Monday, March 28, 2011

STRENGTH: Random thoughts from the gym

I just returned from a visit to the gym.  I love going to the gym for the following reasons:
  • I never regret working out.  But I have regretted NOT working out too many times to mention.
  • Once I get my workout in I feel physically weaker but mentally and emotionally stronger.
  • I feel better about having dessert later that day ;-)
  • There are a hundred human stories walking around the gym.
I have a few random thoughts I'd like to share as they relate to the "S" in BRIDGES: Strength

As I was on the rowing machine just inside the indoor track I noticed a fairly obese woman working hard to walk/run the track.  As she passed me, sweating hard, I thought about what might be going on inside her head (thinking about her helped me ignore the pain inside my body).

  • Did she feel conspicuous around the many others there who were in much better shape?  
  • Was she just getting started on her weight loss or was she about to quit?  
  • Does she have any idea that people like me--no world-class bodybuilder but a relatively in-shape 43 year old dude--look at her and feel proud and inspired?  
  • Would knowing that help her stay on track and continue to put in the hard work to reach her goal for better health and self-confidence?

We ALL have things to work on and changes to make in our life, and we always will.  What is great about the work involved in becoming physically strong is that--if you do it right--you and others can actually see the results.  We know if we are lifting more weight than before.  We know if we are running faster than before.  We know if our jeans are looser (or tighter) than before.  I think the nature of making physical change is actually easier than making mental and emotional change.  In the physical change process there's no: "Gee, I feel more positive but I am not sure if anyone is noticing.  Maybe my new-found positivity is all in my head."  You either lift more or you don't; run faster/longer or you don't; the jeans fit or they don't.  It's really hard to play mental games with physical change.

I see lots of very in-shape people at the gym and I think, "Man, how do I get a body like that?!"  Then I catch myself thinking, "Well that guy is probably younger, probably has more time that I do to be here longer and more often, probably started lifting at a younger age than I did." And on and on.  Then I realize, who cares?!  I am on a quest to be MY best.  Not someone else's best.  I also realize that I may be totally wrong in my judging.  I don't know the first thing about 99% of the other people in the gym so making assumptions about them in a perverse attempt to make myself feel better about my own apparent inadequacies is an utter waste of time and mental energy.

Instead, I would be better off remembering that outward (physical) appearances aren't always an accurate reflection of what's on the inside.  There are lots of "posers" out there.  Don't be one.  The world is not made better by faking what a great guy or gal you are on the outside when you are nothing but mentally weak inside.  In the same way, it is fruitless to look at people who are in better shape, drive a nicer car, have more money, or just seem happier than we do and decide to give up trying to chase those same dreams because "they" already have them and "they" must, therefore, be better than I am.  Sometimes we can't see past the outward "things" that seem to shout success and see inside what might be, in some cases, a pretty messed up emotional life riddled with all sorts of dysfunction and heartache.  It's sort of like looking behind Oz's curtain and seeing someone that looks a whole, lot more like Dorothy, or yourself.

Because mental change first happens on the inside it is logically harder to see.  I am not aware of an  MRI machine that can detect mental growth and strength.  (Not yet anyway.)  And if we can't (or choose not to) see something we start to think it's not there.  And who wants to make efforts to change if there isn't going to be a payoff at the end of the effort?!

In our modern society, especially in Western culture, we have come to expect fast change.  We may think: "Well, everything in our relatively short history has happened so fast why would change ever slow down?!  Why can't I make change faster because, gee, change hurts and I want the pain to stop!  Isn't there a pill for that?"

It takes a strong mind to remember that real change--building strength that lasts--takes time and effort.  Yes, from time to time we will founder and not be as consistent as we want to be.  That really is "life."  But if we can attach our efforts to a bold vision of what we can and want to become then I believe that we will find that slice of mental strength necessary to catalyze our physical and mental growth processes.  The trick is, once that's started, is to never look back and never forget that, just like the physical part of our beings, the mental part of us requires regular (dare I say daily?) work and attention.

Let me summarize my observations--

Physical Strength: Outside-In. Notice changes faster.  Improves mental strength and confidence.
Mental Strength: Inside-Out. Takes longer for you and others to recognize. Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there. This strength enables us to move ourselves and/or mountains.

So, my conclusion is that real strength, the strength that matters, the strength that can move mountains, the strength that changes lives, is inside each of us and no matter our physical appearance we ALL have things to work on.

For people struggling with physical challenges keep moving.  And don't quit trying to be your best just because someone else appears to have gotten there first.  There is plenty of room in the world for you to reach your goals.  Just think of who you might be inspiring along the way!  (Like the 43-year old guy on the rowing machine.)

For people who have reached some level of outward success, in fitness or wealth, don't let complacency and/or pride sneak in to your head and convince you that you are just too darned good to need to continually keep yourself mentally strong.  Besides, the people in the first group are gaining on you...

No comments:

Post a Comment