July 3rd, 2017
You will rarely find founders talking about stress. Everyone tries very hard to come off more successful, more confident, cooler, more collected than their peers. But I think it would be helpful to discuss the topic of stress as it applies to founders.
Stress contributes to many health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and more. As a startup founder, I live in constant stress. “The rollercoaster” is real. What many people don’t understand is that stress occurs not only when you’re having a low moment, but when you’re flying high as well. Whether you feel awful or great, the body releases adrenalin, you feel anxious, and you’re in high alert mode. This means that the celebratory toll of landing a big client is likely as severe as the anguish when you lose one.
Four years into StackAdapt, I find myself no longer able to rest. At work, I run around like a chicken with its head cut off because I am interested in and still a part of so many teams. At home I scramble to get actual work done. When I work out, I’m unable to lose myself on the mat or the path. Instead of resting, I stuff my head with news, desperate to stay up to date on what’s going on in the world. My phone never leaves my palm. Like a maniac I refresh my inbox and Slack. I can no longer concentrate – I do at least 3-5 things at the same time. I can no longer remember anything.
Today I have concluded, that I have been living in a state of constant stress for years now. I feel like unless I change how I live and work, I will burn out or worse, permanently damage my body and my mind. Today I am embarking on a 30-day challenge to see how I can optimize my inner being to reduce stress. Hopefully, at the end, I won’t revert to how I live now, but rather adopt sustainable habits.
1. Cut out all alcohol. I am not a doctor, but you’re kidding yourself if you think a glass of wine with dinner every evening is healthy. No alcohol at all.
2. No social media scrolling. Social media is a huge time waster and is really damaging to your self-esteem. Many of us still need to use social media for work, so my rule is zero scrolling. Get in and get out: Post whatever needs to be posted and leave. No logging back in to check notifications.
3. 5-minute daily meditation. Focus on your breath for 5 minutes. Don’t think about anything.
4. 20-min daily exercise. Just get sweaty.
5. Contrast shower every morning. This will help you wake up and boost your immune system. This is especially helpful if you’re trying to quit caffeine like I did last year.
I will record my daily progress across all five dimensions and give a score from zero to five for productivity and well being. I will try to be as objective as possible.
July 9th, 2017
I am a week into the challenge. Here is what my progress looks like. I decided to take a day off from exercise on Sunday since Anneke and I went to Muay Thai for the first time in a month yesterday and I am extremely sore:
It’s been pretty easy to hit almost all five every single day even before I get to the office. Meditation is quite tricky – all kinds of thoughts keep creeping into my head but I try to push them out and focus on breathing. I am sure it will get easier.
Dealing with social media has been easy. I installed the Newsfeed Eradicator Chrome extension today, so I am confident I won’t even have to think of Facebook for a while. Instagram remains deleted. LinkedIn, I only check the messages and notifications. No scrolling.
Overall, I can’t believe how well and how productive I feel. We had Jay over for dinner and we had non-alcoholic beer. What a life hack! It tastes exactly like beer, so you feel like it’s a normal social setting, but with zero alcohol and what more, it’s very light on calories. I looked at the tiny box of Tropicana in the fridge and realized it’s worth two beers in calorie content:
Calories vs. juice
Having had a super active and productive weekend, I feel I want to push myself further:
1. I will double down on a couple core strengths of mine by getting additional coaching.
2. I will minimize the time I spend on any coffee meetings to focus on work.
3. I started learning Chinese via YoYoChinese. I will try to get to a conversational level in 6 months.
July 12th, 2017
Not sure what’s going on but I am super exhausted. I barely got myself out of bed this morning. Will try to go to bed at 9:30pm tonight to get substantially more sleep.
July 17th, 2017
Mondays are always tough, but overall, I’ve been feeling fantastic and very productive. The hardest part of all 5 activities has been meditation. I simply can’t get the thoughts out of my head. Need more practice.
I love contrast showers so much now that I started taking some freezing cold showers. What a rush in the morning! No caffeine needed.
One thing I realized after not having any alcohol in a couple of weeks is how much better my sleep has become. Looking back, I started seeing patterns of poor sleep even after a glass of wine. Having no alcohol has been undeniably the biggest win thus far. My bank account loves me. I am super hydrated. I sleep like a baby.
NA beer has been a huge discovery. I can easily have a night out, socialize, have fun but when I come home I am super sharp. Talking to people I realized that often they feel pressured to drink alcohol because if they go out it feels strange to be the one not drinking, especially if it’s a one-on-one meeting. With NA beer, I can easily go out after work to get a ‘drink’ and then spend 2 hours training. Try that after having a real beer.
August 1st, 2017
30 days later, how did I do?
After a month of this new regimen I can conclude that it’s be one of the most interesting and insightful experiences I have had. Here are my key takeaways:
Social Media is a poison. Ever since I deleted Instagram and started blocking my newsfeed on Facebook, the quality of my life has gone up. I no longer subconsciously compare my life with anyone else’s. I just enjoy my life! It feels a bit weird that I no longer know what’s going on in my friends’ lives, but this makes up when we meet or talk on the phone – conversations are that much more exciting.
Meditation is hard. Even though I’ve been doing it for a month, I think I wasn’t doing it right. I still can’t fully tune out the noise in my head. I will need to work on this one more.
Exercise is important for physical and mental health. I can’t believe I have gone weeks with no exercise earlier this year. I now work out or run or train every 6 days. Sometimes it’s really hard to get out of bed in the morning, but I never regret pushing myself to work out.
You really don’t need alcohol:
· I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost, but I have visibly become more shredded.
· I saved a ton of money. Restaurant bills were easily half of what I used to pay. And I go out to eat less now too. I just find it easier to cook at home.
· The quality of my sleep has gone up significantly. I’ve realized I had problems sleeping even after a single glass of wine.
· It’s really not difficult to socialize without alcohol. By some osmosis-like process you start feeling lose and giggly around people who are drinking. The difficult thing is staying out late. Come 11pm, I feel I am ready for bed just as everyone is ready to hit the bar. I’ve missed out on these late nights. I simply had no interest in partaking.
· I can have plans for Saturday and Sunday morning. I don’t have to worry that I will go to bed super late and be exhausted or have a headache the next day.
· My Mondays and Tuesdays are finally great. As you can see in the chart below, you can clearly see how they have improved over the course of the month:
These 30 days aren’t a huge accomplishment but they’re a start. Having wrapped up the challenge, I’ve decided to just keep going and see how long I can last. Stay tuned for updates!
Thank you for reading!
Would love to hear your comments on what has worked for you in improving your mental health, productivity, and bettered your sense of well-being!
January 10, 2018 update: still going strong without alcohol! Six months and counting.