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Why CEOs Run The World

Why CEOs Run The World

If there was a Runners Anonymous self-help group, a lot of the addicts would be CEOs. These days, running (or maybe endorphins) seems to be the drug of choice for CEOs. Why is that? And why am I following that stereotype? I hate to follow the crowd. Any crowd. I see myself as an unconventional thinker, a trailblazer. Yet, here I am fitting right into a stereotype and perfectly happy doing so.

Last Sunday morning, I ran 13.1 miles – effectively a half marathon, except this was on my own – around the coast of Manhattan and Brooklyn in 1 hour 35 minutes. Just for the fun of it! (Though I was also keen to try out my new Lululemon running gear) This was a new personal best and follows a pattern of me beating my personal best a half-dozen times per year for the past four years. At the age of 46, surely I should have peaked long ago, and now be gliding gently towards my rocking chair. But I’m still on the run.

Kansas City half Marathon
    CEO Ben Legg at 2016 Kansas City Half Marathon

    Always On The Run

    A little background: I have always been a runner of sorts.

    I started my career as a British Army officer, which involved running 2-3 times per week, along with all sorts of other exercise. I was fit. When I left the army in 1999 to enter the world of business (initially as a strategy consultant at McKinsey), I dropped that frequency to one run of six to eight miles every weekend. This was at an unmeasured pace – probably around nine minutes per mile – with my dogs tagging along. So I have never been unfit. However, through the next 13 years travelling the globe working in executive jobs at McKinsey, Coca-Cola, and Google around the world, I flatlined at that level. My assumption was, that over time, I would let my fitness slip gently.

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    So what happened to make me running obsessive, and fitter now than when I was in the army?

    I think the most likely explanation is becoming a CEO in 2012. CEOs make conference speeches and TV appearances more than others, and I am no exception. This leads to seeing your own picture a lot more often, and noticing yourself looking a bit chubby is a great motivator to become fitter. You also hear a lot about the link between fitness and being able to cope with stress. Getting some alone time is attractive too, given that your days are packed with back-to-back meetings.

    Therefore, since 2012, I have one-by-one initiated a number of actions that have each nudged me towards ever-increasing fitness:

    My own gym:

    I bought my own gym. I had often joined commercial gyms in the past and not gone to them. The time required to get there, work out, get home, get changed, etc. just seemed like too much. However, with a home gym, you dramatically reduce the unproductive admin time associated with working out, so you have no excuses but to do it. I now workout 3 times per week.

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    Running midweek:

    In 2012, I toured the U.S. with a colleague and he suggested running together for fun. So, I took my running kit and loved it. What better way to see the cities I visit for work than running around them at sunrise, when everyone else is asleep, the streets are empty, and the sun is just peeking over the horizon? I now run twice per week midweek, in addition to my weekend run.

    Half-marathons:

    Four years ago, I signed up to do my first half marathon in years and loved it. I wasn’t particularly happy with my time though, so I signed up to run around six half-marathons per year, in order to always have a “test” ahead of me, to prevent slacking off.

    Company health:

    When the insurance broker came to me a few years ago and said that our healthcare premiums would rise by $1,000 per person per year, even if we maintained the same level of claims as before – just due to industry cost inflation – I decided to try to fight it. I gave the HR department $300 per employee to get the organization fit and reduce the number of claims. They then set about giving out subsidized Fitbits, organizing fun health-related activities, and incentivizing health improvements that were based on twice yearly medical checks. Clearly, I needed to lead by example. We did avoid those health cost increases, and also had a lot of fun in the process.

    Fitbit:

    Clearly, this has been a major driver of fitness for many people. Since getting my first Fitbit, I have tracked my pace on every run and always strive to keep improving. Benchmarking my weekly steps vs my friends and colleagues is also highly motivating. Like other CEOs, I like to win, and certainly hate to be out of the top three in my friends’ league table (of about 80 people) so can’t have a single slack day. I now average around 120,000 steps per week – between running, walking, and working out.

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    Running tourism:

    Given my new habit of running midweek at sunrise, I started to try to find the perfect morning running route. I now scour Google Maps for every city that I travel to, looking for the best runs – based on views, architecture, history, serenity, and other factors. My current favorite is in San Francisco, taking an Uber to Sausalito just before sunrise, then running back over Golden Gate Bridge and along the Embarcadero. Awesome!

    Setting minimum standards:

    I have set myself several “bars” for acceptable running standards. These include:

    • Never running less than six miles per run.
    • Never running slower than a seven-and-a-half minute pace per mile.
    • Always overtaking at least 10 times more people than the number that overtakes me (to keep me in the top ten percent of runners).

    Calendar blocking:

    To ensure that I manage to fit exercise into my overloaded calendar, I pre-block my calendar with recurring entries – three runs and three workouts per week, at sunrise. That keeps the time free. If I need to schedule an early morning call, I move the calendar block to a different time in that day, to ensure I get my exercise.

    HelloFresh:

    Diet clearly plays a part too. I used to eat too many carb-heavy, rich meals. Then in 2015, I subscribed to HelloFresh, which now delivers three boxes of ingredients to my house every week, for me to cook awesome meals (clear instructions are provided). The service provides very healthy ingredients and sensible portions, and this has definitely led to a bit of weight loss, enabling even faster running times.

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    Tough Mudder:

    What a great invention! Running 12 miles with a bunch of friends – braving mud baths, monkey bars, razor wire, and electrocution – strikes me as a fine way to spend a Saturday morning. I have completed two this year and am planning many more.

    Featured photo credit: Kansas City Business Journal via bizjournals.com

    More by this author

    Ben Legg

    CEO of Adparlor

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    Published on January 17, 2020

    How to Learn Yoga (The Beginner’s Guide)

    How to Learn Yoga (The Beginner’s Guide)

    If you think yoga can be learned on the mat, you’re wrong! To learn yoga is to learn yourself, your life and the world around you, which happens mostly off the mat.

    Since 2000, I study, practice, teach and live yoga – I grow with it from year to year – hence life becomes more interesting and more meaningful from year to year, too. Through all these years, I observe the evolution of yoga in the western culture and see, how (mostly) wrongly, has been interpreted, taught and practiced. Little is known about how to learn yoga – about its practice, its effect and its application. Yoga is all about finding the simplicity and the meaning in the complexity of life.

    But when we look around us, it doesn’t seem so simple, even for those who practice it, and for the most who teach it. Everything about yoga begins in its definition from the original yogic scripture Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[1]

    And the value for how to learn yoga, is in this article – showing the value of the above definition and how to practice it in the simplest way, effectively and efficiently.

    What is Yoga?

    Yoga-Citta-Vrtti-Hirodhah — and its translation is: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations arising within consciousness.

    The 195 Sutras, that the original yoga scripture consists of, are written in a strongly compressed manner with the idea to deliver a profound meaning and a lot of space for interpretation. However, the interpreter must be highly serious and competent, otherwise the interpretation will drastically deviate from what the message conveys.

    When the definition about yoga is interpreted and applied the right way, it tells us how yoga is to be practiced and explored. To start the right way, we must know the right destination of yoga, which is Kaivalya:[2] The union between you, the other and the world.

    Let’s see how to do that:

    Beginning with the famous mainstream slogan “Union of Body, Mind and Soul”, brings up the question, “How to reunite the body, mind and soul?”

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    Your feelings – created by outside stimuli result in the creation of thoughts, hence there’s connection between your body and mind. That’s easy to understand, right?

    Now this connection and the thoughts must serve and improve the mind, making it capable to 1) understand the soul and 2) to unite it with the body and mind. That’s where our journey towards the goal of yoga (Samadhi) is interrupted – making the main part of the union not easy to understand, even less so to accomplish.

    Yoga is More Spiritual than Physical

    This is what makes yoga more spiritual than physical. To put it in numbers, yoga is 97% of psychological, philosophical and spiritual nature and only some 3% of physiological, considering that there are only seven out of 195 Sutras referring physiologically to sitting and breathing, of which I talked in my earlier post on Yoga For men.

    But before experiencing any spirituality from yoga, there is the mental (emotional) part that needs to be mastered and that part is to establish a connection between the body and mind. How?

    The simple thought and realization that you are conscious of how you feel within your body (cold, warm, relaxed, depressed, anxious, happy and so on), means that you have made the union between your body and mind. (below the step by step exercise for that).

    But to establish a connection to your soul – to the finest part of yourself – the Self:

    You must find out (through thinking) what is the subtlest thing that drives your body and mind – yourself as an individual and use that driver to go pass beyond your physicality and mentality.

    It is right here that you use the definition about yoga and the realization – the moment, where you are not analyzing any thoughts or feelings. This is a state of Yoga – a state of union between body, mind and soul, in which your consciousness has ceased to identify with its fluctuations.

    Yoga as Creativity and Expertise of the Individual

    In such a case, there is no specific (like beginners, intermediate or advanced) technique for learning yoga. The moment of the state of yoga arises for everyone of us in an individual way as everybody’s physique and mental content are different. You might be very well advanced in performing the most difficult asanas for decades but still unable and incompetent to be in a state of union with your body, mind and soul. Whereas, if you are a beginner and possess the grace and other virtues, than it’s easier and quicker to establish that connection.

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    As yoga is an inherent part of the human being, firstly, in order to pave the yoga path successfully and effectively, you must understand that yoga is not a technique for performance, but rather a creativity and expertise of yourself.

    Your learning process cannot be focused on, nor conditioned by a certain handbook, someone’s instructions or some specific school.

    Learning yoga requires your creativity to look within yourself and learn from yourself, become the expert of your feelings, emotions and desires. You, as a beginner might already possess many qualities and prerequisites for creating the union between your body, mind and soul, but your knowledge requires creativity for your growth to reach the state of union and then reap the fruits of that union. Once this happens there is no turning back – you’ll be pulled by the beauty and energy of your on being.

    Be Fast Mentally and Slow Physically

    As already mentioned, you don’t need to do physical performances like the split or the headstand to be able to immerse in a deep meditation or Samadhi. But you do need enough creativity for your self-inquiry.

    Many of my students start working directly with meditation – attending the complexities of the mind, because that’s where the hindrances lie. There, the meditator is able to work on the cessation of identifying with the fluctuations of the consciousness – where intelligence expands, adversity ends and the individual is ready to pass through its physicality and mentality in order to reach the union with the soul.

    But if you’re really a beginner and cannot start with that, then you can start enhancing your creativity on the body-mind level. The exercise follows in the next paragraph.

    The greater your creativity, the better your expertise about yourself – the deeper your competence to inquire further into the union with your soul. Sure enough that a more pliable and healthy physical body has some advantages and better preconditions for that, but don’t get discouraged because your body-mind union will open up the way.

    So here we are, you are at the moment to enhance your creativity upon that union. Please, take this as a very serious part of the practice as it is crucial for learning yoga – for learning yourself.

    The Beginner’s Exercise – Creativity upon Body-Mind Union

    The first and most important element to learn and practice yoga is of physiological and psychological nature: Stillness:

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    1. Make sure your body is still and comfortable.
    2. Focus on breathing to initiate observing.
    3. Observe your body and identify the first feeling that occurs to you.
    4. Keep identifying feelings and emotions, but without getting involved with them.
    5. Now create feelings and emotions as you please and let them go.

    That’s it! That’s the creativity upon the body-mind union. The validity of this creativity lies in the stillness and observance of that union. In this practice you can learn to understand and catch the moment – the main ingredient of life.

    Life is a sequence of moments and knowing that you’re able to manage that sequence is a new level of living life, called dharma – the practical and skillful way of living. An essential character develops as a result of practicing this discipline.

    However, be aware that we are still talking about outward elements of yoga – the gross levels (from Yama to Pratyahara) whereas the subtle, inward elements (Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi) are yet to be approached, learned and implemented. It is on these subtle levels that you can realize the depth of spirituality and the essence of yoga.

    It is remarkable how the science of yoga can take you in such heights and depths of exploring life and being. Little is known about the essence and the right practice of yoga in the west. There is a huge knowledge gap between how yoga should be learned and how it is practiced today in the west. You can bridge this gap by practicing the above exercise.

    Know that yoga is of a very subtle nature – operating on a subtle energetic level – the level of your mental energies, your thoughts. That means that it is to be learned at that level and not on any other. A body posture alone cannot take you to that level if you don’t apply your creativity and self-inquiry.

    Prerequisite for Yogic Success – Union between You and the Other

    Yoga is nothing, if our relationships with others are not managed harmonically.

    Learning yoga is also learning connecting with the other – with the stranger who’s not you but carries the same “core”, the same heart as you. We as individuals, possess the inborn feature of Ego – the “I-consciousness” that makes us feel separate from the rest of what makes the wholeness.

    This separation is the second of the the five “klesah” afflictions[3] – that stand as major hindrance against the union (Yoga) – called “asmita” or I-am-ness / Egoism (Y.S. II.6.), and has to be cultivated and brought to a level of discernment that will lessen our disturbance that comes out the fragmentation between the “I-am-ness” and the “Other-ness”.

    This is a crucial concept in Yoga and it is inevitable to be worked upon this hindrance in order to reach the inner “psychological” freedom or the ultimate liberation “Kaivalya” for which Yoga stands for. But, again, if you are beginner in this part, you want to know how to start dealing with all this. Here is the exercise:

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    1. Practice observance from the first exercise.
    2. Realize that the structure of your feelings, emotions, etc. is identical with the one of the other individuals.
    3. Practice witnessing, tolerating and gradually accepting the diversity between yourself and the other individuals.
    4. Observe for so long with equanimity, until you see the uniformity in that diversity.

    This is one of the greatest accomplishments a human being can achieve. To be, means, to be in relationship – internally, as well as externally.

    Yogic Lifestyle – Union Between You, The Other and The World

    Here comes the last piece of the puzzle – the union – on the highest level of worldly existence – between you, the other and the world. This means that Yoga is also worthless if practiced only on the mat. So when learning yoga, especially when practicing the body-mind union, consider if:

    You speak the language of nature and how you’re connected to nature and its basic elements? Do you complicate your existence by thinking that you are in the center of the world and require extra attention and acknowledgement?

    Thinking this way interferes with the practice of yoga. And surely, you might wonder, what should be done here in order to create that harmony in union? You’d be amazed to know that there is one important yogic movement that needs to be done. That is:

    The action of not doing anything but contemplating! Then yoga happens.

    Yes, this goes beyond the physicality and mentality of your being. As our bodies play just a tiny part of the evolution of existence, we must not attach to the world in that sense – clinging to worldly life with that insatiable urge that generates worries and anxiety – but rather grow through life with detachment and the attitude that life has been gifted to us with the purpose to realize that gift and attain the wisdom of life.

    Go Beyond Your Physicality and Mentality

    Attaining greatness like connecting to the world and to your soul, we must pass beyond the thoughts, feelings and emotions, and the influence they have on us. Hence we want to make the mental fluctuations to cease and let yoga shine its light through this yogic movement:

    The stillness and the watching within.

    Can yoga be understood and achieved in one single session and then practiced continuously, productively and effectively? Of course it can. Your union within yourself, the other and the world is lot simpler and easier than you think. Practice these simple yogic movements diligently, seriously but also effortlessly and your yoga will be flourishing and fruitful. I salute the spirit in you!

    More About Yoga

    Featured photo credit: Avrielle Suleiman via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
    [2] Wikipedia: Kaivalya
    [3] Plato Stanford: Klesah

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