Ill-prepared, under-trained, yet mentally ready. This was the state I entered Dublin marathon in last weekend. Physically I had not trained for running the 26.2 mile monster. I had barely run 10k in preparation for the big day. But all this goes out the window when you are standing before the ribbon awaiting one of life’s ultimate tests of endurance.

Sport like business is as much about mental performance as well as physical, perhaps even more. Running a marathon I have learned carries parallels with running a business. They are both high pressure environments that can be incredibly taxing from both a physical and mental perspective. Many say you are mental signing up for a marathon. More say you are mental setting up a business. I have done both. So I guess you could say I got a double dose of crazy. Joking aside, they are both heavily reliant on you mental game.

I have discovered 5 key mental skills that can open the door of success in 1 or both arenas.

1. Optimism[spacer height=”20px”]

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right” – Henry Ford

Success in any discipline is inextricably linked to a positive mind-set. As the saying exalts “An optimist sees the glass as half full while the pessimist sees it as half empty”. Mentally approaching Dublin marathon there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that come the end of the day, I would have a medal caressing my neck.  The only issue was my finishing time (which I was determined to achieve my best).

I had completed 1 marathon before in Limerick finishing in 4:09, which I entered on a whim 2 weeks before the event. I was determined to beat this time which I knew wouldn’t be easy. It was necessary mentally to break the challenge in two. The first test was to get to the halfway line in less than 2 hours and then take it from there. I dreamed of finishing in under 4 hours overall but I did not put too much pressure on myself to do this.

Instead I just focused on enjoying it. How applicable is this to business?! If you stop just focusing on the end goal and the achievement, be it money or a finishing time, then you find it does take a load of your shoulders. What results is you usually do well at whatever you do as you enjoy the process. The back and mind feels lighter without the burden of self imposed expectation and pressure to perform.

In the days leading up to the marathon, I engaged in nothing but positive self-talk. Come race day I stood before the line with nervous excitement percolating through my veins rather than apprehension at the prospect of this 26 mile obstacle in front of me.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have a beautiful phrase “Fail fast”. This is where the expectation is that your first product will fail. So the goal is to fail as cheaply and quickly as possible so you can learn what works and what doesn’t work. Failure should never be feared in business or life.

2. Self-Motivation

There are 3 types of motivation – passive, external and internal. Passive is where you just sit and wait for inspiration to hit you. Wait till you feel like doing it. External is motivating yourself with the thought of reward on completion of the task - money or otherwise. It can also be encapsulated by needing someone else to motivate and push you. Internal motivation is pivotal for your success in whatever capacity. You must be able to light your own fire. Float your own boat. Everything is within your control if you learn to control your mind.

Creating goals can help with internal motivation. We all need something to strive for. Prior to the beginning of the marathon, I went up to the spot for those seeking to finish in 3hrs 50 mins. It was brave considering I had not put in the training to expect such an outcome. But ignorance can sometimes be a virtue. It is the people who often don’t accept their limitations, are the ones who breeze past them. It was risky as I could very possibly gas out if I couldn’t keep up to this pace. This could result in injury or physical inability to finish the marathon. But I was determined to run a sub 4 hour marathon. In the end I finished in 3hrs 59 mins. Mission accomplished by the skin of my teeth.

To run a business, self-motivation is also a prerequisite. You need a plan with both short term and long term goals. You need to know where you are going. When you own your own business you must also be knowledgeable across a wide variety of areas. This requires the motivation to learn new skills and seek fresh information.

3. Emotional Regulation

We all need to be able to keep our emotions in check. Whether on the race track, the operating theater or in the board room, a calm head is the most desirable mental state. A marathon can be an emotional roller-coaster. Getting too ahead of yourself or down on yourself can lead to problems.

At mile 20 I thought it was going smoothly. It seemed too easy. I was going to beak a sub 4 hour marathon without killing myself. Or so I thought, until I looked behind me. It was there I saw the red balloon of the 4 hour runner marker, if I finished behind him it would mean I finished after 4 hours. He was breathing down my neck and by mile 21 overtook me. I was crushed. I tried to remain unemotional but it was a sickening feeling to know I was so close and yet didn’t seem to have the legs to see it through and claim a sub 4 hour marathon. But I persisted and kept jogging.

As mile 25 came into view, I was only 20 feet behind him. A second wind was circulating in my lungs and there was renewed vigor in my legs. I was going to leave it all on the line. I began my acceleration and clawed back the distance eventually overtaking him by mile 26 and saw it home. A sub 4 hour marathon could now be added to my personal accomplishment list. This was purely down to keeping my emotional balance in the face of defeat.

In business this is also important. You cannot lose your cool with customers. Emotional cards cannot be shown in any business negotiation or you risk losing advantage. You must maintain a healthy emotional distance from the business. Just because everyone is investing in the latest tech, it doesn’t mean you need to. Don’t let emotion spoil your judgement. Take a metal step back.

4. Grit

Character is molded in the face of adversity. Sometimes you just got to grit your teeth and persist. The marathon presented many of these moments for me.

There was mile 18 when my hamstring started to cramp up and was jogging with one hand holding it tightly. Not long after I felt I bulge in my small toe pop and I knew a blister had just formed and quickly broken from the thud of the pavement. Add in the constant pain in leg calves covering a distance they weren’t used to, due to lack of training. On mile 19 – 26 I was introduced to the infamous “wall”. The point where you wonder will it ever end and why does every mile seem like an eternity.

In business, you are met with never ending problems, challenges and rejections. Only a well trained mind and foolish amounts of grit and absolute stubbornness will get you through.

5. Discipline

I am naturally blessed, with a lot of energy, but it can be difficult to control and direct it. Everything is just a habit however and the key is creating habits that can benefit your life. Before you ask, Television isn’t one of them. I spend at least an hour night using Photoshop or watching videos on it to learn the software. I try to read at least 30 minutes a day to increase my vocabulary and broaden my mind. All this requires discipline. You cannot run or grow a business without discipline.

What helped me run a marathon without any proper training? Well it was always a discipline of mine to try and maintain a healthy diet and do weight lifting at the gym 4 times a week. On my lunch I often just eat plain yoghurt and blueberries – not nice on the palate but good for the body.

During the marathon, I had to abstain from taking on too much liquid or energy drinks. This would only add excess weight to my body. Each bottle I took a slug or two out of and I threw away more than half of it. This kept my body light even if it yearned for some more precious sugar or hydration. I also had to be disciplined with my running speed. It was necessary to jog at an almost constant and monotonous speed so I would have enough legs to go the distance.

Take away

Run a marathon (despite the pain) and test the limits of your body and mind. It helps build the mental skills and attitude necessary for traversing life’s challenges.