I’ve never been a huge fan of exercise. It’s only fun if you’re playing a sport, and I’m not the most coordinated guy. I can’t even pull off a friendly fist-bump if I’m walking while I make the attempt.
Imagine how that would translate on a basketball court.
I used to get fired up about exercise all the time. I’d think, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to start lifting weights!” And I would follow through, too — for about a week.
Problem was, mornings and evenings were out for me. I’m constitutionally incapable of exercising at 5 a.m., and I’ve got a wife and six energetic daughters who’ve called dibs on my evenings.
Our Amazing Brains
Things turned around when I read a book called Brain Rules. In it, developmental molecular biologist John Medina discusses 12 discoveries in brain science that have profound ramifications for our happiness as human beings.
The one that really stood out to me was that exercise helps your thinking. Your brain has characteristics like a muscle — the quicker your body, the stronger your heart, the quicker and stronger your brain.
There are limits, of course. Jogging isn’t going to turn you into Einstein. But whatever your baseline intelligence is, jogging will improve it.
It occurred to me: If you can’t do mornings and evenings, why not exercise during the day? What if you made working out part of, you know, work?
Working It Out
We entrepreneurs spend our days in a hypercompetitive, cutthroat environment. We require every piston to be firing at maximum capacity just to stay even, much less get ahead.
My company wants me to be smarter. My company needs me to be smarter. The same can be said for small businesses and small business owners across the land.
Problem is, we often feel guilty if we’re not sitting behind our desk. We’re stuck inside a tight little box that says: “If it doesn’t look like what we traditionally call ‘work,’ it isn’t work.
But if a 20-minute phone call was all it took to improve the Internet speed in your office, you’d make that call. You wouldn’t consider the time you spent on hold as wasted. If a 20-minute jog will do the same thing for your brain, putting on your running shoes is a no-brainer.
It’s easy to talk about self-improvement, however. It’s a whole other ballgame to actually improve. Here are four steps to sticking to your goal to keep in shape.
1. Take it personally.
After reading Brain Rules, I thought: “I knew my body was out of shape, but my brain?” I found it a little offensive. I considered myself a fairly smart guy in some ways, but now I realized that I had all this room to grow in an area I already felt confident about.
It was an uncomfortable feeling, and I took it as a challenge. Be honest with yourself. Are you really operating at your highest potential? If not, why not?
2. Find your motivation.
If working out makes you a better entrepreneur, it’s easier to get past the guilt and rationalize doing it during the workday.
Add that motivation to others. Exercise for the sake of being a better parent. Exercise for the sake of being a better spouse. Find the motivation that means the most to you, and keep it in front of you.
3. Fight through the despair.
It can be humbling to learn that there’s so much room to grow. But it can also be seen as good news, because life is boring in the absence of new challenges to conquer.
Seeing it as good news leads to excitement, and this is the emotion that carries most people into the gym when they first resolve to start going.
Almost inevitably, however, the other shoe drops, and despair sets in. This is the emotion that carries most people right back out of the gym, never to return.
Watch for it. If you know it’s coming, it’s easier to fight through it until excitement makes another appearance.
4. Plan ahead.
If you’re on the road, make sure your hotel has a gym. The same goes for vacations. If you simply can’t get to a bench press or a treadmill, do push-ups by your desk. Stretch. Take a walking meeting. Jog. Ride a bike to the office.
If you can’t find the motivation to work out while sitting at home on a Saturday, what’s the likelihood that you’ll do so on a busy workday unless you systematically schedule it.
Once I found the motivation to work out, my life improved dramatically. I became a better employer, a better leader, a better human being. Take it from someone who can’t dribble a basketball:
The same thing can happen to you.
This article originally appeared on Inc.