The Price of Promotion

This week I reflected on a milestone moment in my fitness goals. I call it a milestone moment because there was nothing specifically special or different about the day, other than I realized that I’ve never been to this point before.

What’s remarkable to me about the accomplishment are all of the things have shaped me along the way — sometimes without even realizing it. I’ve gained disciple, experience, focus, and wisdom that speak to all areas and goals of my life beyond just fitness. And I’m better because of them. My goal is to be able to apply this learned discipline, focus, and tenacity in other areas of my life, in family, spiritually, financially, vocationally and so on.

I started back working out in the gym two days a week in 2013. It wasn’t much, but I could do it consistently and I did. I learned then that you’ll never reach any goal unless you just start. Sometimes we over-complicate, infatuate with perfection, obsess over the next step and the one after, or just keep delaying until the perfect time that never happens — all to our inevitable stagnation. But since I just started where I was and built on it, I’ve hit personal fitness goals that I would’ve never met otherwise. Today, I’m weight lifting and exercising five days a week faithfully, pushing myself each time (never phoning it in), surpassed the 200 lb mark with the best diet I’ve ever had, and I’m stronger, fitter than I’ve ever been.

I still have plenty of work to do and goals yet to accomplish, but I’m taking this moment to celebrate my successes this far and share a few insights from along the way that might inspire others and keep me encouraged too.

Going to gym five days a week, for me, is something that I would‘ ha’ve laughed at three years ago. It was a sacrifice to just do two! But I learned this:

We make time for what’s important to us.

A few months ago, I realized that I was not going to meet my goals on just the time I was currently putting in. I was not satisfied with the results, felt stagnant, and I intuitively knew that I would have to up the ante to see the progress I wanted. I knew I would have to do something different than what I was doing and it started with giving more time to my goals in this area.

When you spend your time, you are paying for something.

Transitioning to five days a week was not easy, nor was increasing the workout session time and weight limit, but I knew that there was a pay off coming: improved physique, strength, and health overall.

While making this change, I also realized that I had simply not been pushing myself hard enough; not enough repetitions, not enough weight, taking long breaks in between sets, etc. I sometimes left workouts barely sweating. I was going through the motions. I was mistaking activity for achievement. And then I recalled this:

The muscle will not grow beyond the point that it is pushed and stretched to.

It wasn’t til I was seriously straining my muscles, pushing them to their limits, lifting to the point of failure (when you can’t exert anymore), and waiting for that burning sensation during the exercise, that I began to see measurable growth. Up until then, I had not really worked through an exercise when the muscle burn began to set in — I just pretty much stopped at that point, rather than working through it. It was not routine to leave my comfort zone during workouts.

The more you step out of your comfort zone, the more you’ll grow.

It was in waiting for and embracing the muscle burn that I actually reaped the most growth. And then at some point, I began to look forward to the pain from the muscle burn. The pain was liberating in a sense because although the strain hurt in the moment, and I wanted to stop, I also knew that growth and strength were being forged, that progress was shaping in that moment. My muscles weren’t noticeably larger or stronger at the end of those days, but I knew that I was building towards a goal.

This a great metaphor for life in that our most painful moments are often the ones that grow us the most. Character is built in the furnace of affliction, of pain, pressure and stretching. It’s our nature to want to avoid pain, but pain can be a good thing when it pushes us to a bigger goal.

Success is not an accident, it’s a product of commitment and consistency.

Success in this context means reaching the goal set. We all know that it takes commitment to achieve something but we don’t always know what that looks like. For me in this goal, commitment meant many days and times that I did not want to go work out, and going anyway. It meant that I often had to go it alone because people I would invite along backed out. Commitment meant continuous sacrifices in my schedule and social life to accommodate my goal. Commitment meant an evolving diet, saying no to certain foods and being mindful not to undermine my progress. Commitment meant fixing an erratic sleeping schedule that I’ve held for over half of my life in order to just have the proper energy and focus. Commitment meant having a clear mind in order to truly give my workouts my all. If I didn’t honor my commitment at any point, what did that say about how I felt about my goal? How bad did I really want it?

I committed to what I could be consistent to, for that season.

Consistency is the sister of commitment — they go together. I learned that it was simply easier to stay committed to this goal when I was consistent about it. Momentum is a good friend to have because it helps keep the wheels going even when the tank is empty, and it gives us the opportune boost when a little more is needed. I was good at setting appropriate expectations for being consistent relative to each stage in this journey, and grew as I went. In other words, I didn’t overcomit, biting off more than I could chew, and then getting overwhelmed and quitting.

The only thing that is constant is change.

Life doesn’t stay the same so why should we when going after a goal? Whether it’s thought out, written out, intuitive, etc., we always have some kind of idea/plan of our next steps — and that’s good. But we shouldn’t be so married to it that we close our mind to new direction and learning in order to adapt as we go. You won’t be the same when you reach a goal and there is an inevitable transformation that takes place internally and externally.

This entire process has and still is ever changing for me. I do have some routine things, but like a scientist, I am continuously probing and critiquing my diet, exercises, schedule, etc. for the right balance right now. When my schedule changed over the summer, and I didn’t make the gym some days, I was able to do some of my workouts from home and even bikeride for my cardio portions. I wasn’t restricted in just thinking I had to do it a certain way all of the time, but I could adapt. And now there are even some times, because of scheduling, where I can double up on workouts within the same day if I absolutely need to. I took what was a regimented workout schedule and found ways to make it flexible so that I could still keep on schedule without compromising the goal.

Be ever seeking to improve, watching and learning.

One of the things I enjoy about going to the gym is observing what others are doing and learning from it. There’s an added benefit to being in a community and environment where everyone is going after a common goal or shared value. There are even times when I’ll see someone doing an exercise and I’ll then start to mimic the range, motion, etc. as a study, and later add it to my regimen. There are varying degrees of experienced people (old, young, pro, ametuer) that I casually observe and am always watchful about what I can acquire, try, and apply to my own work. A learning experience can come from any where, even if it’s learning what not to do.

Find ways to synergize your goals.

One thing that I love about my gym time is that it also unintentionally became my learning time. I’m able to work out my body as well as my mind and feed my spirit at the same time. While my early workouts beat strictly to the tune of music, I transitioned more into listening to podcasts during my workout time. I now listen to an array of podcasts from news, to sports talk, politics, leadership development, personal development, and often times, spiritual nourishment. I stream a collection of sermons, apologetics, bible studies, leadership talks, marketing and communications material, tech stuff, etc. that help me stay informed and growing mentally and spiritually in my ministry and career. It’s a highlight that I look forward to beyond just the physical work that helps me stay on the up and up.

When possible, bring others along that share similar interests.

Obviously, this isn’t always possible and appropriate for every goal, as some people may share interest, but not the same goal, or the same passion that you have for your goal. Be careful. But since good health and working out is such a widely agreed upon value, I’ve been able to bring many along with me. Shortly after I first started working out, I helped inspire my mother, father and sister to also join the gym with me. Being a fitness advocate is also a great conversational talking point.

Last year I upgraded my membership so that I would be allowed to bring a guest. This has opened the door to many bonding and fellowship opportunities with the teens and young adults that I mentor.

No pain, no gain. Every promotion has a price.

It was very recently during the end of the summer that I woke up a few days feeling like I had been out crime fighting the night before. I had no idea what was going on with my body feeling more sore than normal, and with added aches and hurts. This wasn’t your typical weight lifting soreness, but soreness like I had been beat up or hit by a truck. I had no energy and felt like crap. Even my emotional/mental state was off balance, and this was directly affecting my physical effort.

It wasn’t til a couple of weeks later after things begin to settle down that I realized that there were quite a few changes converging at the same time which were contributing to such an effect on me; changes in diet, pushing my body to the limits physically, mental state, schedule, etc. In short, I was feeling the effects of transition.

Contrasted to today where my focus is sharper, recovery time is up, lifting capacity is up, and I am overall better today, post-transition, than I was before. My body and being was adjusting to transition. And like with like any transition or promotion, it costs you something. For me over the course of this fitness journey, it’s cost me time and more attentive care of my body, a significant time commitment, scheduling changes, diet changes, a changing grocery bill, clothing, and even a minor knee injury sustained earlier this year that will require a small operation to fix.

This on-going experience has challenged my own perceived boundaries and limitations of myself. It’s been much more than a fitness goal — it’s been doing and learning life and oh so worth.

Every goal, and every promotion on the way to that goal, will cost you something. Are you willing to give your goals your all?

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