When my alarm goes off an hour before sunrise, I’m always deep asleep and never jump out of bed full of energy, ready to face the day.
But I get up, put on my workout gear, and drive to my personal trainer, Maddie, no matter how I feel.
I don’t because I have an iron will, a healthy diet and at least eight hours of sleep a night. I do it because I know that Maddie also woke up early and put her husband and young son to sleep to meet me in the dark and let me move my body. I’m her only customer at 6am and when I’m not there on time I’ve abandoned her, left her alone in the dark thinking what a lazy bastard I am and how much she’d like to go back want to be in bed now.
To avoid that guilt, I get out of bed at that time twice a week. It’s a life hack I use to make sure I get some exercise, and that I’m working much less often or going out late the night before at least two nights a week, much less likely to drink alcohol, and much more likely to die before 11 p.m. to go to bed.
Over the years, I’ve learned that external accountability (being accountable to Maddie, or my co-founder, or my board, or my son, or my Forever Girlfriend) helps me, if not on track, at least on a better path to stay. follow than I otherwise would be.
The exercise I wouldn’t otherwise do, and the changes in sleep, nutrition, and work/life balance that come from the need to be ready to exercise, help me be more resilient: I can tap into those reserves when needed.
When I’m part of a team, I try to work with my teammates to find the lifehacks that will help them become more resilient as well.
An important trait to develop is a growth mindset – believing that your abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort and learning, rather than being fixed traits. With a growth mindset, you and your team will be better able to deal with challenges and setbacks, and continue to learn and grow from your experiences.
Habits you need
The first habit to develop is to get comfortable with being awkward, because you are aware that you are not very good at this yet. Most of us come from the education system and after a few years of work experience, feel like a competent professional. But startups need a lot of skills from us that we haven’t developed yet, and experiences that we haven’t had yet. For you that might be software engineering and brand marketing – for me it’s always been financial management and sales process.
If I’m uncomfortable knowing I’m not good at what I’m doing, it’s because I’m developing a new skill, and by practicing that new skill I’m gaining important experience in that area. I may never be my startup’s in-house General Counsel, but a little knowledge of the law will help me work with lawyers, just as learning a little basic software development can help me become the software engineers I eventually need will have to brief and manage manpower. If I’m not comfortable, it’s not a sign that I should stop until I find someone to be my co-founder, it’s a sign that I’m learning to be a better founder.
Another important quality is self-awareness. This means being aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they can affect others. By being self-aware, you and your team can better manage your emotions, communicate effectively, and build stronger relationships.
Being open about what you learn by developing better self-awareness can help you figure out what areas you should be uncomfortable with next, and it can also help you become more coachable – a valuable trait when I look at you and your startup look with interest at your application to join an accelerator program, or possibly invest in your business.
In addition to developing these traits, there are also habits you and your team can adopt to build emotional and physical resilience. As I mentioned earlier, regular exercise is an important habit. Exercise improves mood, reduces stress and improves overall physical health. Encouraging your team to prioritize regular exercise can help support their emotional and physical resilience. The best way to do this is to lead by example and adjust processes and availability to free up space and time for them to practice.
Another important habit is regular self-care. This means taking care of your own physical, emotional and mental health. These can include activities such as getting enough sleep, eating well, practicing mindfulness, and making time for relaxation and fun.
Everyone’s self-care practices will be different, but telling yourself that bingeing a whole series while crushing a giant portion of junk food and then sleeping in until noon isn’t actually self-care. For me it’s playing a musical instrument, running or bodysurfing for a while. If I sleep better afterwards, longer, then it’s self-care. If I wake up exhausted, hungover, or not ready for the next day, I probably haven’t really practiced self-care.
By taking care of yourself and encouraging your team to do the same, you can better manage stress and maintain your emotional and physical well-being.
2 essential principles
In my own life and career, I’ve found that two principles are essential in cultivating my growth mindset and developing healthy physical and emotional self-care habits: finding someone to be accountable to and measuring statistics.
Getting in the habit of measuring and accounting for key metrics helps with my growth mindset, as most processes in my business are multi-stage and the ultimate goal may be weeks, months, or even a year away from where I am now. But I won’t get there unless I make progress every day. So if I consider only the achievement of my end goal as “success”, then knowing myself, I probably won’t have the determination to keep the process going for that long – I need something on a shorter time scale.
By measuring all the key metrics leading up to my ultimate goal, I can break down my startup’s “Everest campaign” of startup success into a series of “ridge-top climbs” that I can measure and for which I have a number of determine sub-goals. Maybe I could pay attention to how long it takes to lug gear and food from camp one to camp two, and since I have to do that ten or twenty times over the course of a climbing season, if I’m faster over time, that’s positive progress – something that I can use as motivation and inspiration.
Most of us can benefit from creating situations where we are accountable to someone, and we don’t want to let that person down. Break down a big project or long journey, such as learning a new skill, improving your fitness, increasing a round, or closing a first customer into a series of smaller “mountain climbs” that you repeat on a regular basis, and at a way to view your most important stats.
Report your stats to the person you’ve chosen to answer to, whether that’s your co-founder, your team, your spouse or life partner, your mother, your investors, or your board of directors.
A chain is only as weak as its weakest link and a team is only as strong as its least responsible team member, so once you’ve practiced healthy accountability, it’s time to share those habits with your team. Most people need regular reinforcement to develop a new habit, and most will respond best if given the opportunity to respond to both positive rewards and negative feedback because they fail to be held accountable or the reach baseline key metrics they agreed to .
I also believe that the weakest link never gets stronger on its own. The way to get the team member with the least responsibility in the performance of the rest of the team is to make the rest of the team responsible for getting them there. Don’t let anyone define themselves as “the person who always lets the rest of the team down”. Get the rest of the team working together to make sure that person becomes our inspiration, not our sea anchor.