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Few people argue the many health benefits of regular exercise.
We all know it wards of all kinds of disease, and scientists have shown it’s a great way to fight depression, improve intelligence, and protect against the cognitive decline associated with aging.
Many people don’t realize that the benefits of exercise go far beyond physiological and psychological improvements, however.
That achieving your fitness goals can fundamentally change you as a person. That it can help you overcome your fears and weaknesses, and teach you a lot about how to succeed in all areas of your life.
I believe that if you can create the body of your dreams, you have what it takes to create the life of your dreams as well.
Sounds like a stretch? Well, let me explain.
The First Life Lesson Working Out Teaches You:
There’s No Way Around Hard Work
Sometimes I wonder how much of our current population would survive a thousand years ago.
You know, when you had to chase, fight, and kill to survive. When grueling, physical hardship was a price we paid to remain at top of the food chain.
The social veneer of modern technology and luxuries has made us soft. The basic necessities of survival are a few mouse clicks away. The problems of modern living are laughable–where are we going to vacation this year, what color couch should we get, why is Facebook down, and why did they cancel Firefly.
But there’s one aspect of existence that hasn’t changed, and never will. And that’s the sheer amount of effort it takes to create financial success, recognition, and the satisfaction of self-actualization.
The crucibles of our forebears revolved around how to stay alive. Ours revolve around how to feel alive. A thousand years ago, someone too lazy to “go to work” starved to death. Today, he gets on welfare. But is he really alive? I don’t think so.
It takes effort–focused, persistent, dedicated work toward a goal–to create anything of any value–a good family, a good career, a good social life, whatever.
This is the first life lesson that working out regularly teaches us: he or she who can confront and exert effort reaps the rewards. And the greater the efforts, the greater the rewards.
If you’ve ever squatted until your legs were jello, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever skipped on sleep, hangouts, or precious TV time to get your workout in, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever filled your fridge with tupperware full of carefully weighed meals, you know what I’m talking about.
Despite what fake gurus and pill and powder pushers say, there are no shortcuts in this lifestyle. You either do the work or you don’t. And you either transform your body or you don’t.
The rest of life is the same. I cringe every time I see someone I know hunting for shortcuts to success, secretly obsessed with avoiding effort. Gotta get more for less. Gotta work smarter, not harder. Gotta find an easier way.
I’m all for seizing opportunities and being clever, but no amount of genius allows you to escape this rule of effort.
I’m not the smartest, but I can succeed because I’m willing to out-work whatever I’m lacking intellectually. I don’t care if that means 14-hour workdays and being known as the “boring guy that’s always working.” I don’t care if that means working weekends while my friends are goofing off. I don’t care about the latest TV shows, and I don’t care about “taking it easy.” And that’s why I’ve gone from nothing to over 100,000 books sold in just over a year…as a self-published author.
For me, it’s not about getting rich. It’s not about trying to become famous. It’s much more primal than that. And personal.
It’s why we push ourselves for one more rep on our last set of deadlifts, it’s why we crawl out of bed after legs day, happily crippled, and it’s why we go to the gym to beat the shit out of ourselves, not to chat and take cute selfies.
It’s about knowing deep down that we’re tough sons of bitches. That we’re wired differently than everyone else. That we just can’t be destroyed.
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The Second Life Lesson Working Out Teaches You:
Learn to Love the Process
“Are we there yet?” a child will repeat incessantly, sick of staring at the same, rolling pastures, dreaming about arriving at Disney World.
Well, the average person pursuing a goal hasn’t changed much since childhood. They fantasize about where they want to be, and quickly grow bored with the “drudgery” of getting there.
This lesson is similar to the last, but not the same. This one relates to breaking the obsession with instant gratification, which is basically a hallmark of our current society.
Whether it’s weight loss or work, success always comes slower than we want. Even when it’s fast, it’s still too damn slow. If we let them, these feelings of restlessness, frustration, and impatience will derail us in every endeavor.
We must learn to focus on, and enjoy, the process of arriving at the goal. We must disabuse ourselves of the idea that satisfaction only comes from having, not doing.
This the next lesson we learn by working out regularly: we learn to appreciate the process of making slow, steady improvements that, in time, add up to major change.
There’s something special about this state. It’s almost zen-like. When we stop counting on miracles or quick fixes, when we stop weighing and measuring ourselves every day wondering if we’re there yet, and just embrace the process instead, we fall into a calm, confident rhythm. We learn to confront time, and minor setbacks lose their power over our emotions. Progress is no longer a matter of hope. In the process we trust, and it never betrays.
So it is in the gym, it is in work and life.
For me, the completion of a work project or the fulfillment of a goal is a bittersweet moment. I’m happy to have arrived, but always find myself reminiscing about the journey, almost nostalgically. There’s something comforting about the process. Knowing that I’m spending my time going somewhere. And I quickly stop caring about what I’ve achieved, and long to start on something new.
When you’re addicted to the process of arriving, not having arrived, you’ve learned this lesson well, and your life will change for the better.
The Third Life Lesson Working Out Teaches You:
You Can Do More Than You Think
We all have forces within us that want us to fail. That tell us we’re too dumb, too lazy, too clumsy. That genuinely resent anything creative or constructive that we try to do. They can be incredibly persuasive, and work tirelessly to squash us.
Some people call them Resistance. Others refer to them as demons.
Well, regardless of what you call these ethereal enemies, if you want to see how effective they are, just take a good, honest look at the people around you. How many are truly confident in their abilities? How many can calmly deal with criticism, or even banter? How many refrain from talking themselves up and others down?
I think it’s clear that many of us are suffering from varying degrees of crises of confidence. And they hold us back in every area our lives. They convince us that it’s safer to stay small, to not even try. If we let them, they make cowards of us all.
We tell ourselves otherwise, of course. We need to believe we’re in control. That we choose to be this way. But we’re just afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid of what others will think. Afraid of what we’ll think.
Well, when you work out regularly, you learn to tune out the voices. You learn to believe in yourself, and in your ability to make shit happen.
Most people think that the only boost of self confidence that comes with exercise relates to losing weight or building muscle–to looking better. But that’s not the whole picture.
When you start lifting weights, you’re a weakling. You feel like Gumby, and the voices mock and ridicule you. But you keep going, and you get better. You learn to stop making excuses. You learn that you can be in control simply by stepping foot in the gym despite any head trash that tries to stop you. And by doing that, you sap it of its power.
This is an ability you gain, and it’s good for a lot more than just getting a pretty physique.
Half of any battle you face in life is just showing up every day despite how you feel. That’s what makes a real pro. He doesn’t wait for inspiration to get to work. He doesn’t bargain with himself. He puts his ass in the chair every day like he knows he should, and by doing this, learns to master his emotions. As you learn in the gym, once you get going on something constructive, you always feel better.
When you realize that you can create your emotions through your behavior, and when you’re confident enough to keep taking the right actions, you create a powerful engine for change in any area of your life.
What do you think about these lessons? Have something to add? Let me know in the comments below!