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7 game-changing personal development exercises you’ll actually love doing

7 game-changing personal development exercises you’ll actually love doing

Time for a post that’s pure personal development. With a distinctly shrink-for-entrepreneurs “not what you were expecting” flavor, of course.

Stretching yourself with exercises that don’t revolve around business or traditional “personal growth” topics is critical to the success (and acceleration) of your entrepreneurial career.

In between all the workshops, non-fiction reading and mentoring we sometimes forget that the lives we lead are our primary medium for learning and growth. This post outlines seven real-world experiences that’ll permanently transform your thinking for the better – ensuring a revolution of business results. 

Your life and your career are one.

Trying to draw a line between your business career and your personal life doesn’t work. The way you do anything in life, from picking up groceries to raising your children, is the way you do everything in life – including running a company.

Simply put, every part of your life is an analogue of (and a metaphor for) the other parts of your life. The tiny (but crucial) lessons you learnt in grade school still influence your thinking as a “grown up” entrepreneur. Struggle with math? I did and that’s why I outsource all my accounting – no coincidence.

The overlap doesn’t stop there though. Fanatical sportspeople intuitively get competitive in business. Duh, right? What you do in your weekend is intimately connected to the way you conduct meetings on a Wednesday. The way you relate in your relationships at home determines the way you relate to your staff and customers. And vice versa.

Life is just one big ol’ mess of perception, projection and topsy-turvy unconscious mind metaphor. Your business is no exception.

This might be a scary thought for those of your pursuing some ideal of “work life balance” but fear not, your life and business being the same is good news.

When we view every part of our lives as a metaphorical analogue of our entrepreneurial career, we’re presented incredible opportunities for fun, fulfillment and growth. At every moment.

The list I’m about to present to you sums up the seven most game-changing exercises for entrepreneurs who *get* that the way they show up in life is the way they show up at work.

Follow every one of these suggestions over the next month and your life and business will rocket to levels of success higher than you can imagine. The best part? Every suggestion on this list is a heap of fun anyway and I guarantee you’ve already told yourself “I should do that one day” for about half of these.

Let’s get into it.

Exercise 1: Expand your intelligence laterally 

Become knowledgeable in a “wide and shallow” way, across a range of topics. Read, read and read some more. Get to know the basics of economics, anthropology, history, philosophy and… paleontology. Whatever. That’s only half the list.

Our past is particularly important to know about – getting a grasp of what it really means to be alive in this tiny technological blip (dwarfed by our massive history) will give you a unique perspective next time you try to sell a customer something.

Knowing stuff is important.

Exercise 2: Do something you fear at a visceral level (with a low probability of danger) 

Of all the metaphorical intersections between life and business, fear is the most powerful. Starting a business is a lot like leaping out of a plane – the anxiety is the same as if you were about to die, but the statistical chance of you ending up as a pink smear are very very low.

You’ll make it, love it and immediately say “can we do that again?!”

I’m sure I don’t need to explain the value of giving yourself experience overcoming irrational fears, transforming them into exciting fun experiences.

Exercise 3: Master a single deep and narrow skill 

Become an authority on a single field of knowledge that’s totally random… just because. Train your brain to go deep into a single discipline and you’ll really develop the mental muscle to do the same in your business.

You’ll also discover that as you explore the finer intricacies of pre-roman Gaelic dance rituals… that, like everything else in life, your new passion is dripping with business metaphors and subtle value.

Exercise 4: Read incredible, perspective-altering fiction 

Don’t get caught in the trap of exclusively reading non-fiction. Nourish your mind with some truly brain bending fiction that shakes up your view of the world, exposes you to new beliefs and generally asks more questions than it answers.

No entrepreneur should be content with a static mental map of the world, so let some literary visionaries wipe the cobwebs from your eyes.

Some devilishly dangerous suggestions are anything by: Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Robbins or Orson Scott Card.

Exercise 5: Persuade someone else to make a life altering, positive decision 

Find that friend who’s contemplating throwing everything away to travel the world. Convince her to do it. Sit down and patiently rationalize the value and importance of “choosing life” and doing the scary, fun thing… instead of the safe boring option. Explain it all to her.

This one should be obvious: You’re not really talking to someone else – you’re talking to yourself. Sure, you’re persuading your friend (sales skills anyone?) and they’re benefiting from your persuasion… but you’re really seducing your own unconscious. Aha!

Exercise 6: Build something with your hands

These days, so many entrepreneurs are creators only in the realm of the mind – which is awesome and fantastic (therein lies “scale” – we can’t all be wood workers) but it’s sometimes problematic.

We lose touch with that very real “man-make-FIRE!” experience that our ancestors felt when they carved out the first spear and stabbed the first mammoth. Ditto first musical instrument (for those who find mammoth metaphors too grisly to contemplate).

Go get your hands dirty. Build something. Make your mind see how things connect, stick together and stay that way. Find out how to plane an edge perfectly, make things smooth and strong.

Imbue yourself with powers of creation that reside in both the mind and the muscle.

Exercise 7: Remind yourself to be grateful 

Most important of all, reconnect with gratitude.

Go find the place, or be with the people, or listen to that thing or do whatever you need to do… to remember just how fortunate and blessed you are.

Remember how lucky you are to be who you are, in this where and when. The fact that you even have a shot at being an entrepreneur makes you better off than about a billion people – the fact that you’re reading this on a screen makes you better off than about 5 billion of them.

I find gratitude in places with views – right now it’s the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Last year it was the Southern Alps of New Zealand or the Sydney harbor bridge. Something about high places and epic vistas reminds me of exactly where I am, how small I am and how fortunate I am.

Find your gratitude.

That’s it.

What other exercises do you think need to be on this list? What real life experiences contribute to your success as an entrepreneur?

With your help, I suspect the comments on this post could outpace the value of the post itself. There are no wrong answers, so let me know your thoughts…


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  1. Indeed, the world has become so specialised that everything becomes compartmentalised. Work is so often something people see as that thing that has to be done, or worse, suffered.

    I can check all items on the list (if having been just a bit of an expert [#3] on the Medieval hose counts), but I’m not the most successful entrepreneur. Problem is, I probably have too much of #7. So, I would add to this, have those things in just the right measure.

    Although I can’t “vouch” for those point making you a better entrepreneur, I can certainly vouch for making a very interesting and rich life. No doubt, anything that widens your horizon adds more strings to your bow.

    1. Hey Judy, thanks for stopping by to comment.

      I’m not certain how you equate too much gratitude with a lack of business success …. Do you mean that you’re too complacent and not “hungry” enough?

      Certainly these 7 items aren’t the entire entrepreneurial equation – other ingredients are necessary 🙂

      1. Indeed, complacent and not hungry enough, until the wolf is at the door, which gets my ass into gear again. Thankfully, I do have enough drive to keep doing better each time. It is probably just a slower process for me.

        It’s my mind jumping ahead. You are right, too much gratitude does not equate, at least directly, with lack of business success.

        Jon Morrow said he needs a gun to his head to get/keep him going, and creates that gun for himself (accountability). Maybe I need to create that gun for myself too, and not wait for the wolf to do the job. Everyone needs different motivators and is willing to pay a different price for their success. At the end of the day it is the quality of your life that counts, the whole of it, however you bring it about. I think that is where I have succeeded to a great extent – with some room for improvement on the financial front 😉 .

        1. Hey Judy,

          There’s an evolution of motivation for most entrepreneurs and the “gun to your head” ethos can be superseded by even more effect motivational drivers. It’s a journey you need to grow through experientially yourself though… so start by finding the leverage that juices YOU the most. Don’t worry too much about what works for others 🙂

  2. Hi Peter – Great post!
    I might add “laugh more”. Look at the absurd/funny/peculiar side of life, and stop taking yourself so seriously – if just for an hour or so! I try to do this and it helps me keep my perspective, helps with relaxation, and helps me stay open to other possibilities. We can get wrapped up in our own earnestness (is that a word?!) to the point that it’s a straightjacket.

    1. Hi Cara! I love it! I think “find things to laugh at” should totally be number 8 … Watching something funny on tv or even better live…. Or even just joking about with funny friends is essential for all those reasons and more!

      Thanks for contributing.

  3. Hahaahaaa….Of all of those suggestions, I clearly need more fiction! Thank you, Peter. I love how you write and what you choose to write about.

    Making things with my hands I could do more. But I find growing, preparing, and eating my own vegetables and herbs a satisfying combination of 6 and 7.

    I’d pit my knowledge and execution of swing dancing against any entrepreneurial doctor out there. And because I know how to both lead and follow the dance, the metaphors for business are never-ending.

    In my office, there is a picture of me draped in two humongous boa constrictors…I’m smiling blithely into the camera as my lizard brain is wetting its knickers. Until that moment, I had never been able to be in the same room with a snake.

    And the things I talk people into … well… let’s just say I practice medicine for a living. Talking people into or out of stuff is my one marketable skill.

    Looking at one shelf in my bookcase, there are 2 cook books, a travel guide, a copy of the DVD Fantasia, books on spirituality, personal economics, the history of medicine, Tim Ferris’ recent book….and OH!!!…and 2 works of fiction! (half finished…but present. I am not a lost cause!)

    I’m grateful to be here in this little techno-blip of time, to care for 5 generations, to witness a world connecting as quickly as it’s falling apart. I can’t guess the end of this story …. but I root for it’s heroines and heroes every moment.

    1. Awesome to hear you’re already living this stuff Cory… but there’s always room for improvement! Number nine on the list should be “Identify areas of complacency” 😛 😛

      1. Hehe…I’m sure there’s complacency a-plenty in my life. What happened as I took your post point by point, however, was a sort of alchemy. Reading the title in my inbox I assumed I was about to read some shrink-y goodness to which I would aspire but most likely fall short…(since we don’t give anything our “all”, eh? 😉

        Instead, you validated that my rich but eclectic life informs the way I work, and if I veer too far from that, my work goes flat. It’s already here in front of me. Being reminded of that made my day! Maybe I’ll tackle complacency next week. 😉

  4. The Magic Word (pt 1)

    In the beginning was the magic word,
    Always spoken but seldom heard.

    There was an old lady went riding on a pig,
    Sitting with her legs crossed and eating a fig,
    The pig trotted under the branch of an ash,
    The lady rolled off backwards and headed for a splash.

    “Hey little lady what are you trying to do?
    You’re touching your dream but you can’t break through,
    Riding on a pig makes you look quite absurd,
    To trot inside your dream will need your magic word!”

    Splashing in the river the lady met a pike,
    Climbed on its back and rode it like a motorbike,
    The pike went on swimming as if it didn’t care,
    Then with a flick of its tail, it hurled her in the air.

    “Hey little lady what are you trying to do?
    You’re touching your dream but you can’t break through,
    Riding on a pike makes you look quite absurd,
    To swim inside your dream will need your magic word!”

    Flying through the air the lady landed on a swan,
    Put both her arms around its neck and desperately hung on,
    The swan took her higher through the clouds in the sky,
    Did a rolling loop-the-loop and wished her goodbye.

    “Hey little lady what are you trying to do?
    You’re touching your dream but you can’t break through,
    Riding on a swan makes you look quite absurd,
    To fly inside your dream will need your magic word!”

    Spread-eagled like a starfish, the lady spun around,
    ‘Til she crashed into a sunflower and bent it to the ground,
    That flower broke her fall, from way up be-yonder,
    An’ dropped her gently on the back of an anaconda.

    “Hey little lady what are you trying to do?
    You’re touching your dream but you can’t break through,
    Riding on a flower makes you look quite absurd,
    To crash inside your dream will need your magic word!”

    The lady had no time to sit there feeling woebegone,
    Underwater on the anaconda in the Amazon,
    Deeper and deeper ‘til it felt like death,
    How long can it be ‘til she runs out of breath?

    “Hey little lady what are you trying to do?
    You’re touching your dream but you can’t break through,
    Riding on a snake makes you look quite absurd,
    To surf inside your dream will need your magic word!”

    Quite suddenly the anaconda came to a stop,
    Wrapped around the lady and spun her like a top,
    She was spinning so fast that it tangled her hair,
    Then the tornado-lady-o vanished in thin air.

    Hey little lady you made it right through,
    You touched the dream and the dream became you,
    You listened to your heart and at last you heard,
    The rhyme and the rhythm of your magic word!

    Then her four friends came running, saying, “Where has she gone?
    We see no little lady in the mighty Amazon.”
    “Oh naughty anaconda, oh what have you done,
    Where is the little lady who was so much fun?”

    “Don’t worry about her, she’ll be back in a while,
    Tap-dancing on the teeth of a crocodile.
    Don’t worry about her, with a fee-fo-fum,
    She’ll be playing two fat hippos like a bongo drum.

    Don’t worry about her, she’ll turn up soon,
    With a slice of Saturn on a cracker from the moon.
    Don’t worry about her, with her anchors away,
    She’ll be playing pin-ball with the Milky Way.

    But you dream-dozers, what are you going to do?
    You keep touching your dream but you can’t break through!
    Always dream-dozers you have a choice,
    So listen deep inside to your still small voice!

    Eat a fig on a pig, mount a pike motorbike,
    Fly a swan up yonder, surf an anaconda,
    Let the thundercloud roll, let the lightning flash strike,
    Just keep on doing the things that you like,
    Just keep on doing the things that you like,
    Just keep on doing the things that you like!

    For in the beginning was the magic word,
    Always spoken but seldom heard.

    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx there are pts 2 & 3 & 4

  5. I would like to add:

    a. Play for the fun of it – with no goals to reach.
    b. Go outside – in the rain, in the sun, dig in the earth, immerse yourself in nature.
    c. Pay attention when in public – seek out someone who looks tense and try to catch his/her eyes: and give him/her your most genuine smile.
    d. And yes, read Orson Scott Card! He’s great!

  6. Exercise 3 for me is hamsters!

    And I can’t believe that only today I was comparing hamsters to bringing up a family! Very random stuff but it all made sense (to me anyway!)

    Thanks for a great post.

  7. i think gratitude and prayer go hand in hand. for me prayer is the time when i can be grateful for all the big and small things.

    i like the idea of doing something you fear, along those same lines there’s nothing that makes me feel more alive, when i’m out in nature(backpacking, camping), playing around in the vegetable garden, or some sort of competitive sport or doing something physically challenging

  8. I love these, and feel bad that I’m not doing a few. (specifically, being an expert on some random thing…now i feel lost!)

    What I would add: I always tell my participants to shake up their brain by doing something they would normally “never” do. This also helps greatly when one is stuck on a problem, project, etc.: If you usually write, put it aside and go dance, play an instrument, or paint. If you always listen to rock & roll, throw on a country station even if you can’t stand it — and look for some aspect you enjoy. When you go shopping, go into a store you normally don’t patronize, or pick a different route and buy a different food/drink/whatever.

    We need to shake up the brain every now and then and see the ripple-out effect the “shaking” has on our work and our creativity.

  9. Thank you for this list, agree wholeheartedly with it.

    Was pleasantly surprised with number 6 – build something with your hands – as this specialized age of convenience has outsourced so many things that in prior years we’d take on as individuals.

    Now with the Maker Faire movement, the DIY electronics movement, and the ability to access so many instructions (for free!) online to construct a lot of really cool things, I’m almost off to a long weekend figuring out which thing to tackle first with the kids.

    Probably a marshmallow shooter.

  10. Great list, thanks Peter! Related to exercise #2 and Cara Lynn’s recommendation to laugh more, one excellent thing to do that people fear at a visceral level (and that has a low probability of danger) is improvisation – I’m an entrepreneur (a marketing consultant / editor / copywriter) and an improv performer and trainer, and I love it!

    In his latest book, “To Sell Is Human – The surprising truth about moving others”, Daniel Pink says improvisation is a key skill for anyone who wants to sell their products or ideas.

    And here’s my blog post, “34 Reasons To Learn Improv”

  11. Hi !
    This is Dr .Tahir adv with you.I’ve a question that how we expand our knowledge to know something and to know oneself.Psycholgically how we learn different ideas to rehabilitate and the exercise to read the mind of oneself……????

  12. Great list, I would like to add keep a smile which trigger a better morale, feel challenge as a gift to unleash our potential

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