Fitness is Built: A Lesson in Being Better Than You Were Yesterday
Fitness is Built: A Lesson in Being Better Than You Were Yesterday
While filling my Nalgene at the gym this morning, I did something I don’t normally do; I read an advertisement.
Above the water fountain, there was an ad for CLIF Builder Bars. You know, the huge meal in a bar, calorie and sugar dense monstrosities that I confess, do actually taste good. I haven’t eaten one in quite awhile, but I digress.
This article isn’t about the bar, it’s about the message in the ad, which read, “Fitness Is Built.” Get it? Builder Bar. Pun aside, the message has stuck with me all day and my mind’s been wandering over the topic, finding correlations between it and this article on fitness motivation I’ve been wanting to write for some time now.
Fitness is built, which is 110% true. It’s work, it’s sweat, it can even be tears, but most of all it’s putting one foot in front of the other and getting started. Somewhere, anywhere. You don’t have to already be in shape and you don’t have anyone else in the world to compete against, except yourself. What’s important to strive for is being better than you were yesterday.
If that means you did one more pushup, resisted the extra chips at lunch, or went all out at the gym, congratulations. You’re better than you were yesterday and that means more than you might be allowing yourself to acknowledge. It’s been said in business that success doesn’t happen overnight. That goes for fitness too. Don’t beat yourself up if what you wanted to accomplish today isn’t “enough.” Try changing your mindset to think of accomplishment as layers and not so black and white. You’re building something. Stack up each day on top of the next, you’ll be surprised how impactful those layers become.
A recurring theme I experience myself, is losing motivation after some event in my life upsets my daily flow. There’s been way too many of them over the past few years, but the more I acknowledge that these happen, the faster I’ve been able to bounce back into a fitness routine.
These “upsets” have been everything from the general craziness that comes from owning my own business, extended travel, and even imbalance at home, which can stem from something as trivial as a disagreement with my wife.
Those aren’t excuses and neither are your upsets. As long as you acknowledge the way you allow them to affect you and work at changing them for the better, you’ll be better each day.
I have a few tricks when it comes to motivation and at the top of my list is routine. I wake up at 4:35 every weekday morning, get dressed in my workout clothes the same way and have multiple alarms set in varying degrees of annoyance, much to the dismay of my wife. Bless her heart.
My alarms start with a silent vibration from the Fitbit I wear on my wrist. 80% of the time, it works every time. It then progress to audible alarm on my iPhone and then to an extremely abrupt twin-bell alarm clock sitting across the room, which forces me to walk over to it to turn off.
I feel good on the days I pop right up with the vibration and beat the audible alarms. It’s a game I like to play. Have fun, right? Having my workout clothes ready the night before really helps me as well. I also don’t allow myself to get sucked into my phone when I wake up. I do a quick scan of email to make sure the world didn’t end overnight and that’s it. I try to be out the door in 10 minutes from waking up, which is another part of my routine. Once I’m dressed and out the door, there’s nothing else that can hold me back from hitting the gym.
I even put new music on my iPod and charge my Fitbit on specific evenings, so I don’t have an excuse to sit down and mess with those things in the morning. Essentially what I’ve done is tried to remove excuses. I know the less cognizant side of myself doesn’t want to be awake, much less go to the gym at 4:45 a.m., so I don’t give him the opportunity to talk me out of it.
Back to the building I mentioned in the beginning of the article. Another vein that my mind wandered to when I was brainstorming this topic, is DIY. I’m always excited about a good Do It Yourself project because of the lessons I learn along the way, the experience I gain and the sense of accomplishment I gain from completing the project.
These are the same feelings that I take away from fitness. While I feel that fitness never really has a completion, goals do. We’ll talk about those a bit later though. Experience and accomplishment, however, are definitely baked into fitness. In fact, throughout my experience with the different levels of fitness I’ve had to attain in life, fitness experience (i.e. ability) breeds mental toughness. Allow me to explain.
Knowing what you can accomplish physically, does wonders for your confidence mentally. What I mean is this, a decade ago now, I built myself up physically for what is arguably one of the most grueling physical crucibles; BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL training).
It took close to two years of my life to get into the shape I needed to be to not only survive there, but excel. Despite early mornings, countless hours swimming, running and PT’ing, I found there was still more I could have done. That just goes back to reinforce what I said earlier about fitness never having a completion, even if you feel you’ve reached a peak.
The reason I even bring up what I went through in my training leading up to my Navy enlistment and going to BUD/s, is because all that training and all the pushing I did to get my scores where they needed to be for the fitness test I knew I’d have to pass, prepared me mentally. I didn’t see that while I was training though. It wasn’t until my ability was put to the test and the demands of what BUD/s truly is kicked in, did I see why BUD/s is 90% mental and 10% physical.
That 10% is no small number though, it just means you have to be in peak physical shape and that the mental hurdle you have to get over is that much harder than the physical challenges you’re faced with. I didn’t make it through BUD/s, but it wasn’t because my fitness failed me. What wound up getting me wasn’t Hell Week, or quitting, it was a freak dive accident at the tail end of 2nd Phase on a Draeger. Just a small lesson that goes to show you can be as prepared as you can be, but you’re never fully prepared for everything. Not even first learning how to Scuba Dive at 12 years old prepared me for what happened.
Fitness is like that too in some ways, I think everyone wants to be fit deep down inside, whether they choose to joke about it, acknowledge it or ignore it. Fitness prepares you for any challenge that might come your way. I asked a question many years ago in an article I wrote, “can you physically save yourself?” Do you have the inherent ability to climb over any obstacle in your path, to outrun imminent danger, or lift yourself to safety?
Forget being in BUD/s shape, or having the best Fran time at CrossFit and start measuring your fitness goals with real life situations. In the end, isn’t that what matters? Being able to depend on your own physical ability to save yourself, or your family and even those around you?
After experience, which breeds mental toughness, the other side of my fitness DIY analogy is accomplishment. This comes through setting goals, meeting them and achieving the inherent reward of accomplishment.
Goals don’t need to be lofty when it comes to fitness, as long as you’re making progress. Bad days are even ok, we all have them. There’s a Steve Jobs quote I love, in which he says, “I look in the mirror and ask myself, if today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today? And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
While Steve’s quote could be interpreted as absolute, since he’s talking about the last day of his life, I look at it more in the sense that I was just explaining. Bad days are going to happen, you’re going to get mad at yourself and you’ll crawl around in your head beating yourself up about it. What’s important is to recognize when it’s happening and course correct.
These days I’m not much for lofty fitness goals, I know that I want to be in good enough shape to save my own life and enjoy the lifestyle I want to live. I’m not doing Triathlons or running Marathons any longer, but I still have 14’ers to climb and a few swims I’d like to accomplish on my bucket list. That and some other goals I’ll need to be in shape for. Just for the record, I’ve only run one marathon and don’t ever plan to do that again; running has always been my nemesis.
I’m certainly not condemning competition in any regard when it comes to fitness goals, I think healthy competition and training to compete in events provides goals to strive towards. Healthy is the operative word here though, keep it fun. If you’re not having fun with fitness and enjoying it, what’s the point? That doesn’t mean not to push yourself, it just goes back to the mirror quote. If it’s been too many days you’re not enjoying, it’s time to find a new way to stay in shape.
I’ve found success with short clearly defined goals, such as a time to beat when running a mile, or rowing a mile on the rowing machine, or swimming a mile in the lap pool and even hitting a new PR (personal record) on an olympic lift. Those goals constantly ebb and flow though, I try not to get sucked into any one goal for too long. The gym, or wherever you go to sweat, can become monotonous if you’re not careful. It’s important to change things up and try new things.
The most important thing is that your goals are your goals, don’t let someone else dictate where you should be, only you can know that. Just be brutally honest with yourself, you know, in a fun way.
One More Thing
The last thing I’d like to add, which I probably should have discussed earlier, is food. I love food just as much as the next person, I just know that to see progress, I can’t eat what I want. Weight loss is its own topic for another day, but it still plays into fitness. Just remember input vs. output. The calories you’re putting into your body are more important than the calories you’re burning.
If more go in than get burned off, you’re gaining weight, it’s as simple as that. I’ve had great success with being dedicated to logging what I’m eating for awhile. Just until I get familiar with what foods amount to calorie wise. Then I repeat those habits without having to spend my time logging things. I do plan to follow up more on the food aspect of this discussion in a future article, so stay tuned.
Today is yours and yours alone, you’re in control of what you put in and take off your body. My hope is that what I’ve shared will offer you another perspective in the sea of fitness articles and opinions floating around. This article is just a small look into my own personal experience with fitness and I’ll be right there beside you with my hand raised when someone asks who’s fitness plan needs work. What I can say is that I’m better today than I was yesterday.