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Dean Karnazes | One Step At A Time
Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship | newsletter.scottdclary.com
Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship | newsletter.scottdclary.com
Here is my weekly email with some insights and ideas pulled from conversations I had on my podcast.
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One Step At A Time
It’s so easy to dwell on your past mistakes as an entrepreneur, isn’t it?
If only I’d taken that opportunity! I’d be a billionaire.
Why on earth did I hire that person?
I’ve chosen the wrong niche and ruined everything.
It really hurts at times, especially as a businessperson who puts their heart and soul into their work. But this type of thinking only takes you further away from success.
I was so inspired by one of my recent podcast guests. You’ll never believe it — I got to speak to the Ultramarathon Man, the guy who ran 50 marathons in 50 days across 50 states. What a living legend. I suppose it’s a testament to his way of life that he stood up for our entire interview, dressed in his activewear, ready to get going.
When I asked Dean Karnazes how on earth he gets in the mindset to run for 50 consecutive days, he said this:
“In those circumstances, I don’t think about anything except the present moment of time; the here and now. I don’t reflect on the past. I say, ‘Be the best you can be in this instant. Take your next step to the best of your ability.’”
It seems like your typical piece of mindfulness advice — but when you consider that this is how Dean got through such an enormous physical challenge, you start to realize it’s a pretty powerful tool for any walk of life. Let’s delve into how we can apply this as entrepreneurs.
The Philosophy of One Step At A Time
To really understand where this idea of living in the present comes from, we’ve got to go back to Chinese philosophy — specifically, the proverbs of Lao Tzu. He was a loved and revered figurehead of the Daoism and Confucianism movements, and most of his work focused around living harmoniously in the here and now.
Lao Tzu is often credited for this proverb in Chapter 64 of the Dao De Jing: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” (Some argue it was actually Confucius who wrote this. You get the gist, though.)
What’s he really saying there? Life is made up of small steps, and the only way to make progress is by taking one step at a time. You won’t reach your destination by thinking about all the steps you’re yet to take, or the steps you’ve already taken.
While I wouldn’t call myself a philosophy buff, most of the books on my bookshelf — the self-improvement titles — focus on old philosophies like this one. It’s truly fascinating to look back at those powerful ideas that have stood the test of time.
What Living in the Present Really Means
For the anxious overthinkers among us — the sensitive yet highly effective entrepreneurs — it can be terrifying to think along these lines. You’ve got to think about the future, haven’t you? What if there’s some warning sign you’ve missed, or something from your past you need to learn from?
The answer isn’t black and white.
Living in the present doesn’t mean you have to ignore all planning for the future, or that you should forget about lessons from your past experiences. It’s more about accepting that, while you can think about future matters, you can’t at all control them. All you can control is the little steps. One foot in front of the other.
This is why Dean Karnazes was so successful in his ultramarathon challenge — he wasn’t worrying about what might happen on Day 50, or reflecting on how far he had come since Day 1. He was focused solely on taking his next step: improving himself in that exact moment of time.
Why It’s So Dang Hard To Live In the Present
Ah, so it’s as simple as that. All we need to do is live in the present and think of our next steps. Easy peasy!
It’s really hard to stay focused on living in the present — especially when you’ve got an infinite number of thoughts running through your head at any given moment. We’re human, after all; we worry, we doubt, and we obsess over what might happen in the future.
There are a few reasons for this:
We’re anxious for a reason. Long ago in our evolutionary history, it was beneficial to think about potential threats before they became a reality — so we evolved to experience anxiety as a warning sign. Trouble is, this anxiety can easily become overwhelming and lead us to overthink potential outcomes we have no real control over.
Thoughts can be intrusive. It’s like having a broken record playing in the background. Every so often, it’ll get louder, and we can’t help but listen to what it’s saying… even if those thoughts are negative or unhelpful. It takes time and effort to rewire our thought patterns and replace them with more useful ones.
It’s easy to get caught up in comparison. This is especially relevant as entrepreneurs; we’re always looking at what others are doing and how we can do it better. We might worry that we’re not living up to the standards of our competitors, and these worries can quickly snowball into thoughts about potential failure in the future.
I’ve certainly been there, and I’ve met exactly zero people who haven’t.
So… Why Do It?
I saw a pretty interesting study that was conducted in 2017, which seemed to confirm — or at least, heavily support — the link between present-moment living and happiness. The researchers found that people who practiced mindfulness had more happiness indicators than those who didn’t.
But sometimes the research isn’t enough to convince us, is it? Especially when taking one step at a time, regardless of our circumstances, is so freaking hard.
So let’s break down the reasons you might want to tackle this beast.
1. More Mental Space
In another study I found while browsing, there’s a pretty terrifying statistic: we spend 46.9 percent of our time thinking about something other than what we’re doing.
Imagine all the mental space you’d have if you could reduce this by even 30 percent — that’s a lot of room to focus on what’s happening right now. It’d give you the mental space and clarity to take one step at a time, rather than dreading or overthinking all the steps to come.
2. Physical and Mental Wellbeing
We all know by now that stress takes a toll on us. Hell, we feel it every day as entrepreneurs. There’s always something to do, and it can often feel like there’s never enough time. But I feel as though we never give stress the attention it requires; we almost glamorize it in a way, as if it’s just part and parcel of the entrepreneurial lifestyle.
In reality, stress can cause lifelong damage to your body and mind if left unchecked. Residual stress seeps into your joints, your immune system, your sleep, and your mindset.
But there’s something even scarier. It goes by many names — burnout, chronic stress, adrenal fatigue — but it’s the outcome of long-term, low-level stress that runs in the background. Think of it like a bunch of Chrome tabs you never close; they keep running, and eventually, your computer will glitch out.
Living in the present can help you take back control of your physical and mental well-being by reducing the amount of low-grade continual stress that you experience.
3. You’ll See Results
Progress doesn’t happen by thinking — it happens by doing. You can seriously delay your progress in both business and personal matters if you focus too much of your energy on potential outcomes.
How can you get up the mountain if you stop to look at the peak every three seconds? Or turn around to look at the ground below you? You won’t.
Living in the present moment allows you to set achievable goals and makes them more attainable. As a result, you’ll be able to see your progress more clearly and make better decisions with the information available to you right now — not what might or could happen in the future.
Putting It Into Practice
Let’s take everything we’ve talked about so far and relate it back to our lives as entrepreneurs. What does it mean to take one step at a time when you’re running a business?
Staying (Extremely) Organized
Most of the time, our worries come from all of our unknowns. What meetings have I got to prepare for this week? Who’s on leave? And didn’t I have a lunch I was supposed to attend?
Organization is key here. If you know that absolutely all of your responsibilities are accounted for, whether that’s in Google Calendar or another app (or even a good old-fashioned diary), you’d be amazed at how quickly the stress eases up. It’s the simple act of knowing you’ve checked and double-checked all your tasks that brings the relief.
Staying In Your Lane
Being on LinkedIn is a little toxic at times. Sure, you can write it off as ‘networking’ or ‘learning from the experts’ — but LinkedIn breeds comparison.
There’s something to be said for learning from the competition, of course, but there’s a point where it becomes obsessive. How can you live in your present moment when you’re thinking about how much better Dave’s ad campaign is?
Understand that most successful startups have had an incredibly rocky timeline. Comparisons don’t really apply in the startup world, because we’re all ebbing and flowing at different speeds.
Look inward and stay aligned with the mission statement you’ve set out for yourself and your business. While everyone’s looking at you from their lane, you’ll be looking dead-on — and it’ll make a huge difference.
Make Time To Ruminate
Here’s something a lot of self-help gurus won’t tell you… no matter how mindful you train yourself to be, the worries will always slip through at times. We’re human, not programmable robots. It’s about outsmarting yourself and working alongside your worries.
How? One of the best strategies I’ve found is to set yourself a rumination zone. Find a 30-minute window you can spare every day — morning is often best — and write out every single fear that crosses your mind. For example:
I’m worried the new marketing campaign won’t be successful
I’m concerned I’ll miss the deadline for this project
I don’t have enough resources to do everything on my list today
Go through one-by-one and think: do I have any control over the outcome, here? If not, put a tick beside the worry as a mental cue that you’ve dealt with it.
If you do have control, map out a plan of action to combat that worry. Maybe set yourself a reminder for the deadline, or start researching different marketing strategies — whatever it is, take a step.
Then you’re free to move on with your day, knowing you’ve dealt with every worry.
It’s hard to stay focused on the present moment when you’re running a business. We all get distracted by fear, worry, and comparison at times — but with these strategies in hand, it’ll be easier to keep your head above water.
Remember that small steps are far more manageable than giant, unsteady leaps. Take each day as it comes and accept that your business will fluctuate. It’s rarely, if ever, a totally upward trend.
How do you all stay focused on the present moment? I’d love to hear your strategies. (I’m still learning to master this particular skill!) Let me know in the comments.