Earlier this month, Lawrence and I went to a Ninja gym that a friend of mine told me about a long while back.
If you are friends with me on Facebook, you would have seen my run, which I posted right after. If not, you’ll find it at the end of this post. It originally started as a competition, but then, due to low enrollment, they made it into a fun day.
This was good because I inherently shy away from competition, (especially not training for it,… ever). I wouldn’t have shown up if it was a competition. However it was a fun day, and we’ve been watching American Ninja Warrior, and was inspired to check it out. It was indeed a challenge, both physically and mentally.
Contemplating my experience afterward, it turns out, there’s a lot of commonalities that a ninja obstacle course has with business and life really.
1. Fear and Excitement Feels the Same
When I first arrived at the course, I took a look at the salmon ladder, the warped wall. Gazing up at the warped wall, I instantly felt butterflies in my stomach. Then we went to the desk and registered. Looking at the competitors in line, I thought “Ok… I have time to psych up for this.” “You’re up. First timers get first priority.” Crap! I felt weak. At the same time, I felt a buzz running through my body. Ok. Game on. Let’s do this.
“You’re up. First timers get first priority.” Crap! I felt weak. At the same time, I felt a buzz running through my body. Ok. Game on. Let’s do this.
2. Mental Game
The course started with the ‘quad’ steps, or ‘floating steps,’ as on ANW (American Ninja Warrior). As I started leaping from step to step, the entire world dissolved away. I heard nothing. I only thought of how I was going to negotiate that next step in front of me. That’s what I love about fitness in general. The same thing happens when I teach. I could have had the worst day when everything went south on me. Even the walk up to the fitness studio seems grueling. Every fiber of my being just doesn’t want to be there. But when I start the class, it’s on. My world becomes the class. Just as I was scaling the wall on the ninja course, I was only concerned with getting across without falling. My only mental dialogue was where I should next place my hands and feet to pass the obstacle.
It’s just as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Many of the stations are intimidating. I had a mental dialogue going through my head: Wow.. that looks really tough, I can’t do that!!… even before I tried. The battle is lost before it’s even begun. On the flip side, I saw the quad steps, and I thought.. that looks easy. I know I can do that.
Often we look at people who have accomplished these great successful businesses, or those who have completed these amazing fitness feats and immediately think.. “wow… I could never do that,” or “who am I to even try that?” We are quick to blame our friends, family, as the ‘nay-sayers’ in our life. Most often, though, they aren’t the ones who do it. We are.
3. What can be Measured, can be Improved
Measurement matters. They timed you. Even though it wasn’t a competition, they still timed everyone. What can be measured, can be improved. I didn’t think it mattered, but because they timed my runs, one of the race monitors told me how I improved between my first and second runs, and how much further I went on my second run.
Taking stats is often tedious in our business, or whatever we’re doing in life, but without it, you’ll take a lot longer to see your improvement. Without it, you won’t see what you need to focus on to get better. This also goes hand in hand with competition.
It’s important to have competition. But not in the way you think. Competition isn’t about hoping the other person screws up or does poorly so that you can look better. That is the worst mentality. It’s a win/lose mentality. It’s a mentality of scarcity. The underlying philosophy of that mentality is that there is not enough for everyone. Hence you need to make sure you take as much as you can of the other guy’s piece of pie. Competition is not about actively trying to crush everyone else, or complain to governing authorities about how unfair the ground rules are. (This is my personal pet peeve)
The true value of competition is about running with your competing peers to push you to go harder, to do better. In fact, you should be so lucky to have good competition. If you’re measuring against someone who does poorly, you’re short changing yourself by measuring his limited ruler. You could have done much beyond his little ruler. On the flip side, if you competed with a group of quality competitors, even if you scored last, you have seen what can be possible. The magnitude of their measuring stick now applies to you. Competition is about bringing the entire game to a high level so that you can be pushed to your up your own game.
5. Brain v. Braun
Going through the course, between my first and second runs, I learned that technique is at least half the battle. It’s not about brute strength. It’s never just about brute strength, though being strong is certainly a pre-requisite.
The other beauty of competition is that you get to learn from your competitors. Going through the course the first time, I simply relied on my fitness to get through. I didn’t think about how to negotiate each obstacle. I couldn’t. I didn’t get a chance to see how others do it. I had nothing to model after. After my first run, I started watching other people go through. I saw how where they placed their feet, how they interacted with each obstacle. “Oh,” I thought, “That seems much easier.”
The same could be said of business, work, or any other project that we seek to achieve. Sure it’s important to work hard, as in my next point. But working hard and working smart is like a shot of NOS.
I’m constantly thinking of smarter, faster, betters ways to do something. It’s called progress. Even when you think you’ve got it streamlined, there’s always someone who has possibly done it better, with fewer resources. Why wouldn’t you seek it out to improve your own game?
6. Constant Preparation Creates Readiness
In the wisdom of Optimus Prime, “Fate rarely calls upon us at the moment of our choosing.”
You can’t just slack through life, and expect to just rise to the occasion when it comes. In the ninja game, having a solid base of fitness gets you far. Every quiet squat you do, every silent pull-up you muscle out, every flight of stairs you sprint when everyone else has gone home long ago, contributes to your readiness for when it matters.
In business, it’s every customer you serve. In building a blog, it’s every reader you get your post in front. It’s always been the tiny little quiet steps that you do, day in, day out that move you forward toward the finish line.
7. Training with Like Activities Matters
Training on the right equipment still matters. You can be religious about doing squats, bench press, and burpees, but you still won’t have a true appreciation for the real challenge until you actually go and do the actual obstacles. If you’re just training for foundational fitness all the time, you’re wasting your time. Training should be foundational and on the real thing, or close to it.
I can’t be telling you anything new. Training with like activities trains not only your muscles to be strong for the action, you’re training your brain to know too. Strengths in the areas that matter, matter. I don’t care how many squats you can do, if you can’t hang onto the bar, if you have no grip strength, you’re done. Same thing goes for glute strength, shoulders, core. In the world of ninja athletics (Yes, it’s now a thing) if you’re a good rock climber, you’ll be naturally better at this. If you’re a gymnast or a pole vaulter, you’ll be good at this. If you’ve done Spartan racing you’ll definitely be good at this. There are so many transferable skills that you can take from these sports into the ninja course.
Applying this to the business world, I remember when I was in sales. I’d meet all these people constantly learning sales techniques, how to close, how to get new clients. But the true training that mattered was actively closing the deal, or actively getting new clients. Or it’s like just reading about musical theory, and practicing scales. You’ll never be a concert pianist if you don’t ever start performing in front of people.
The good news is that if you pay attention, as you practice, you get better and better with each and every single run, each and every sale, each and every blog post.
8. Endurance Matters
Endurance matters. In this ninja course, there were 20 exercises. You couldn’t progress to the next one without having passed the previous. If you failed, you can start over. But the next time you begin, you start to feel the fatigue set in from the previous run. Even though you have the strategy to pass the obstacle, you’re mentally if not physically exhausted.
Nothing can be truer to entrepreneurship. It always takes longer than you think. But it also applies to anything for which we’re aiming: that target body weight, that first marathon, that first million dollars. Patience and endurance have always been foundational factors along the way.
This weekend, you were allowed to start again as many times as you want. Every run counts. Every run adds to your experience, your learning. Same thing for business. I’ve started multiple entrepreneurial ventures in my life. I had successes; I had failures. I’ve always learned from the experience. It all contributes to the working smart factor.
9. Having the Right Equipment Matters
This isn’t something that you would think of right off the bat. Preparing your aptitude is one thing. Showing up with the equipment that could best serve you is another. Scaling walls in slippery shoes works against you. You don’t show up to a ninja event dressed in a ball gown and slippers. You show up in grippy shoes, and proper gear that would help you best get through the course.
In business, this translates to having the right tools to build your social media platform, or having a good computer that more than serves your purpose. As a self-employed person, you’re likely responsible for your own gear. You shouldn’t cheap out on it. It’s your name, baby. Don’t let the peripherals downplay your talents. They should help you soar, not drag you down.
10. It’s Never Too Late to Start
People can be old and still excel, as long as they have the pre-requisites.
- They’ve trained for it
- They’re fit
- They want to be there
- They have a support group.
I’m 41. This was my first ninja warrior experience. On the show, there’s a guy who’s in his 50’s, who turned out to be one of the best competitors. The owner of the gym, John, was mid-50’s. He’s literally schooling a bunch of little kids how to work ninja obstacles, going up a 14′ warped wall. He does Spartan races, and something called OCR, an abbreviation for something unknown to me. The thing that keeps you going, though, is camaraderie and community.
There are countless stories of the Colonel Sanders of the world who, into their 60’s build a thriving franchise that survives generations of fried chicken enjoyment.
There’s Deshun Wang, who in his 80’s, is a runway model and rules the catwalk.
There’s the Iron Nun, who again in her 80’s has done 45 ironman races and still guns it. When I think of these people, I realize again that time is indeed on my side. No matter who you are, or how old you are. It’s in you to perform. You just have to want to bring it.
When I think of these people, I realize again that time is indeed on my side. No matter who you are, or how old you are. It’s in you to perform. You just have to want to bring it.
11. Camaraderie and Community
The group at the ninja gym mostly all knew each other. We were the newbies. Still, though, I found them so welcoming. They were encouraging when Lawrence and I did our runs. When we were done, we, in turn, supported others. It’s a good life philosophy and is what I live by. You support others. They will support you in return.
Run with people who are like-minded and support you. Most entrepreneurs have either a mentor or a Mastermind, or both. A Mastermind is a group of peers that are going through the same thing that you are. You grow together. You keep each other accountable. You support each other. It can be a lonely road on the quest to build a business by yourself, or to be self-employed even. People who find camaraderie feed off each other and thrive together.
It was my idea to go. We went as a family. I was so glad on many levels that we were able to experience that as a family. It’s so beautiful when you can grow together and explore new things together, be it new fitness activities, travels, foods. It’s obviously important for your spouse and you to grow together. I get sad when I creep people’s facebooks and not see any photos of couples doing activities together. There’s so much that you can explore together. Isn’t that what we signed up for in marriage?
Involving your kids is equally as important. In my run, you’ll hear Z cheering me on. He loved it! It’s more than just cheering on, though. It’s about sending him a message of strength, that momma is brave enough to try these athletic feats. It sends a message to him that fitness is important. And family is important. These are Daddy and Momma’s core values, and they are impressed upon him.
12. Jump in and Do It
Spectating isn’t a sport. It doesn’t get you anywhere. The key thing that brings time back on your side is to jump in and do it. Whatever it is: belly dancing, ninja sports, starting a new business, speaking in public, drawing, painting, whatever strikes your fancy. I was listening to Pat Flynn’s podcast a few days ago. He was talking about his journey in growing as a speaker. His first keynote was awful. (It actually didn’t sound terrible to me, but by his standards, sure.) Then over the years, he got better, got more engagements and eventually got paid for his speaking engagements.
The message that I stuck out in my mind, though, is “whatever you do for the first time, it’s going go suck.” You’re going to cringe, looking back at what you did the first time. But as you spend more and more time working the skill, gaining more experience, you’ll get better. It all begins with jumping in and just doing it.
13. Gender only matters if You let it Matter
I guess the same can be said about size, brains, wealth, talent, race, age, you name it. What I love about this sport is that there is one course: Men and women both do this same course. There’s no female version like there is a ladies tee in golf. On this season’s American Ninja warrior, there is a superstar, Jessie Graff, who beat out most of everyone. She’s in phenomenal shape. She trains her mom. (She’s trained her mom to do unassisted pull-ups!) She killed the course. She made it to the finals.
Sure there are some sports where size could matter: Basketball, Racehorse jockeying, for example. In ninja athletics, size doesn’t matter. On the original Japanese version of Ninja Warriors, you see these little Japanese acrobatic athletes and gymnasts float through the entire course.
Just because you’re a muscle-bound body builder, it doesn’t mean you’re strong enough to do it. In fact, you probably have too much bulk. I’d like to see a bodybuilder work through the Jumping Spider. They can’t even widen their legs because their hips are likely locked.
This weekend, a 16-year-old kid made finished and got the second best time. A woman, Sherry, 48 years old, I might add, made it to the second last obstacle: the salmon ladder, which very few others did, men or women. In fact, she actually competed with her 24-year-old son. Same course. Damn impressive.
Applying this to Business
What I love about online entrepreneurship is that it’s such an even playing field. The same could be said about so many other professional fields, including consulting. I used to work with a guy in Calgary, who has a teenage daughter. One day she up and started a youtube channel, teaching people how to do awesome makeup. She calls herself a make-up guru. She’s got almost 800,000 subscribers! She’s making mint and she’s not even graduated!
Here’s another: I met a guy on Twitter. Normal looking, everyday kind of guy. Single dad of 4 kids. He’s a full-time janitor in a college in the US. He’s got close to 20,000 Twitter followers. He doesn’t even have a website. He sells stuff via Twitter and Facebook to supplement his income, and loves it! He’s happy with the field of work that he’s chosen. He’s killing it on Twitter. See what I mean? It’s an even playing field when you find the right venue.
In both ninja athletics and the entrepreneurial space, none of gender, age, size, race matters. What matters is what you bring to the table. It’s the value that you to your audience that matters. It’s the size of the audience that matters. It’s how well you engage with your audience that matters. It’s how omnipresent you are to your customers that matter. It’s how you treat your customers that matter. All of this is within our very control. None of it is hereditary.
14. Rest or Bust
Both Lawrence and I are fit. I would venture to say that we’re pretty strong people. We were hurting after we left. I went home and couldn’t even wring out a dish towel. It’s necessary to rest. Maybe it is age. Maybe it’s just a new sport. Resting a little bit, now I live to fight another day.
In the marathon of business, you run it, or you may go in spurts. Part of the regimen is always to take a break. Let your body and mind recharge. When you’re sick of doing what you’re doing, your creativity stops.
It’s almost crazy to say that going to the Ninja gym last weekend was almost a profound experience for me. It was a personal challenge. internal competition, not so much an external competition.
I felt the fatigue starting the subsequent run. I had to push myself a little bit to do that next run. But I made it further than my first run, with a faster time. You learn after each and every run. Better technique, more familiar with the course. It’s important not to let the previous personal best intimidate you. If you apply this philosophy to every other area of your life, success is almost guaranteed yours.
Here was my run, if you didn’t catch it on Facebook. I only made it through the first few obstacles. No problem. I learned a ton. Can’t wait to do it again.
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