Sunset by F.M. on flickr

Imagine two people starting identical companies with the exact same resources, network, and time at their disposal (gender randomly assigned for brevity’s sake):

  • Person #1 wakes up every day with anxiety, stressed about his mounting to-do list. He immediately buries himself in reactive work — striving to please everyone else but himself by responding to emails, taking meetings and delivering what others ask of him. He gets whipped around by his moods — one minute he’s happy and excited, the next he’s tired, anxious, unmotivated and depressed. His productivity on any given day is completely unpredictable — sometimes he wakes up excited to work, and on other days you couldn’t pry him off the couch with a forklift.
  • Person #2 starts her days with purpose. No matter what her mood is upon waking up, she laces up her running shoes and gets her blood pumping with a 20-minute run. She uses that time outside to reflect and plan her day, and the resulting endorphins and morning shower give her energy to launch into her best work. She works diligently on her most important projects first, while she’s feeling sharp and creative. She takes a break in the afternoon by heading to yoga class, which centers and grounds her. By the time she attacks her inbox in the afternoon she already feels accomplished — the emails no longer assault her plans, they support them. Person #2 ends the day feeling calm, happy, confident and empowered.

Both of these people are me.

I quit my job at Google two months ago to pursue my passion as an author, speaker and coach, and during my first month of solopreneurship I was Person #1.

I wasn’t running my business, my business was running me. And as 100% of the company, the opportunity costs of operating at half-mast were extremely high.

I knew I had hit a low when I ordered Panda Express and a King-Size Snickers bar on my way home from the airport after a speaking engagement in June. I felt lethargic, unhappy and mad at myself. Where was my discipline and self-respect when I was wanting it most? So I resolved to make a change.

Within three weeks, I became Person #2 — and it didn’t cost a cent. It didn’t have anything to do with sales, marketing, productivity or inbox management. It had to do with me.

I resolved to put my health first.

I started a three-week cleanse where I completely eliminated caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol, wheat, dairy and red meat from my diet. I committed to going for a 20-minute run first thing in the morning, which is just short enough to be manageable — it’s hard to make the excuse that you don’t have time to run 10 minutes out the front door and 10 minutes back. Finally, I bought an unlimited yoga pass and committed to going a minimum of two times a week; it was so rejuvenating that I ended up going closer to 4-5 times per week.

During the first three days, I had complete monkey-mind — craving coffee, sugar and TV like the addict I was — unable to focus because I was thinking about them every five minutes. But on the fourth day and every day thereafter, I started noticing something incredible.

I felt clear-headed. Creative. Confident. Energized. Productive. HAPPY.

I was getting more done in one week than I had completed in one month. I was no longer experiencing crazy mood swings or unproductive days. I started sleeping like a rock. I was in a great mood, glowing and energetic at conferences and razor sharp during my coaching and speaking engagements. I was on a roll and I stayed there.

I used to scoff at the countless magazines that preach healthy eating and exercise — get over yourself! Until I experienced, firsthand, the insanely powerful impact it had on my business’s bottom line (not to mention my actual bottom, which now fits nicely back into my best jeans).

How to grow your business, a big goal, or improve your life by putting your body first:

  • Start with four-day wins. This is a concept I learned from Martha Beck, who wrote the book The Four Day Win. That book forever changed how I think about diet and exercise — Beck emphasises tackling one thing at a time, for four days at a time. That’s it! Start with something ridiculously easy and build up confidence and momentum over time.
  • Organize your days around healthy eating and exercise. No matter how much you resist this, thinking “But I don’t have time!” try it. If you try this for one week and don’t see business results, then ignore me. But at least give your body the chance to speak for itself.
  • Track your progress and engage friends. I started this health challenge on my own, but quickly realized it would be more fun with friends, so I created a template that we could all track our progress on (feel free to use it too!). At the end of each week, I emailed the group four questions: How do you feel this week? What are you proud of? What challenges did you face? And what do you want to focus on next week?
  • Optimize for your best energy windows. This is generally common knowledge, but as long as you’re putting your body first, make sure you put your best work first too. Start your days with your most creative, important tasks, and everything will seem easy after that. My favorite book on this subject is Eat that Frog, by Brian Tracy.

You don’t have to do a crazy cleanse like I did (though I highly recommend Dr. Alejandro Junger’s Clean Program if you are interested); see what experiments you can run in your own life that work for YOU.

Now that I’m in maintenance mode I’m adding some coffee back in (can’t skip those deliciously foamy lattes forever!) and one cheat day per week, borrowing from Tim Ferris’ Slow Carb Diet. I’ve lost almost 15 pounds without even trying — a very welcome side effect of eating in a way that facilitates my best work.

Other books that you might find helpful and motivating:

Just as a business has start-up costs, so does making major health and lifestyle changes. The first few days might feel agonizingly difficult, but the rewards on the other side are absolutely worth it.

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