Wonder what trait top entrepreneurs have in common? Work it out!

Here are the top traits self-made millionaires share according to best-selling author Tom Corley

19 December 2018 - 10:03
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Tom Corley, author of the best-selling book Change Your Habits, Change Your Life, surveyed more than 177 self-made millionaires to understand their daily habits. He found a number of traits they had in common, including surrounding themselves with successful people, wasting as little time as possible, reading a lot, and carving time out every day for focused thinking.

He also found that all these successful entrepreneurs ensured they got plenty of sleep, and that 76% of them exercised for at least 30 minutes a day – a statistic that Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, head of the Centre for Clinical Excellence at Discovery Health, finds highly credible.

“Research has shown that regular exercise is associated with improvements in memory, concentration, and mental sharpness,” she says.

“Exercise can give top entrepreneurs the edge over their competitors and keep them on top of their game.”

“It’s absolutely plausible that self-made millionaires exercise regularly,” says Dinesh Govender, CEO of Discovery Vitality.

“We all know two things about exercise: it’s really, really good for you in terms of physical and emotional health benefits, and it’s not as easy to get into as a slab of chocolate. Successful entrepreneurs have proven that they have the dedication to do what others find hard to – sacrifice in the short term to achieve something greater in the long term.”

Of course, simply being disciplined at exercise won’t necessarily make any self-starter rich. But there does seem to be a link. Many high achievers credit the substantial role health and fitness play in their success.

President Cyril Ramaphosa often wakes up early to walk. Other CEOs reported to wake up before 5am to exercise, include founder of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson, Apple CEO Tim Cook, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and Disney CEO Bob Iger.

Barry Swartzberg, CEO of the Vitality Group, also gets up to exercise first thing in the morning, a habit which he says will “set you up” for the rest of the day.

“My mother was a dance teacher and she ensured that all her children were active. So I have exercised all my life, and I do believe it makes me better at my job. I find that it increases my focus, and makes me feel better about myself and more positive about the future.”

Think of exercise as the most important engagement of your working week
Dr Jonathan Broomberg

Discovery Health CEO Dr Jonathan Broomberg says: “Exercise makes me better at all aspects of my life, and certainly my job. It offers increased energy which I can sustain over extended periods, as well as increased resilience to stress, at work and outside of work. It also makes me a happier and more relaxed person, which again is good for both work and family life.”

The science backs up their experiences. Research shows that regular exercise improves mood, memory and cognitive skills, as well as helping to manage anxiety. It also increases endurance levels and improves symptoms of fatigue by as much as 65% – valuable benefits for anyone faced with the pressures of owning their own business.

Broomberg adds: “Regular exercise increases physical energy and attention, and also enhances your intellectual ability – particularly when working under stress. It is a very powerful stress reliever and assists in managing the often emotional challenges faced by entrepreneurs. Regular exercise also develops and contributes to discipline.”

This last point touches on the fact that, while the physical and cognitive benefits of exercise are undeniable, the emotional aspects that exercise helps to build – such as determination, resilience and perseverance – are all qualities that successful entrepreneurs possess.

Dinesh Govender, CEO of Discovery Vitality
Dinesh Govender, CEO of Discovery Vitality
Image: Supplied/Discovery

Keen to get more active but don’t feel like you have the time? Commit to making exercise a priority, says Broomberg, who says it is “quite manageable, if one has a disciplined and structured routine.” His workouts (which average around 50 minutes a day, seven days a week) entail four runs, two strength and flexibility sessions, and yoga over the weekend.

“Think of exercise as the most important engagement of your working week,” he says. “Schedule it into your calendar and never move it, except for emergencies, or the most critical priorities. When you are forced to miss a session, catch it up on the same day or the next day, but not later.”

Govender suggests a more flexible routine, but agrees that fitting it in somehow is key: “Exercise has become a critical part of my life, and I’m blessed to be able to blend it into the other important aspects of my life, whether it’s playing tennis with my family, or going for a Team Vitality run. Exercise has definitely helped me at work and play, by giving me the energy and good health to more fully engage in and enjoy whatever life offers.”

In encouraging others to get moving more often, he says: “Figure out how to add more steps to your day in a fashion that you enjoy, be it a stationary bike in front of the TV, blasting music through your earphones at the gym, or going walking with a loved one. What works to keep me disciplined and motivated is resolving each week to reach my Vitality Active Rewards goal,” he says, referring to an app-based programme that incentivises people to achieve exercise goals.

So, whether you’ve set your sights on becoming a self-made millionaire or whether you just want to become more focused, capable and successful at whatever you do – if these results and Tom Corley’s high-flyers are anything to go by, it’s clear that making exercise a part of your daily routine can help get you there.


The Vitality Open gave all South Africans, whether they were Vitality members or not, the opportunity to take part in Vitality, Discovery’s science-based behavioural programme.

The Vitality Open encouraged participants to be more active and to drive more safely with personalised fitness and driving goals through the Discovery app. By reaching these goals, participants earned weekly rewards and entries into a grand prize draw for flights, fuel, gym membership, movies, concert tickets, smoothies, coffees, tyres, Uber trips, Nando’s, running shoes, HealthyFood and the latest iPhone for life.

Winners of these prizes were announced on Monday, December 10.

South Africans took up the challenge with positive results

  • More than 550,000 South Africans took part in the Vitality Open, increasing the number of Vitality Active Rewards participants by 25%.
  • 80% of new participants were not Vitality members, reflecting the broad appeal of the Vitality Open and the effectiveness of rewards to encourage behaviour change.
  • New participants increased their physical activity by 34% over the 10 weeks.
  • Almost one third of new participants improved their driving substantially enough to significantly reduce their risk of accidents.
  • 75,000 people participated in park runs at venues across SA - a 24% increase.

This article was paid for by Discovery Vitality.

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