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Brain Training - 3 reasons why you should treat your mind as a muscle

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” - Benjamin Franklin

Two years ago, I started my nutrition coaching business born from a passion for helping others to achieve their fitness goals in the easiest, most sustainable means possible.

Since embarking on this journey, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is the importance of being proactive with learning regardless of how smart or experienced you think might already be.

Just like with our physical health, our mental prowess requires careful planning, consistency and a willingness to keep training through hard times.

We stock up on vitamins and minerals, lift weights and get our heart rates going - why aren’t we giving our brains the same training it so desperately needs?

Here’s a few reasons why learning is so critical:

  • Never be left behind. 2020 has seen some of the most rapid changes in recent memory and with new technology constantly evolving, matching the pace of our changing world is crucial.

  • Be more confident. The deeper your knowledge and experience of multiple areas, the stronger your ability to cultivate self-belief and take action to reach your potential.

  • Idea generation. The more you upskill, the more likely you are to be able to channel that same energy into innovating and solving problems in new ways.

1. Learning x doing = success

A note of warning: beware the danger of knowledge with zero implementation. There is a very fine balance between knowledge acquisition vs putting this into practice.

In the world of fitness and business alike, there’s no greater contrast than the gap seen between those who put their new learnings into practice and those who don’t.

When possible, focus solely on the new skills or knowledge that solve problems you are currently facing or anticipate in the near future.

For instance, is your startup growing rapidly and you’re struggling to find the best ways of attracting the top engineering talent? Start here.

To put this principle in more tangible terms, 70% of our learning comes from direct experience.

One of the best means of being more action-biased is to set yourself tangible ‘non-negotiables’ over a set period of time (e.g. daily or weekly)

Here’s a few examples that you may find effective:

  • Watch at least 1 course daily (e.g. via ThePowerMBA)

  • Send 5 outreach messages to new leads

  • Go for a 30-minute walk daily

  • 3-4 resistance workouts per week

  • 12 sales call per working day

What’s especially effective about this structure is the dopamine hit of you achieving a small task you set out to complete and the subsequent positive momentum this generates.

The best combination is therefore being proactive with your learning (e.g. seeking out online courses, training) and combining this same knowledge with action.

Rinse and repeat for best results.

2. The quickest way to avoid mistakes

Naturally, it’s impossible to avoid falling short in all aspects of life and we can only be grateful for the lessons that these moments teach us.

However, one of the most effective means of speeding up your personal development is to avoid making such mistakes in the first place. How to achieve this? Learning from the mistakes of others instead.

Similar to hiring a personal trainer whom you can learn from directly, you can also do the same in business. Even if you’re not able to afford the time and money for a 1-2-1 mentor, the options available can be found far and wide.

This could be for instance: books, podcasts and online courses. The value of learning from the first-hand experiences of experts in their fields can have huge upsides and also save you experiencing painful failures that may otherwise have occurred.

It’s also an effective way to humanise our heroes who, as Tim Ferriss will often put it, seem to “hit home runs every time”.

Look for leaders in your industry and/or job function and make it a priority to seek out their content (online courses, podcasts, books).

It may also be worth diversifying your topic areas for instance, especially if you’re a founder.

Could you cover these areas and others that are relevant to you?

  • Digital marketing

  • Hiring a team

  • B2B sales

  • Product development (hardware, software)

  • Raising investment (VC, crowdfunding)

  • Wellness & fitness

3. The mind-body connection

It’s fair to say that keeping a tabs on your health is neither limited to exclusively physical or mental.

This is good news as for any positive habits we instill for either mind or body, the benefits will inevitably spill over into the other.

A great example of this is the fact that 90% of our serotonin comes from our gut. Often referred to as the ‘2nd brain’.

What does this mean?

Well, the more we take good care of what we’re eating, the better we can manage our mood and brain power.

The reverse is often also true. If we’re able to keep on top of our ‘brain training’ we’ll instill a sense of positive momentum that often gives us the confidence and motivation to also take better care of our physical fitness.

Life is so often a series of domino effects and it’s in our hands to determine whether these are positive or negative.

It’s important to be realistic too about our progress. James Clear writes eloquently about this in ‘Atomic Habits’ where he outlines the principle of ‘latent potential’.

In it, he outlines the theory behind the ‘valley of disappointment’ that comes with plateauing and a lack of visible progress.

We’re hard-wired to expect linear outcomes and a clear path of growth, but as any of us in the world of startups will know, this quite simply isn’t the case.

Instead of thinking exclusively about the outcome, focus on the long-term gains of building a series of positive habits that will continue to serve you for years to come.

It’s equally important to remember that you’re never done.

A commitment to lifelong learning will separate you from the competition and be a strong marker of your future success in all aspects of life, far beyond the reach of running a successful startup.


  • Create simple habits to apply new knowledge (e.g. 1-2 new habits a month)

  • Learn from others’ mistakes (follow 2-3 industry experts and absorb their content)

  • Approach your mental fitness with the same discipline as physical (set daily & weekly non-negotiables)

Dec McLaughlin is Chapter Director of Startup Grind Edinburgh and a virtual nutrition coach specialising in helping tech entrepreneurs to lose 10lbs+, 2x their productivity and optimise health.


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