When I wrote my last blog post (on my now defunct old blog) 2,5 years ago I was in a very good spot. “2015 — the year of (personal) growth” read the cheerful headline. I was in great physical shape and looking forward to an exciting time at the company I co-founded. I could not have foreseen what was going to happen over the next two years. Not to spoil this blog post early, but in the end the time was about personal growth after all, just in a very unexpected and different way.
Prelude — when life throws you lemons
Gaining more than 20 kg (topping at way more than 100 kg as a < 1,80 cm guy) was really bad, but naturally does not happen overnight. So I did not really notice for a very long time that I was putting on weight. When I did, eating healthy and not stuffing myself full of junk food in the early morning hours after a long day’s work, were the least of my concerns. By that time I was in the middle of a serious personal downward spiral at work. Despite putting in endless hours, days, nights and weekends I still did not deliver on my own promises. In retrospect it is quite easy to see that you cannot perform when you only get 4 to 5 hours sleep for days in a row, take no time to wind down for months and always cite inspirational startup mantras but don’t really stay true to your own word. I felt very trapped in a mixture of bad habits and a negative culture that I myself had helped to create and foster. Something was seriously amiss.
This post focuses on how I took the plunge, completely turned around the outlook on life itself, and found meaning in the things I do again. Something I had almost lost in the second half of 2016. The business side of separating from my company at that time and founding my new venture deserves it’s own lengthy blog post, but that is a story for another time.
1. Realize that something has to change
It is not easy to put everything you have into a startup for almost 5 years and then realize that you have reached a point where to go forward you have to turn this whole world on it’s head. I don’t have a formula on how to realize that something has to majorly change, also I think there is no need for a formula. Most likely you already subconsciously know it. In that specific case I was very hesitant to accept and act on it for far too long.
2. Make a decision and act
Of course it is not easy to come to this hefty conclusion and to start a discussion about a necessary change—one that at that time you can’t even imagine what it will look like — with the people who will also be affected. Luckily we managed to both identify the underlying problems and to even seize an opportunity that lay right in front of us in the process.
Around autumn 2016 we made the best decision ever: to separate a side part of our business into a stand-alone company. A decision which helped the interests of my former company and that allowed me to implement all important personal changes as well. Kudos to my then co-founder Reinhard for hearing me out and letting me go.
To be fair, the process was not as clear-cut as it might seem now. To be totally honest I just knew that I wanted to found the new company (which became kpibench just a few days ago) and that I needed a lot of strength for the new start.
3. Re-discover and invest in yourself
It is such an awkward feeling when you leave most of what defined you for a long time behind you. At the same time you begin to see glimpses of a future that has yet to be created. For me the perfect first step was to take a step back and ask myself many questions, something I had not done in years. To realize (and completely internalize) that I myself have all the power over how to shape my future took me several months. Luckily I developed a child-like curiosity again early, which led me down many different interesting paths simultaneously.
One of the most important epiphanies happened during one single long chat with Harald. Harald is co-founder of DreamAcademia and specializes in dream development. He and his partner have helped many people from within the startup community in many different ways. Usually working on the next big thing — I guess. For me the help consisted in just listening as I held a three hour long monolog. Thinking back I was definitely not capable of dreaming big dreams at that time. Harald helped me to recognize that what I was really looking for at that time was myself and this is exactly what I set out to do first.
Also important for me was the book Tools of Titans from Tim Ferriss. It’s a phone book sized collection of interviews with many different interesting people and many recommendations on how to improve one self and one’s life in general. I took down pages of notes and began to experiment with many routines described in the book. At one point it led me to produce my own daily journal inspired by different stories and methods from the book that I still gift from time to time to people whom I appreciate. https://nikki.desu.at
Also very helpful was that my re-discovery started with a short family trip to a place quite far away from our current home, to the city of Barcelona. A place where I have a strong emotional connection and beautiful memories to, a place where I have no obligations and can escape from all my old thoughts.
Although I am very grateful for every experience during that defining period it does not matter how you do it. Just take your time and think about what is important to you, what your goals are, where you want to be, whom you want to be with.
Let me show you one example of one topic that I decided was very important to me. This is how I currently define the meaning of being successful:
- not only taking but contributing
- finding time for what’s important
- having one’s priorities straight
- being true to oneself
- being able to always be just
- being humble
- getting things done and producing results
- leading by example
4. Make a plan and act again
After reading Tools of Titans I was heavily into making lists of all sorts and even keeping a daily journal. I have to admit that not many experiments stuck over time but a few routines, albeit modified to my needs, have successfully been adopted permanently — at least for this time being. Contrary to my approach on advancing my business agenda it was very important for me to being flexible and to allow a somewhat chaotic process in planning and acting in bettering myself.
The single most important cornerstone was to actually create a list of experiments I wanted to try. A simple online spreadsheet divided into four categories: mind, diet, fitness, relationships. Whenever I read something inspiring that I want to try for myself I take a quick note in my spreadsheet to not forget about it. I don’t have to try everything immediately, sometimes external preconditions are not right yet or I am just not in the mood. Does not matter — as long as it makes it on my list it is safe for future reference. My experiments list is my long-term companion in always challenging myself and to continuously try to better myself.
Similar lists have found their way throughout my whole personal life and this approach has taken a lot of self-inflicted stress off of me. I keep several simple bullet point style lists clustered by interest (e.g. sports, weekend activities, books, movies, etc.) that I am interested in experiencing some day in the future. This not only makes it easy to spontaneously decide to do something I have been really looking forward to for some time now, but also helps avoid times where I don’t know what to do at all. Before, I dreaded times where I did not know what to do, as I usually would just wind up wasting this precious time aimlessly browsing the web. Many times resulting in a kind of depressed state of thinking and making myself miserable. Now all I have to do is to open up my lists and tackle one of many items that is meant to bring joy and/or improve myself.
5. Never stop learning
A wonderful realization was that this is not a short period but hopefully will be my M.O. for the rest of my life. To always actively take note of the things that interest me, the pleasant anticipation to try something new and continuously make new experiences.
My favorite experiments and routines so far
Joining the #0445club
One of the greatest things ever was joining the #0445club — the routine of getting up at 04:45-ish, coined by Jocko Willink and also presented in Tools of Titans.
I was a notorious late night person, but the problem with that was, that I knew no end to a day. Quite regularly I would go to bed after 2 or 3 in the morning, and getting back up at 7 or 8 o’clock to accommodate my business schedule. This led to me being absolutely lethargic on weekends and in general always tired and unpleasant.
Now I get up between 04:30 and 06:00 and start with 2 to 3 hours of uninterrupted work in a completely recovered state, instead of insane late night shifts. Still easily working my 10 to 12 h days, but within a clearly defined time frame now. It really was hard to learn to postpone open tasks to the next day, but getting more sleep really has led to an extremely heightened quality of life. This time frame now allows for enough quality time with my family and also is now the standard for most of my weekends.
After getting my priorities and sleep pattern in order I really wanted to focus on also getting in better shape physically. Losing weight is quite simple — all you have to do is to eat less calories than you burn. You would not even have to change what you are eating, but just how much of it you are consuming. I am using a simple calorie counter app to keep track of my daily calorie consumption. During the last 1,5 months I lost ~ 7kg.
Additionally I decided to start the ketogenic diet again. That means to drastically reduce the intake of carbohydrates and eat more proteins and fat instead. For me that meant to completely change my regular menu. There is plenty of food that is keto-friendly: most green vegetables, meat and sausages, cheese, eggs, nuts. Only disadvantage is that I now have to prepare all my meals myself, but even when eating out I always find compatible meals. Hello Steakhouse and Sashimi. Sadly not much fruit, especially unhappy in summer, but to remedy that I incorporate cheat days when doing a lot of strenuous exercise.
The goal of keto is to switch the body into fat-burn mode. After two or three days into eating a keto diet the body increases the burning of stored fat in order to compensate for the absence of carbohydrates. When losing weight that helps in telling the body where to lose it.
While on a diet the main factor for success is discipline. This part currently comes quite easily. What I am afraid of is reaching goal weight and switching into maintenance mode. Not falling back into old patterns is the tricky part. Not sure that I can transform my diet into a permanent keto lifestyle. Let’s see if I can find a method for easy long-term weight maintenance.
Weekend quality time
Giving everything during the week for our company I try to aggressively keep weekends business-free. So far it seems to result in a very good and fair balance and in the end in much better results in both worlds.
It’s simply amazing what you can do on a single weekend if your energy is not drained and if you are seizing every minute of sunlight. I really love going on short trips with family and discover new locations. Thank you Austria for being in the heart of Europe and being so small.
Also, I am addicted to mountains. Perfect for summer hikes and extended bike tours.
Also, it works perfectly in combination with another passion of mine — photography. Although most of the time I’m just snapping away at the breathtaking surroundings without much thought and even less artistic ambition.
The juicy conclusion and next experiment
Please don’t take the headline above too literal. I know it was not life throwing me lemons, but a mainly self-inflicted situation. Looking forward I am confident to detect similar patterns much earlier and hopefully prevent this kind of downward spiral in the future all together. The adopted routines should help me to never again come into a comparable situation.
I’m really looking forward to continuing my self-experiments and learn many new things along the way. Maybe you can help me with one of my next adventures. I am very happy with almost everything but during the last decade I was not able to seriously maintain friendships. How do you make new friends when you are older and not at school anymore?