There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur, but it still takes a kind of single-minded focus that cause you to neglect other important aspects of your life. To some extent this is necessary. No one can focus on everything at once, and it would be foolish to try to.
But your health is too important to neglect.
This article is my attempt to give you a usable 80/20 analysis of the few activities that have the biggest results in bringing you toward better Health. The 20% of activities that will give you 80% of the results.
There are four main areas that I focus on, and for each one I list one to three practices that you can incorporate into your routine, starting with the one that will make the biggest impact.
I have entrepreneurs in mind when I wrote this post, but it would be a good idea to share it with anyone that needs some simple steps to add to their routine that will make a big difference in their health.
Fix Your Diet
Let’s not beat around the bush here, Americans are fat and sick. If you aren’t now, you almost certainly will be later. The western Diet that runs on industrialized processed food is a big part of this.
I always knew that I had a terrible diet, but until it caught up with my in my early 20’s, I never thought it was something to worry about. I was always the “skinny kid” growing up. Some kids in middle school would wear t-shirts to the pool because they were embarrassed about how much they weighed, I wore a t-shirt because I was embarrassed that you could see my ribs.
My weight gain was slow in my 20’s and I didn’t notice at first, but soon I couldn’t recognize myself in pictures. I ended up losing over 30 pounds with the Slow-Carb Diet that Tim Ferriss recommends in The 4-Hour Body, and I’ve kept the weight off for more than a year.
If you don’t want to go on a formal diet, here are the biggest bang for your buck tips for improving your diet:
1) Eat whatever you want, as long as you cook it “yourself”
Before you jump on me for tricking you by springing a hopelessly difficult task on you and start giving me a lecture about the productivity gains of outsourcing, let me explain.
What this rule is really getting at is that you shouldn’t be eating processed or fast food. The reason it is phrased in terms of “cooking” is to give you the image that your food should be made in a kitchen with real ingredients, not in a lab with unpronounceable ingredients, some of which were formerly food.
Someone else can cook it, but it has to be freshly made from ingredients that would have been recognized as food before the industrial age.
For all the health scares around Chipotle, it is delicious, nutritious, and one of the healthiest options out there. If you order extra of every free ingredient (beans, fajita veggies, salsa, etc), you can stretch it to two meals, even if you have a big appetite. Here’s my can’t-miss order at Chipotle:
A burrito bowl with: black beans, fajita veggies, steak, mild salsa, medium salsa, cheese, sour cream, guac, and lettuce
2) Avoid these three ingredients: Sugar, Flour, and Vegetable Oil
By following the first rule, you should go a long way toward getting rid of these things from your diet, but you also need to try to find recipes that exclude them.
Sugar, flour, and vegetable oil are all bad news for the same core reason: they are heavily refined or processed foods. These guys are the primary culprit behind many of the “diseases of civilization” such as heart disease and alzheimers, and they carry a lot of the blame for the obesity epidemic.
There’s really no way around the fact that sugar and flour make you fat. If you believe the carbohydrate hypothesis (like I do), then there are specific biologic mechanisms where refined carbohydrates cause your body to store fat. But even if you believe in the energy-balance hypothesis that they type of calorie doesn’t matter and only the amount, there is absolutely no denying that sugar and flour are the ingredients that cause you to eat more. Adopting a low carb, high fat diet is an almost guaranteed way to slash your calories without ever feeling hungry.
Now, I get it, sugar and flour are really tasty and you’re going to want to eat them from time to time.
The key is to have them as a rare treat, not a diet staple.
I plan my meals to avoid sugar and flour, but on my unrestricted cheat day, anything goes. Pass the donuts and cookies.
3) Eat as much of these things as you want: vegetables, seafood, meat, dairy, eggs, butter, nuts, seeds, legumes
You should especially prioritize leafy vegetables, eggs, and quality meat (yes, even red meat).
The most bizarre turn ever taken by nutrition science was the quest against fat, and eventually, against saturated fat. There is no reason to avoid red meat, but not all red meat is created equal. There’s a spectrum of quality with a hot dog on one end and pasture-raised grass-fed filet mignon on the other.
Hint: you don’t want to be on the end with the hot dog.
If you want to stay away from meat due to the costs or the environmental concerns, eggs are a great option that are just as nutritious.
You’ll notice that I didn’t list fruits and rice. I think that you could include those foods for many people (I’ve added them back into my diet), but if you need to lose a lot of weight I recommend leaving them out. I think that most people who need to lose weight will do best on a low carb diet, but I recognize that about 20% of people will do best on a very low-fat diet resembling a vegetarian or vegan diet. There’s no way to know what works best for you without some experimentation.
Get Some Sleep
Just like you probably eat every day, you probably sleep every day as well. Eating and sleeping are also the only two things on this list that are urgently critical to survival.
There are a million different tips and trick out there such as eliminating light from your bedroom, not using any screens 30 minutes before bedtime, etc.
Those are all great and I recommend that you implement as many of them as you can. But the first thing that you need to work on, the one that will have the greatest effect, is to get your sleep schedule right.
In other words, the best thing you can do to improve your sleep is to settle on a time to go to bed and a time to wake up that give you enough sleep and to stick with them consistently.
I recommend shooting for either seven and a half or eight hours.
For me, bedtime is 9:30 pm and I wake up at 5:30 am. I use the “Seinfeld Method” to keep myself motivated. The story goes that an aspiring comedian once asked Jerry Seinfeld how to become a successful stand-up comic and Jerry told him to get a calendar and a red sharpie and put a red X on every day he writes a new joke. Seeing a streak forming is powerful motivation to not break the streak.
I put a red X on my calendar every day that I wake up at 5:30 without hitting snooze (I’m writing this on April 14 and there are only four days missing the red X so far this year…)
Move Your Body
I’m a huge fan of exercise in general, but the biggest bang for your buck here doesn’t really even look like exercise. When it comes to your health, the best thing you can do is to spend a solid 30 minutes walking every day. This video does a nice job explaining the benefits:
The really nice thing about going on a walk is that you can use it to multi-task. Here are the top three things that I do while I’m walking:
- Listening to an audiobook or podcast
- Networking by calling someone or having a walking buddy
- “Unplugging” to think and let my mind wander (hint: this is more productive than anyone gives it credit for)
Most of the time I do this right after lunch.
Prioritize your MENTAL HEALTH
People often forget this component of health, but any ambitious person should be watching their mental health like a hawk.
Here are the big areas to focus on:
1) Invest in your deepest relationships
Humans are inherently social creatures and we thrive most when we have deep relationships that both people are mutually investing in.
Entrepreneurship takes your focus to things such as ideas, execution, and productivity. You need to make sure that you are making time for the messy process of building relationships.
2) Give your mind time to wander
Your brain essentially has two modes: “focus mode” and “diffuse mode.” Focus mode is like a bowling alley with bumpers. Your thoughts are locked in and working toward the specific problem of knocking down the pins. Diffuse mode is like a pinball machine, there’s a lot of room for your thoughts to bounce around and make unexpected connection.
Focus mode is obviously what you want to be in when you are knocking out your to-do list, but it is a taxing state to be in. Letting your mind wander is critical to recovering from an intense bout of focus mode. It is also essential for creativity and having “eureka” moments.
Your mind is most effective when it switching between alternating chunks of focus and diffuse mode.
To do make sure you are really letting your mind wander, you need to put your phone away. According to Sherry Turkle in her book Reclaiming Conversation, your mind is most productive when there is no demand for it to be reactive
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3) Develop a gratitude practice
I’m going to guess that you devote at least one specific task every single day to your dental hygiene (brushing your teeth), how many specific activities do you have in place to promote mental hygiene?
Well, here comes your specific practice. Every day, write down (by hand) three things that you are grateful for.
For entrepreneurs, I recommend listing one thing from each of these categories:
One thing that is a gift that you don’t deserve (your parents, your beating heart, etc)
One accomplishment that you are proud of and can build off of
One opportunity in front of you that gives you hope that the future will be better than the present
This post is far from being the final word on good health. My hope is that it inspires busy people to work small changes that make a big difference into their lives. Implement as much of it as you can, and you can enjoy a happier, healthier life with minimal effort.
Your Next Move
If your serious about chasing your dreams, you need an unbeatable system to keep you consistent over time. Take enough steps forward and you’ll get where you want to go.
With that in mind, I wrote The Ultimate Daily Checklist: 13 Steps to Winning the Day.
Get it free here: http://thematthewkent.com/the-ultimate-daily-checklist/
Don’t Let Entrepreneurship Kill Your Health was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.