For the first few years of my startup life, I was working all the time. Even though I loved my work, I felt a pressure to make progress and felt that working all the time would maximize the rate of progress. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. It’s been proven that working over 40 hours a week reduces productivity. It also could have you burn out.
Finally, I started taking more time off. But I was still stressed and tired. I finally started engaging more physically. I started with swimming when I was in Startup Chile. In 2012 I lived in Vietnam and started working out in a gym. I made working out and saunas part of my daily life. I felt much better very soon, and coupled with a low carb diet, started losing extra pounds too. I tried to work out with friends, feeding my need for social companionship.
Over time I have engaged more with fitness and sports, and I have been surprised by the benefits far beyond physical health. Here are some things I have tried, and how they have helped me.
I started running on a treadmill in Vietnam. Long bouts of cardio felt great. I had never experienced such highs before. I later started running barefoot on sandy beaches in the mornings or late in the evenings. My favorite memory is that of a run on the secluded beach in Vietnam with a few strangers joining me for a mile or two. I don't run as much anymore but I love to run when I visit new cities. It's a good way to get to know a city or a neighborhood when I travel.
Biking is the first endurance sport I participated in. I started with mountain biking in Medellin. Biking taught me the importance of going out in a group and looking out for each other. It was also a very humbling experience to be the slowest biker for a while. Having been an ambitious person in the startup world, this was a valuable lesson for me. On long bike rides I would slow down an entire group and feel terrible. But the groups would always be ok with it and encourage me to finish. I now try to carry the same empathic attitude over to work.
Mountain biking is also a lot about letting go fears and fear-driven reflexes. My natural instinct when going downhill is to brake, and fall. I am still learning to stay present, look a little ahead, and keep my balance.
I wasn't able to bike a ton this year but I still managed to clock in a little over 300km. Just enough to keep me motivated to improve. The longest ride I did this year was an 80km group ride that set a benchmark for me in terms for my fitness (or the lack of it).
I started climbing only a few months back after my friend Andres pushed me to pursue it. Climbing and biking couldn’t be any more different. While biking can be a solo pursuit, climbing almost always is. Biking is a lot about the equipment while climbing is just you, your shoes, and the chalk.
Climbing is pretty counter intuitive too. All my life I was fascinated by climbing and had the mental image of a strong upper body pulling you up. In reality climbing is a lot about lower body strength and technique. It’s as much about mental endurance as much as it’s about physical endurance. There really are only a few basic techniques. One can learn them in a couple of days but they take years to master. It takes a while to learn the discipline to execute them perfectly each time. This has been an important lesson for me. Sometimes I tend to focus on finding a radically new solution or approach more than executing on what I know. Focusing on the basics. Fundamentally, there is not much difference in executing the basic steps at a high altitude or executing them close to the ground. The only difference is fear, and that's what climbing has shown me. I can see how the same fear has been holding me back at work too. There is a difference between fear and danger. Chris Hadfield talks about it in this video (ignore the dramatic music).
My plans for 2019
I haven't been the one to plan ahead but I am trying out something different this time. The main motivation is to note down a few things I would like to improve at in the coming year. There are simply too many new things to try out but I would like to stay focused and get to a certain level of skill in my chosen sports. One thing I have learned over the years is that you need core strength to do well in any sport. Therefore I would like to focus on core strength by lifting some weights. Also, it's important to stay flexible and I want to keep doing some yoga for that. I would also like to do a climbing camp to learn more and do some outdoor climbing. As for biking, I want to ride more regularly, and clock in 750km of rides. My goal is to be able to keep up the group in a group ride :)