several years ago—tired, unfulfilled, and hungry for something more out of life. Thankfully, I realized the dysfunction in all this. I wasn’t happy, and everything around me was suffering.
Through deep self-reflection and honest foresight, I discovered five ways to execute my business in a way that nourished my whole life, including just enough to feed the beast.
One of the most significant space-creating habits I cultivated was carving out an hour a day for myself between five and six in the morning. For that hour, my only activities were those that helped me start my day in a positive way. I drank coffee, meditated for fifteen to twenty minutes, and read a book.
I was relatively guaranteed that the kids would not wake up before six on most days. Therefore, that time was generally the only hour in a day that I could truly carve out for myself.
Sticking to that routine allowed me to start my day in the calmest, most me-centric way possible, and not me in a selfish way. It was just me being me. I didn’t wear any hat, not dad or husband or entrepreneur. For that hour every day, I was present as my whole self without any distractions.
At first there was friction in starting a new habit. It’s difficult to create anything of such magnitude. But gradually, I experienced an evolution of my identity. Every day started with a good foundation. Soon after breaking the friction and settling in to this hour as a vital part of my day, I experienced a profoundly positive, life profitable effect. Nourishing habits tend to do that sort of thing.
Practicing mindfulness, which was the result of meditation, was a big part of the benefit from that profoundly positive, life profitable, one-hour routine. It gave me a way to address my anger, which, it turned out, was hyper-vigilance in disguise. You might be in the same state.
My brain was constantly on fire, always ready for fight or flight. The hyper-vigilance leaked into the way I related to other human beings, and it affected my most significant relationships, including my marriage and close friendships. My sensitivity to things that looked like red flags was off the charts.
Because I was burning out without realizing it, I became less ambitious and adventurous as an entrepreneur. I felt like I had to avoid all the small mistakes. For instance, I over-invested in control as a way of saving money, trying to avoid small expenditures. Yes, I needed to turn the business around when we hit some rough times, but in hindsight it was a penny wise, pound foolish approach.
I was gripping tightly to so many things in business that I paid a heavy price in my personal life. Even though, my company, Conversio, ultimately had a happy ending, I wonder if hyper-vigilance hadn’t clipped my wings—if it hadn’t dulled my ambition, my sense of adventure, my appetite for risk, and my ability to navigate unpredictability—could we have built something bigger and better? Hyper-vigilance focused me on the wrong things.
This is bound to happen when you have placed your center outside yourself and into the business where its survival begins to feel like life and death. In this state, there are no lived moments. Every moment is borrowed. You constantly scan for threats, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy, you find them.
Modern science is now showing that mindfulness (awareness of now), specifically with meditation at the center of its practice, can smooth the overused, rutted tracks in your brain from past trauma or conditioning. New tracks can emerge as new habits and thought patterns form. Being mindful of the present, not being pulled forward into “What’s next?” begins to decentralize business and shift it toward its rightful place in your life.
In my meditation practice, I focus on the sensation of breath going into and out of my body. This concentration has taught me how to be present in the moment. It allows me to catch feelings before I react to them. If you’re suffering from the constant fight or flight mode that I was in, I suggest finding a resource—a book, lecture, website, or audiobook—on mindfulness or meditation to get you started on something that could have a profoundly positive effect on your life profitability.
After my morning meditation, journaling became a powerful therapeutic counterpart.
Because I am already primed to be open to the moment, my writing more readily reflects the insights that were yielded during my focused breathing. Meanwhile, my deepest values standby ready to give meaning.
As ink flows onto paper, I find all these thoughts—to-dos, issues, challenges, problems solved—leave my mind. I feel peace, comfort, and security knowing that all of it has now been transferred to a piece of paper.
If you start journaling, you’ll notice these notes also start to capture the trends of moods or issues you might not pay attention to while living your busy life. If you see in the span of a month that the majority of your entries mention depression or anxiety, pay attention and do something about it.
Reading between the lines, you can also start seeing issues and concepts that you’ve been wrestling with or exploring without even knowing it. You can then examine the reasons such things are relevant and important to you. Ask yourself “why” questions: Why does this keep coming up? Why does it make me feel the way it does? Why now?
Another valuable life profitable practice is to recognize trip wires.
As I was selling my share of my first company, WooThemes, and before starting Conversio, I dabbled with a new business called PublicBeta. At the time, I hadn’t developed any of the vocabulary that I use now to analyze what was happening inside me. But something was definitely wrong.
A team member asked me something simple, like “What color should this button on the website be?”
I couldn’t answer. Instead, I felt completely overwhelmed, tired, and angry. At the time, I called it decision fatigue. Now, I understand there was something much more troubling taking place: I was burning out.
Nowadays, I don’t wait for things to get so bad that I can’t answer simple questions like that. As soon as I am short with anyone, whether in business or with my family or others, I know that a wire has been tripped, sounding an alarm that I need to investigate.
Irritability, loss of pleasure, waking up and still being tired—these are common to overworked “out of body” entrepreneurs. It’s tempting to think you’re not coping well enough, as if you’re showing weakness. The reality is that you’re just experiencing symptoms. Recognize the alarm sounding from the trip wire. Have you been taking the time to nourish yourself? Have you had enough regular downtime?
When I’ve tripped a wire, I read, write, meditate, or most often, go for a run. You need an escape, something to move you to a new mental space.
These self-feeding, constructive activities—writing, reading, running—are “good distractions.” Far from pulling you dangerously out of the orbit of business, they benefit the business by helping you. For instance, 2016 was probably the best calendar year I experienced in business. It was also the year that I trained to run a marathon for the first time.
I set myself an ambitious goal to run a sub-four-hour marathon. I ran thirty to forty miles every week, putting in six to seven hours on the road. Before each run, there was prep time; after each run, there was recovery time. I practiced strength training and Pilates, and had regular sessions with a physiotherapist.
From where you sit, struggling to take significant time away from your business, might strike you as counter-productive. But that “good distraction” meant my business wasn’t the only outlet for my drive and ambition. As a result, my performance in business actually improved.
Thanks to all that running, I spent 2016 tired. Some days I just didn’t have the energy to put in extra work hours. Because I worked less, I let things fall off my radar instead of trying to do it all myself. It turned out that even if I didn’t rev my engine for every little thing, the business still thrived.
It takes time to shift your instincts as an entrepreneur to do every task, communicate every message, and solve every problem. That’s not something that comes naturally to someone who likes to blaze their own trail, as you likely do. The problem is that the trail you continue to blaze will eventually set a five-alarm fire to your soul.
You need to know when to slow down, set up a respite site, and refuel. You’ve just read about 5 ways to do that, but it’s likely that there are many more you could explore. Start by trying 1 or 2 ways to change your life from always thinking about business to giving it the proper priority, which is one aspect of many in your life. Then, you will have begun the process of living profitably.