January 22, 2016

Four Life Lessons I Learned From the Gym

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About two years ago, I rededicated myself to physical fitness in order to lower my blood sugar and improve my mental performance.  I joined the David and Barton Gym in my office complex, hired a trainer and started going three or so times a week.  While the whole point of working out was mind-body fitness, I learned some life lessons that have enhanced my professional performance as well.  Today, if I don't work out, I feel like there's something lacking from my day. That's how any life-changing performance-improving process works.  Here are the four lessons that I've taken away from the gym:

  1.  Motivation Is a Daily Requirement - As Rosanne Barr once said: "The problem with working out is that you have to do it again!" She's right, too. It's very easy to find excuses not to go to the gym, and when you get there, just treadmilling it for 30 minutes while watching cable is a big temptation. Doing all the reps, including the painful core work, requires internal motivation.  It's too easy for me to find an excuse not to get in the car and spend 1.5 hours roundtrip working out, and only I can overcome it. I've realized this applies equally to my professional life. Every day, I must find the focus and energy to work on what's important, finish the must-be-done and put in the effort to continually improve.  No author, mentor or guru can or will do that for me.  
  2. Coaching Is a Necessary Ingredient - At first, I worked out by myself, which led to a piddly approach.  Did a little of this, a little of that, and had no regular routine.  I wasn't building up, I was just doing reps.  Being a search-sleuth, I looked up routines, which helped a little, but still I lacked the perspective to understand what my body really needed and how I could stretch myself to go a little further every day.  A few months in, I invested in hiring a personal trainer, who changed the game for me.  He put a process around my physical fitness and monitored my form.  He didn't congratulate me for just showing up.  He encouraged me when I could finish the reps required.  In this process I realized that no matter how long I've been in business, I still need coaching to move forward on the daily.  Since then, I elicited the help of a few colleagues to serve as that trainer, giving me feedback on my professional strategy and monitoring my form as an author, consultant and speaker.  It's greatly enhanced my ability to grow a little every day, and find new ways to reach milestones in my career. 
  3. Progress Is Mostly Intangible - I really didn't expect to get "swole" like Popeye by hitting the gym, but I was surprised that after a year of regular exercise, I largely looked the same.  But my limberness, endurance, strength, agility and mental alertness were all greatly enhanced.  Even though I couldn't point to the results, they were permeated throughout my being.  This is the same for professional life.  When we study or work on stretch projects, the results can't always be measured in dollars or title-progress.  But if you'll pay attention, you'll find that your mental agility, sharpness, courage, cunning, productivity and influence are growing by leaps and bounds. 
  4. Injuries Happen When Training For Strength - As a 50-something, I know that it's important to conduct strength training and not just focus on cardio.  So I lifted weights of all types, did pull ups and pushed myself to challenge my capacity.  And of course, I've injured myself a few times along the way.  I'm nursing a slight tear in my rotator cuff now, which is likely the result of doing just a little too much on the bench.  That's how it goes, I find out.  You can't push for strength without pushing boundaries and there's no clear signal that you are about to pay the price.  That's why I'm not alone in the gym being injured, all the other ambitious members experience it too.  This is exactly what happens when you are trying to grow your influence or gain more power at work.  As you try and be a stronger manager or harder closer, social injuries will happen. Feelings get hurt or you get disappointed in yourself or others.  Sometimes, you might lose friends along the way, since there's no clear line on how much coaching is too much.  But that comes with the territory if you want to move up in your career and not just do your time. 

I'm curious: What life lessons have YOU learned in the gym?  I'd love to read them in comments and am willing to append this post to add the best.


Comments

Commentor

Lessons from the gym: A crappy workout is better than no workout. It may not have been great but it re-enforced discipline, was better than doing nothing, got me moving and ended up being better than I thought when I started. Motion creates success.

Commentor

Almost two years ago, I wrote and self-published my first book: On Track - Life Lessons from the Track & Field. As a regular gym goer and general observer of life, I love your post. I learn so much just from interacting with my fellow early morning gym "rats."


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