A 7 minute read. This is part 2 of a 5 part series on great morning habits. Adopt these to improve your whole life. Subscribe to get the rest of the series to your inbox.
One afternoon in my first year of university I ran into my high school crush Sarah in the quad. We flirted a bit before she looked down at my stomach, then into my face.
“Wow, you’ve gained a lot of weight!”
I turned red. Our cafeteria served junk and I had packed on some winter weight.
The next day I dragged my roommates to the gym and we pretended to know what we were doing. I overdid it, and tore a muscle in my shoulder that didn't fully heal for 5 years.
I went a few more times, but found a long-distance girlfriend, and between driving to see her and school and drinking too much, I let myself go. After a few years I looked pallid and puffy, a bit like Jim Gaffigan.
The relationship ended and I was determined to enjoy my singlehood. "I’d better work out so I can look hot," I thought.
I started hitting the YMCA 5 days a week and got into fighting shape.
For years I did my bicep curls and dumbbell presses, but it took a lot of willpower and I wasn’t having fun. I hit a wall in my training.
When I left a second relationship a good friend hounded me to try CrossFit. The best recipe for getting over a breakup? 1. Delete from Facebook, 2. hit the gym. “Why not?” I thought.
After the first session I fought back puking for 20 minutes. The next two were no different, but I continued. The second week was easier, and by the third I was enjoying the punishment.
“It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
What changed? I discovered first hand what Socrates knew: there is beauty in pushing your body to its limits.
Working out to look good is not a powerful motivator. Working to master yourself is far more enticing.
Regular exercise brings better health, longer life, and yes, a hotter body. But the well goes much deeper.
1. Learn to Expand Your Limits
CrossFit has shown me how to expand my limits, physically and mentally. The grit, determination, and mental toughness I found there I apply to my business and goals.
2. Learn How to Practice
From Olympic Weightlifting I learned the importance of quality practice. To execute a beautiful clean and jerk, you must follow precise steps. You train to do each part of the movement first in slow motion, later at full speed. Only when you master the basics can you handle some weight. Those that practice mindfully are rewarded: with the right technique, a weaker man can lift far more than an untrained colossus.
3. Find Mental Peace and Clarity
My gym is my church, my temple. My time there is sacred because it cultivates deep mindfulness. For one hour it’s just me and the bar, no thoughts, just the peace and joy of communing with my body. Or it’s 20 minutes of maximum effort, a complete focus on the work at hand, a time where becoming lost in thought is impossible.
4. Eradicate Anxiety and Depression; Wipe out Stress
When you exercise with intensity you flood your system with endorphins, a chemical that makes you feel euphoric. The effects of endorphins are similar to morphine, and reduce your ability to feel pain. Who wouldn’t want to feel less pain? If you drink, smoke, or use drugs to excess, you’ll feel less need for those escapes. You’ll want to go to bed early and jump out of bed in the morning.
5. Explode your Confidence
When you lift 200 pounds over your head you feel invincible. When you run 800 meters for 5 rounds at high speed you feel unstoppable, even when lying broken on the floor after. From experience I can tell you, you will carry this self-esteem into your relationships, and into your work.
Exercise also boosts your testosterone levels, a hormone that gets a bad rap for its role in aggression, but on the positive side improves your sex drive, ambition, determination, and your confidence, gives you more energy and sharpens your mind.
1. Find a Program You Love
I love CrossFit for the way it feels like being a kid on the playground again, but I’m not advocating any one type of training. Try a few programs and stick with what you love: running, gymnastics, bodybuilding, weightlifting, boxing, martial arts, basketball or swimming. The list is endless so there is no need to be out of shape.
You will know you have found what you love when it requires no willpower to keep going. Some days I’m sore, I’m busy, I want to have a beer and watch TV, but most days I go to the gym. Your mind may resist putting on those running shoes, but I have never once regretted my decision to go work out.
2. Find a Gym Mentor
Any exercise is better than no exercise, but efficient training will encourage you to go back again and again. For too many years I was doing the same bodybuilding routine by myself and seeing no gains.
When I found CrossFit, my trainers began correcting my form, and teaching me how to do feats that were previously thought impossible, like the muscle up.
A handful of sessions with a professional trainer can ensure that all of the work you do in the future is more productive and safer, but a knowledgeable gym buddy can be just as good. On that note...
3. Find a Friend
Two horses pulling a carriage run much faster than one alone. Why? They drive each other. Buddy workouts are highly motivating, and a friend will hold you accountable to actually get into the gym.
You don’t even need to be in the same room. When my fiancée was on a running program she would take a photo of herself at the lakeshore, and send it to her partner. Not sending the photo was not an option.
4. Your Current Age and Fitness Level is Irrelevant
“I’m too old, I’m too far gone, I’m too out of shape.” Scientifically, that’s bullshit. They idea that our bodies need to deteriorate and shut down to the point where we all need walkers or back medication at age 65 is a myth. Studies show that someone starting exercise at any age, even if they’ve never been physically active before, can counter the health effects that come with a life of sitting eating Cheetos on the couch.
Stories of men and women taking up marathon running in their 70’s and 80’s are common. Your body has an incredible ability to respond to exercise at any age.
When I was younger I thought serious exercise was the domain of meatheads, people who were into their physical appearance, and probably not smart.
Now I realize that physical fitness is the root of mental and emotional fitness. What you gain from building a strong body will spill into every area of your life. Learning to try a new movement will help you take that leap in your business. Pushing through the final mile of your run will teach you a determination that will carry you through relationship challenges when you want to give up.
There is often a temptation to push the gym to the back burner, especially when that work project is due, the kids need to go to the dentist, or you’re just too damn tired.
When you feel that, don’t think – put on your shoes and get out the door. The hour at the gym will repay you threefold in productivity.
You don’t need to brutalize yourself every session, consistency is more important than intensity. Make exercise a morning habit and you’ll reap the benefits all day.