10 Things I learned from Ben Greenfield about Life, Productivity and Running
Ben Greenfield, the personal fitness, Ironman, healthy living, entrepreneur, author, and podcaster, was welcomed by Concordia St. Paul on a recent summer evening to deliver a talk titled,
“10 Tips for Achieving the Most Out of Business, Body, and Life”.
He was nice enough to send a copy of his latest book, “Beyond Training” for Minneapolis Running to give away to one quick acting reader.
Throughout his 90 minute talk and Q&A he doled out countless tips, recommendations and insights on his success to a the fittest group of Twin Citians this side of the Twin Cities Marathon expo.
Who is Ben Greenfield?
Ben has a considerable presence on the internet with a wildly popular website and multiple podcasts. He is notorious for demystifying the latest trends and fitness related studies into practical advice for his listeners and followers. Tuesday night Ben pulled back the curtain to reveal to the live participants, and those watching and listening online, insights on how following his passion has led him to success.
Admittedly a self-conscious introvert as a child, Ben spent much of his time reading alone. A high fan of the fantasy genre, he devoured the Lord of the Rings trilogy eight times! He had two positive parental role models, with his father a serial entrepreneur and with both parents encouraging him to break out of his shell.
Recruited out of college by a medical device company, he worked for them making more money than most of his former classmates. But his ambitions could not be met working for that employer, nor could he find the professional satisfaction he desired. Thus began Ben’s career as a fitness entrepreneur.
Moving into Fitness
Initially, he started out as a personal trainer, providing high end training consultations targeted at high-income athletes. Then he, unsure how the market would react, pulled together a triathlon training program aimed at career professionals who don’t have time to log the 20+ hours per week to train as most Ironman competitors were at the time. When the training program started generating real revenue, his internet based business was born.
Of course, there are also the parts about Ben competing as a body builder, competing in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii multiple times, and being recognized as the top personal trainer in the country. He really only scratched the surface of his accomplishments to establish his position of authority on the subject into which he was about to delve.
Here are the 10 things he shared with us about how he achieves all he does.
1. Choose Your Passion
Ben is clearly an example of a successful entrepreneur who found success by following his passion. Inspired by a quote from Mark Twain,
When we talk about the great workers of the world we really mean the great players of the world.
Ben asked the audience to consider what it was that got them excited as youth.
Ben also recommended the first of many books for the evening, the critically acclaimed “Quiet: Power of the Introvert” by Susan Cain saying it empowered him to throw himself into social situations and taught him that, though introverted, he has value to contribute to each of his social interactions.
2. Be Different
Ben’s personal training business was created as a concierge facility for fitness testing and training, performing services such as Vo2 max testing and lactate threshold testing when nobody else in his area was doing it.
He encouraged his audience to take the occasional risk, saying sometimes there will be a need to risk being an ugly duckling. Sometimes, he continued, people talking negatively about you should be viewed less as criticism and more as a sign of your success. It is an occupational hazard if your occupation is Success.
He also explained that part of the rationale in his scantily clad videos is to differentiate from other ubiquitous exercise, health and nutrition videos.
3. Delegate and Outsource
Ben raved about the value he gets from outsourcing as many tasks as he can hand off to another. Virtual assistants, low cost resources typically based in another country with much lower labor rates than in the USA, provide an inexpensive and low friction avenue to outsource. He said he uses the gained time to produce content for his website, podcasts or videos.
4. Produce Every Day
If any of his tips were self-evident to even a casual follower of Ben Greenfield, this one is. Ben was clear with his approach in establishing expert status being built by producing content. He received advice from an author to strive to produce at least “two crappy pages” per day. That is to say, don’t over-think it, just produce content.
With the staggering amount of content he produces on his website, and the promotion of it through Facebook, Twitter, and his podcast , YouTube channel, and Slideshare presence which drive traffic back to his site, even his most loyal readers have trouble keeping up.
One specific technique he uses is called the Pomodoro Technique which he compared to high intensity interval training (HIIT). When he is using this technique he will work intensely for 25 minutes with a five minute break, followed by another 25 minutes on, five minutes off.
5. Do the Hard Thing First, Every Day
Once Ben completes his morning routine which includes quieting his mind and body via heart rate variability training, meditating, writing in his Five Minute Journal, some light yoga, sipping on a cup of coffee, and taking a cold shower, he’ll produce content for his website or other projects. This usually takes the form of writing, which is a task that requires some effort and mental energy for him.
6. Write Stuff Down
Ben has tried to create an “external brain” as much as possible through various personal processes facilitated by the web based app Evernote.
He uses what he calls a “Bucket system” in which certain tasks are done on certain days of the week. For example;
- Tuesdays he will make videos.
- Wednesday he’ll record and produce his podcast.
- He consults with personal clients on Tuesdays and Thursday.
He discouraged the use of checklists since their lack of prioritization lead to a never-ending feeling of anxiety around accomplishing.
Ben reads anywhere from 40 to 60 new articles and blogs a day with the use of Feedly synced with his e-reader. (While he didn’t specially mention it, certainly Minneapolis Running is among them.)
He also reads between five and seven books a week. Not surprisingly he has a system for reading so much. He’ll keep a fun, lighthearted book in the bathroom. By his bed he’ll keep a book from the self-help or how-to genre. Since sleep is the time the brain synthesizes information, Ben subjects his brain to this sort of information before bed to give his brain something to work on. Finally, on his coffee table he’ll keep a biography about a respected figure from history.
8. Talk to People
Considering Ben’s reclusive childhood, he has had to learn social skills over the course of his life. He recommended surrounding yourself with inspiring people, whether via networking groups, masterminds, or other mentorship groups. He encouraged the listeners to master the art of small talk, practice communication and to be intentional about interpersonal relationships.
He is also passing along to his twin boys some of the lessons he learned from his parents, including the habit of shaking someone’s hand, looking them in the eye, and repeating their name.
Nothing beats practice when it comes to developing social skills. However he recommended a number of books on the topic, with no hint of irony.
- It’s The Way You Say It, by Carol Fleming
- The Fine Art of Small Talk, by Debra Fine
- Talk to strangers, by David Topus
- Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi
9. Know Your Body
Stating that one’s heart has an electric magnetic field that reaches well beyond the body containing said heart, Ben went on to describe the uncanny phenomenon we’ve all experienced when we’re seemingly “tuned into” another person who is in close proximity. One’s heart’s rhythm can not only affect one’s own thought patterns, but also the thought patterns of others.
Ben said there are two quick and easy metrics to take every day that provide insight into one’s stress level and whether or not one is physically over trained. The first is heart rate variability. To take this measurement Ben suggested a few different applications:
The second metric is blood oxygen level which can be measured via a pulse oximeter. He recommended an ideal range between 96 – 99 every morning.
10. Cool Your Brain
Congratulations to Ben Greenfield for maturing from an introverted nerd as a child to a sleep princess as an adult (both descriptions self-proclaimed). He admitted to totally geeking out his sleep habits, even to the point of repelling his beautiful wife Jessa. Ben displayed a picture of his bedroom set up, complete with a sleep mask, earth pulse, biomat, blue light blocking glasses, infrared light therapy lamp, Five Minute Journal, and passionflower extract.
Read more about Ben’s explanation of why sleep is so important.
Since our brain cells become inflamed throughout the day due to the electromagnetic rays they are subject to, gluten’s effect, and the effect of artificial sweeteners, sleep has a restorative and healing effect. Clearly, understanding the science behind what modern day life and endurance training subject the body to lead one to maximizing the many benefits of rest.
Finally, taking a supplement of curcumin is a great way to reduce brain inflammation.
One interesting nugget from the Q & A session that might appeal to longer distance runners in particular is his fueling recommendation. He recommends a concoction of SuperStarch, amino acids, and MCT oil. He didn’t say much about the taste, but considering Ben has been known to munch on amino acid tablets, taste does not appear to be his primary objective.
For followers of Ben, not much of what he covered is new information. He is open and honest in his podcast and generous with free content published on his website. Certainly all the information is covered in his impressive tome, “Beyond Training”.
What was unique about the talk on Tuesday night was the package in which the information was presented. Not only live and in person, but succinct and illustrated with personal examples, he sent us off into our personal lives prepared to make incremental improvements (or as Ben might say, ready to “up regulate” our lives).
Check out the presentation outlining his talk on Slideshare. Out of these 10 things, what resonated with you?