Guest Author

Matthew Brown MSc

Matt is a performance coach & educator with a passion for taking a ‘big picture’ approach to performance, health and well-being.
Drawing from both the latest scientific evidence and combining it with his own coaching and personal training experiences ‘in the trenches’, Matt’s goal is to reconceptualise the way individuals view health and performance through a synergy of body and mind, incorporating aspects of Strength & Conditioning, Psychology and Philosophy to promote positive behaviour change and improved coaching practice.

Building

Resilience.

It’s 6am. You’re woken up by the piercing sound of your alarm clock. You wonder why in god’s name you would do such a masochistic thing as set an alarm for a morning run. You almost hit the snooze button and roll over for another hour of blissful sleep, but at the last second hurl yourself from under the covers, plant your feet firmly on the floor, lace up your trainers, and head out the door. No excuses, its time to get after it.

Upon returning from a successful run, the rush of endorphins floods your body and springs you into action. This positive momentum leads you to have an extremely productive at work, and you finish the day feeling on top of the world.

As you leave the office you’re reminded of the importance of your disciplined action that morning. Had you decided to give into comfort and go back to sleep, your entire day may have manifested in a completely different way. Exercise was the catalyst for your success. Not only did it give you physiological benefits (it contributed positively to your health and put you in a great mood), perhaps more importantly, it gave you a reference experience that you won’t forget. It demonstrated to you that you are capable of pushing through doubt, negative thoughts, and making the right choice regardless of the resistance. In other words, it built resilience.

Improving Physical

& Mental Health.

We know that exercise has huge benefits on health outcomes. It has long been known that regular exercise (a combination of resistance and aerobic exercise) strengthens the muscular, skeletal and cardio-respiratory system, prevents age related decline in function, hugely reduces risk of various cardiovascular problems, and improves quality of life. (Read the evidence paper here)

We also know that regular exercise has huge psychological benefits on well-being, reducing risk of depression, improving happiness and fulfilment. We even see regular exercise provoking positive long-term changes in brain plasticity, improving cognition, learning, and memory. (Read the evidence here)

It should be obvious to business leaders and entrepreneurs that placing a huge focus on their own physical health (and the physical health of their employees) will see significant return in regards to the productivity, job satisfaction, and ultimate financial success of their business.

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.

Seneca

Character

Building.

As a coach, it’s my job to help facilitate the health and performance goals of a wide variety of individuals, from competitive athletes, busy mums, business owners and the retired elderly. Many of these clients initially come to me with a very concrete idea of what they wish to gain from the process of working with me e.g. ‘I want to lose two stone’ or ‘I want to be in less pain’ or ‘I want to perform better in my sport’.

Throughout the process of working with me, however, it becomes clear that the exercise interventions are doing far more than helping them achieve their original goals. The training process is helping to improve as people, by strengthening their character, increasing their confidence, and boosting their self-esteem. 

The individuals who seem to thrive athletically seem to be the ones that connect with these truths about training and exercise – they realise that it isn’t just making them fitter, healthier, and happier, but is forging them into a stronger, higher performing individual in every sense of the word. Looking at training in this more holistic, philosophical sense, you begin to realise how indispensable it is for teaching skills that will transfer into business and into life.

Pain unlocks a secret doorway in the mind, one that leads to both peak performance, and beautiful silence.

David Goggins

Many of the traits that push someone to increase their 1 rep max squat or to shave 10 minutes off their best marathon time are exactly the same as those that push someone to increase their business revenue, develop a new product, and to out-market their competitors. When analysing the personality traits of highly successful entrepreneurs, we commonly see traits such as a hunger for achievement, high levels of self-efficacy, stress tolerance, autonomy, and pro-active personalities.

It will come as no surprise to many that these are also traits commonly found amongst successful athletes research. Both athletes and business leaders must maintain a clear orientation towards their targets, a persistence to achieve those targets, and must be highly accountable to themselves. The traits that lead Michael Phelps to win 28 gold medals are very similar to the traits that drive Elon Musk’s never-ending work ethic, they’ve just been applied to different goals and passions.

Everybody comes to a point in there life when they want to quit. But it’s what you do at that moment that determines who you are.

David Goggins

The ‘Athlete’ Mentality –

Find Your Own Version of ‘High Performance’.

The two quotes above are by ex Navy Seal and ultra marathon runner David Goggins who himself is no stranger to enduring extreme physical hardships. He talks of how pushing your body to its limits exposes vulnerability in one’s character and ‘calcifies the mind’ – creating a more robust, resilient individual.

Perhaps one of the best examples of ‘mind calcification’ is the ‘hell week’ portion of Navy Seal BUD/S training, wherein students train for five days and five nights solid with a maximum total of four hours of sleep. Hell week begins at sundown on Sunday and ends at the end of Friday.

Despite the demand on the body, the initiation is not a measure of physical fitness – in no other situation would a Navy Seal be expected to express this level of exertion for such a prolonged period of time. It is a test of mental strength, nothing more. Can these individuals cope with the adversity of hell week, and have the resilience to keep going? Do they have the strength of character to keep moving forward despite all the pain?

This is an extreme way to go about this, there’s no doubt about that! But what lessons can the everyday business leader or entrepreneur derive from this, and how can they apply it to their lives? They can begin to realise that the mind is far more capable than we think.

This fact can be exposed, experienced and taught through physical exercise. Does this mean that in order to develop as a person you have to join the Navy Seals? Of course not. Nor am I suggesting you have to start rivalling Mo Farah’s running times to see improvements in your mind-set and character!

The point is that everyone has their physical (and mental) limits, whatever place that may fall on the continuum of performance. It is the process of figuring out where those limits are, and putting in the consistent physical work to push past them, where all the growth occurs. It means that you can re-create these challenges through finding your own performance ceilings and smashing through them. Goggins talks about a ‘40% rule’ – that is that the mind gives up at only 40% of its physical capacity. Through pushing yourself physically, you begin to see how your mind is the only thing placing limitations on your capabilities.

Maybe a physical challenge to you is running a marathon, running 10km, 5km, or even just walking daily. It doesn’t matter where you start. It matters where you are versus where you were yesterday.

Modern society seems to have a slightly different view of ‘self-development’. We read books on how to improve productivity, how to think more positively, how to harness ‘the law of attraction’. We go on meditation retreats, optimise our morning routine, and have a gratitude journal. There’s no doubt that these modern self-development strategies may have their benefits, but I wonder if many of them are often used as forms of self-congratulatory indulgence, that leads our ego to think we’re growing, when in reality they’re just clever ways of avoiding the real work – pushing one’s body and mind to the limits, to see what lies beneath the surface.

Physical challenges are in many ways the purest form of self-development. Can you get under a barbell and squat heavy weight until your legs feel like they have nothing left to give? Can you wake up at the crack of dawn and put in the running miles whilst everyone else is still sleeping? Can you make these things consistent parts of your daily and weekly routine, and have the discipline to get them done even when you’d rather be doing something (or anything!) else?

Start Your

Journey.

The challenges you face when pursuing a fitness-related goal force you to look at parts of your character that you may otherwise avoid, revealing weaknesses that need to be overcome. They will test your level of mental fortitude, level of discipline, grit, and ability to endure pain. Investment in fitness forces individuals to deal with adversity, time manage and effectively plan ahead, and teaches how to stay committed despite dealing with inevitable fluctuations in motivation and drive.

When you think you’re done, when you think you’ve got nothing left, exercise shows you that there is always more to give. It gives you a very real experience of the fact that you are capable than so much more than you previously thought.

So I encourage you all to set out on a journey of health, fitness and self-discovery through regimented, goal-focused exercise. Your physical health will thank you. Your mental health will thank you. And your character will develop in extraordinary ways, helping you in business and in life. Hard physical training has the potential to unlock untapped potential in everyone. So what are you waiting for?