This time of year, new health club contracts surge by about 50 percent. The second week in January is historically the busiest time of the year for any gym. However, by the second week of February, 80 percent of all new members will walk away from their well-intentioned resolutions when they realize that membership is easy but working out is hell!

What can the gym teach you about starting and running a successful business? Lots. Here are five of the most important lessons I've learned from a lifetime of sweating it out.

1. It's tougher than it looks. (If it wasn't, you wouldn't be reading this....)

Here's the thing, everyone wants to be fit but very few people want to get fit. One is a destination, the other is a process--with no time-lapse photography involved. You will need to traverse every inch of the journey--including the inevitable setbacks! And by the way, once you lose those five pounds, you're not done. Be ready for that. Too many business owners expect that once they get through the first year they're home free. The fact is that while new business survival rates are worst during the first year, with 25 percent dying off in that time, another 25 percent die off in the next four years, and it's not until about 10 years out that business survival rates start to taper off and stabilize. During that first decade, you are constantly at risk. The antidote? Be disciplined, persistent, and more than just a bit paranoid.

2. You can't just want it. You have to need it--really bad.

"Do you want this or need this?" Hesitate for a second, and you're in the wrong place.

Want is temporary and based on desire; that's' the 80 percent who sign up for a gym membership and bail out after four weeks. Need is permanent and based on beliefs and values; that's the 20 percent who stick it out, sweat like crazy, and just keep at it until it's part of who they are. It's also what separates successful entrepreneurs from wannabes. You can't want to run a business; you can't want to be successful; you can't want to change the world. You have to need it and commit yourself to it and whatever it entails. It's why the first question I ask anyone who talks about becoming an entrepreneur is, "Do you want this or need this?" Hesitate for a second, and you're in the wrong place. Try the green coffee bean extract in the vitamin shop next door.

3. Breakthroughs create a new baseline--for everyone.

Athletes who break through physical limits are not only able to sustain the breakthrough but also create a new sense of what's possible. When Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile in 1954--a feat thought for centuries to be impossible--he cleared the way for 21 other runners to do the same over the next six years. Nothing evolutionary happened to our species, no new techniques, exercises, or equipment; just the knowledge that it could be done. If you're running a business, make sure your people know about each and every success. Advertise breakthroughs and big wins and celebrate them--in a big way. At my company, we used to have an app that would cause every device in the company to ring in a distinctive way whenever any sale was made. It was like a metronome, and when it slowed down, people hustled to get it ringing again, and they knew they could.

4. The greatest competition is always against yourself.

Chances are, the guy or gal with the six-pack abs isn't looking at you as much as you're looking at him or her.

Hey, we all have to dream and visualize before we get there, but if you're spending most of your time admiring others, you may want to ask yourself if you're really setting the bar high enough. Too many entrepreneurs try to emulate the competition. It's great to have targets that you want to surpass, but it's even better to go where your competition fears going, because that's ultimately where the greatest opportunities are.

5. Setbacks are inevitable--and necessary.

"If you're going through hell, keep going."

One of the hardest things to do when you work out regularly is to get back into the groove after a long illness or injury. It's hell, and it feels as though you've got to work so much harder just to get back to where you left off. It's a great, guilt-free reason to stop. But the greatest setbacks create the greatest opportunities to prove our resilience and strength. Without them, you simply wouldn't grow. I've yet to see a business that follows a straight line to success. I've worked with so many CEOs of successful companies who each tell the same story about the day they were just about to shut down because they couldn't make payroll. So what do you do? Churchill said it best, "If you're going through hell, keep going."

Published on: Jan 19, 2015
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