A test of physical and mental endurance and its lessons apply far beyond the trail.
I’ve run countless ultramarathons. There’s a great phrase out there in the ultrarunning world: It never gets easier, you just get better.
And it didn’t take long for it to hit me. Ultrarunning is very similar to what it’s like running a business. It requires preparation and a great deal of time and patience.
Everyone who has done an ultra-endurance event knows their mentality must change to block out the pain, discomfort, confusion and fatigue in order to keep pushing forward. At times, every voice in your head (yes, you will hear them), every fiber of your being, and nearly everyone you know will advise you to stop. The experience becomes a battle between common sense and ambition.
Losing a sense of what is rational and losing sight of the ability to reason are inevitabilities. You enter survival mode and, eventually, your inner caveman (or cavewoman) will beat its primal club against your ribcage and take over.
If you run far and look hard enough, you will find the answers to questions that have long proved elusive-and the same is true in the world of business. This test of endurance required me to leave a part of myself splayed out on the trail, mentally and physically exhausted-and to find meaning and learn some new things along the way. Here are the biggest lessons I took away.
1) Have a slice of humble pie.
Look, there is no way to fake your way through a 100-mile foot race-in the snow. In fact, a good dose of humility goes a long way. Ultrarunning is humbling; many of us don’t always get to be broken down to our barest selves. Exposing our weaknesses, confronting our fears and demons-these are obstacles that lurk behind every corner on the desolate trail of a race or in the world of business.
The ability to be broken down to our core is required to help us be better business people, raise better families, and be a better overall version of ourselves both personally and professionally.
2) Meditation is a state of being as well as a state of mind.
Ultrarunning in subzero temperatures takes the mind to weird places. So does running a company or being involved in the world of business. We experience this stripping-away process on these long runs or journeys-it’s a meditative state. The body is going to listen to what the mind tells it to do.
To be successful, you must get in tune with your current feelings. Are you nervous, angry, indifferent, or excited? Establish a no-judgment headspace and begin breathing exercises-deliberate breaths that establish a sense of rhythm and cadence. Meditative states help increase your awareness and force you to develop a mantra by which you operate. Asking yourself, “What is my purpose?” and using the power of the mind-body connection to find that purpose is essential. Good, meditative breaths sync with the steps that ultimately take us across the finish line.
3) Focus on the next step … and then the next one after that.
In business, common mistakes occur when your brain is cluttered, when ego is driving decisions, and when you’re not focused on the important goal. During the course of running an ultramarathon or running a business, you learn a few things about chasing down your ego, harnessing it and, if necessary, killing your ego for your own betterment.
Ultrarunning is cathartic-it helps unclutter your life, focuses energy on only tasks that will help, and separates confidence from cockiness. You become extremely clear during this process. You get very focused on the long- and short-range goals. Step-by-step turns into mile-by-mile and seeing the tasks that lay before us is an essential part of the process, one that must happen before we can even think about arriving at the finish line.
4) Persevere or perish.
Running 100 miles is challenging, to say the least. Running 100 miles in freezing conditions is downright insane. It’s not too different from running a company: It can be damn cold, you’re going to get really tired, and there’s a chance of starvation. There will be times when fatigue will become a reality of life, when eating is a luxury, and when you second-guess your will to persist. The experience is primal-but this lesson teaches us to persevere or perish. The sun will still rise whether you’re there to see it or not.
5) Imagine the finish line.
Every race requires a plan. The same applies to running a company. Without a plan, you truly have no business being in business. You must have a really good reason to be doing what you’re doing. To overcome obstacles-and there will be many-you have to do what others have tried and failed at, what others have not considered. You will have to suffer more and for longer than your competitors.
Locate your True North-the true guiding principle. Without this, we’re navigating without a compass. Leaders and winners find their True North to guide them in the right direction, to be that sense of purpose that motivates us to push on.
As you seek out that finish line, whatever it might be, there will be times you want to quit. For weeks, months, or even years, you will feel a sense of desperation and doubt-and that’s the real race, the one in which you truly find out if you’re cut out for the task. Ultra-endurance events and business force us to sink or swim. Honestly, I think at the end of the day, running a business is exponentially tougher than any endurance event.
This post originally appeared on Inc, reprinted here with permission.
Photo Credit: Getty
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