Be Here Now: Books, Abs, & Ice Baths

Sebastian on a morning run to the Rocky steps

You will learn a lot during your MBA. Certainly, you will improve your business acumen and your network. But only a few people see the MBA as an opportunity to improve their fitness. Yes, you can see the MBA as both a life-changing and body-changing experience. Think about it; the next one or two years will allow you to change your habits in a new environment with an entirely new schedule and colleagues. It would be a missed opportunity not to consider that.

But first things first: Why should you improve your fitness?

In my early IT consulting days, I took the train at 6 AM and eventually returned home at 8 PM. At home, I didn’t have energy for anything. And, of course, I didn’t have time for sports, either. Never in my life have I been so tired and unhappy. The only desire I had was to get some sleep. People often told me that I looked tired until I got annoyed and said that this was how I naturally look.


As a teenager, I played in a basketball team; I had five training sessions a week and one game every Sunday which amounts to 6 days for sports. I could handle the training, school, and fabulous weekend parties. I was a bit younger, but that doesn’t explain the whole story. I was very active, and my body understood that it had to give me all the energy I needed.

When I started my undergraduate in Germany, things slowed down. I went two times per week for basketball training. Then it fell to one time per week and eventually once every four weeks. Sounds familiar? Most of us went through this painful and misleading journey of sedentarism because we didn’t find time for sports. Not having time is a lousy excuse; in reality, we are only lying to ourselves. The results of these lies are present each day when we feel tired and low energy, often overweight and unhappy with ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, the goal is not to be skinny or super athletic. My goal is to be happy with myself and have the energy I need for the day.

Rocky Stairs in Philadelphia


When you wake up in the morning, the last thing you want to do is go for a run. Surprisingly, after you run for two minutes, you feel great. When you are home again and shower, you are very proud of your achievement resulting in a successful day overall. The two-minute rule is beneficial to get you started. Do something you struggle with only for 2 minutes. If you still want to stop it, you can return to bed. For example, you can try on your running gear, go to the door, and if you still feel like you don’t want to run, you go back to bed. No questions asked. But most likely, you will keep moving and continue. Once you move, nobody can stop you.

I tried different morning routines. The strict one: Waking up at 5 AM and then directly go for a run or swim, meditate and journal. It was nice but I couldn’t keep this rhythm for more than three weeks. My current routine is the softer routine: I make sure that I get more than seven hours of sleep. Then I directly go out for a run, shower, drink a coffee, and do breath exercises for fifteen minutes.

The soft morning running routine helped me lose 3 kg in 4 weeks and gave me a lot of energy. If you are not a morning person, that’s okay too. Just set up the right trigger. Don’t think twice when you return from work and feel exhausted. Put down your bag, get your running shoes and start running for only 30 minutes. The transformation you will feel is fantastic, and the time you lose with that is minimal. You will have some energy left for the evening, feel proud about yourself, and ultimately sleep much better. Last month, for example, I was in Philly and chose to start a refreshing morning run, all the way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Steps – a.k.a. “The Rocky Balboa Steps”.


Everyone gets their willpower from different sources. Maybe you are lucky and 100% self-driven, consistently delivering on time. However, the majority of us don’t belong to that sacred space. I have trouble regularly going to the gym. I often skip because I’m “too busy”, “too stressed” or “too tired”.

There is a simple solution to that. Find an accountability partner in sports and copy what that person is doing. If nobody pops up in your mind now, think about the alternative: Create a chat group with your sporty friends. We did this at INSEAD, and we called that group GYM-SEAD. Every time someone goes to the gym, they placed a checkmark in the chatgroup message and eventually post a picture of themselves. It is very motivating and, as I observed in the first week, the people who look sporty are the ones who added the most checkmarks.

Belonging to a community of sporty people keeps me going, and I don’t want to be the guy with no checkmarks under my name.

Screenshot of the GMSEAD group and checkmarks


It will be tough to start a new fitness routine. You are the new kid on the block and will not know what to do. You don’t know the exercises or the rules of the gym, and you have to start with very light weights. Therefore my advice is to find a good gym buddy who can teach you the basic stuff.

In my case, I worked out with Máté, one of the fittest colleagues in the MBA. I started lifting half the weights he did and was nearly exhausted. I didn’t know how much energy I should save because I was unaware of how many exercises we would do that day. (in total, there were seven, including leg-press, biceps, bench-press, back and abs. Overall, the first day was a bitter experience; I almost passed out after doing the leg press. I didn’t know what my body was capable of doing. I felt relieved, happy, and proud when we finished the workout. I survived day one.

Surprisingly the next day was more manageable. I knew what weights to use and could even increase the difficulty. I was aware of the exercises as I got Máté’s overview at the beginning. It was still challenging. Some activities felt familiar, so I gained more confidence.

Whenever Máté went to the gym, I permanently joined and never skipped a session. I could see that my strength increased within two weeks, but I couldn’t see any difference in my body. But then suddenly, people asked me, “Yey man, are you going to the gym?” or said “You look so sporty nowadays.”

It felt much better than “You look so tired, Sebastian”, back in my consulting days. I felt proud that the hard work(out) produced visible results. I felt more confident, and my energy levels increased.


If you google meditation, you will get 408,000,000 results. You can do many things, but let’s be honest: most people do nothing. Again, the excuse is, “I don’t have time for this,” “I have to rush to work in the morning,” or “This is not helping me at all.”

The first goal is to find the proper meditation for you. I talked to many MBA colleagues about it and found out that the most helpful meditation is breathing exercises combined with holding my breath. The whole routine takes around 12 minutes. The practice is straightforward. You deeply inhale and exhale 30 times, then hold your breath for some time. You repeat this three times. You don’t need to force yourself to hold your breath too long. One or two minutes should be okay. You might wonder now if you can control your breath for so long, but believe me you can. We breathe very shallowly during the day because of stress, fear, and maybe because we want to hide our belly.

After a breathing exercise, you will feel awake and present at the moment. I often do breathing exercises before customer calls or job applications; it calms me, makes me sound more confident, and I feel better overall.

Calming down in an ice bath


Trying an Ice Bath is not for everyone; be sure there is a professional trainer around you who will guide you. It can be dangerous if you do it on your own. Why? You might not realize the right moment to leave the icy water and risk hypothermia.

My first ice bath showed me how I react in dangerous situations. I learned that things are never as bad as they seem initially. Before my first ice experience, I thought it would take a few seconds before I just froze. I never thought it was possible to stay in ice water for minutes. It’s all about preparation and mindset. The moment I step into ice water, my body becomes very stressed because it is a life-threatening situation. If I stay there too long, it means “Game Over.” My breathing becomes irregular, I cannot think clearly, and my fingers and toes start hurting. The intuitive reaction would be to jump out again and never return. But if I can overcome that stage, take some deep breaths, and calm my body, I observe that my situation is not so bad. I can jump out whenever I decide to. I can look around, and suddenly everything around me is silent. My mind is quiet, and my body is preserving the heat. It may not be a pleasant experience, but suddenly, I am in control of what’s happening.

I can start to manage my heat production by tensing my back muscles. I can change my mind and say: “I produce heat to melt all the ice around me .” A positive mindset will make me feel more comfortable in the icy situation. The water won’t feel that cold anymore. I find a lot of parallels between Ice Baths, stressful tasks or MBA exams. They are all extremely challenging situations but I can handle them with the right mindset.

The learning here is this: “You, and only you, are in control of how you react to a situation.” – and a situation is never as bad as it seems at first.

Overall, the time at your MBA can give you much more than “just” the network and business acumen. It is a time to discover yourself and try out new things. Every colleague you meet can teach you something new and valuable as long as you are open to exploring and listening to what they say. Don’t be afraid to look like a fool at your first sports attempts with your classmates. I’m sure you would not judge others for trying something out of their comfort zone. Therefore I’m confident that your classmates won’t judge you. Soon you will become the pro and help others to reach their full potential.

Sebastian got his master’s degree in Computer Science at the TU Darmstadt in Germany, where he was also the president of an international student association. He is passionate about speaking at events, having deep conversations, and coaching people. Sebastian worked in Business Software Sales in Germany, the US, and South East Asia. In his spare time, he enjoys meeting friends and family overseas, ice baths, and hosting events.


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