It's All Mental: On the Power of the Mind

Whether building a startup company or getting faster on a bike, achieving goals is all about the application of mental energy

I achieved two major life goals over the past four years. Although they are closely related and even intertwined with one another, they are also completely different types of goals, one being intellectual and the other highly physical. And what I realized in hindsight is that there was one factor at the center of each that ultimately made them achievable.

First, I founded a technology company in 2010. I'd been exploring a few different models around the convergence of social, local, and mobile for about six months and arrived at the concept of MomentFeed, a platform to enable large brands to connect with consumers at the local level i.e. where more than 90% of commerce still takes place. I'd bring together Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Google, and other channels into a complete solution that provided scale, efficiency, and tremendous value beyond any one individual channel. What resources did I have to embark on this ambitious endeavor? Very little. I needed capital -- venture capital to be precise. I needed a product and engineers to build the product. I needed to partner with each of the channels. And, of course, I needed customers. I had none of these things when I incorporated the company in March of 2010. What did I have?

I had a vision. I could see clearly that smartphones would go from 19% adoption in the US to the dominant computing platform. I could see that new channels like Instagram and Snapchat would emerge from this. I could see that Facebook and Google would fundamentally become mobile companies. As a result, I could see what MomentFeed needed to be.

Over the next three years, I'd put all of the things in place I needed to execute on the vision, including the hiring of a CEO (a topic for another post) and raising a Series A round of financing. What it amounted to was a marathon of the mind -- a mental exercise such that a company was willed into existence, effectively creating something from nothing. If the vision was the map of the race course, then the mind -- that thing we know exists but can't quite point to -- served as the legs, feet, lungs, and muscles. After all, what else could it have been? It seems quite obvious that starting a company is a mental exercise. But it's also the driving force behind our physical pursuits.

The next goal goes something like this: to get more fit than I've ever been before.

One of the consequences of achieving the first goal (and simultaneously raising two young children) is that my health suffered. The application of that much mental energy left nothing for the physical, or at least that was my excuse. My diet sucked. I gained a lot of weight and exercised rarely. In August of 2013, I decided to make a change -- a wholesale transformation, actually. This was very similar to the day I decided to start MomentFeed. Something just clicked in my head, and I had to do it. I also realized it would become a line of demarcation, where I'd be able to clearly divide my life into the period before this decision and the period after it.

I largely knew what had to be done, so the change was immediate. First, I needed a diet upgrade. Although endurance athletes eat lots of carbs, research revealed that a diet high in fat is superior for both health and fitness. So I cut the carbs and adopted what I refer to as the cobb salad diet because it's all about meat (bacon, turkey, chicken), avocado, cheese, and above-ground veggies. Fat is good. Carbs and sugar are bad. It's simple and effective.

As with the goal of building a startup, the goal of fitness is a moving target. You never quite get there but rather achieve milestones. Since making the decision nine months ago, though, I've lost 40 pounds; I've ridden three centuries (Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, and Solvang), and I ride about 100 miles per week with key motivation from Strava, a cycling social network and tracking app. The cycling is complemented with core strength workouts, snowboarding, and yoga.

While the fitness goals are physical in nature, achieving them is purely mental. It's about willing your body to a better, more healthy, more fit state of existence. There is tremendous discipline involved with maintaining the diet and sticking to a workout schedule while balancing work and family and not getting too religious (read: too unhealthy) about any aspect of it. Part of the mental challenge is maintaining flexibility and being accepting of where you are.

Indeed, although you may have a vision for a company or your body, you still have to embrace and live in the moment.