How Foundational Focus Allowed Me to Improve My Life
From working out, I learned to focus on my core habits. It changed my life and it can help you too.
Recently, one of my cousins and her husband started working together as a pair. Last year was a big year for them mentally as they discovered new faith, grew closer as a couple and a family, and are now pursuing different careers.
But it only took them one training session to realize that a quarter of a way in, they were not prepared. Their legs felt like jelly and they couldn’t get through it at all.
It was a realization for them but a reminder for me. I started getting back into shape in late January 2020. And while I didn’t drive myself into sheer exhaustion, I was taking baby steps with the weight and overall difficulty of the workouts.
I haven’t thought too much of my progress at all since I started. I simply kept pushing heavier and heavier weights, not really thinking much of my progression. But as I look back to it now, there were several crucial things that helped me to build up that strength.
Not only that, but the specific format that I was taught can be applied to other aspects of your life beyond working out.
I call it foundational focus.
It’s the idea of establishing several key habits that you build up gradually. The tougher the challenge, the more you need to reinforce those fundamentals that you started out with.
Neglect of those fundamentals will definitely be leading you to failure or a much rougher time than it ought to be.
I know this based on my own experiences of weight lifting. Every week I raised the amount of weight or reps that I did gradually. And as I got to heavier weights, the more reinforced the movements and what muscles to be using became.
For example, to properly bench press dumbbells, you’re meant to use your legs and heels to force your arms up. If you decide to use your arms — like I have — you’ll find them sore and stiff within the first couple of sets.
As a result, I was stuck to pressing about 20–30 pounds total — or two10–15 pound dumbbells.
Now, because I understand and have focused on the fundamentals, I would be pressing 80 pounds (two 40 pound dumbbells) today if it wasn’t for measures taken to curb the spread of COVID requiring me to wear a mask while working out. Even so, I’d probably still attempt to do 4–5 reps rather than my usual 7–8.
But that jump in growth stems from understanding the basics and using that to leverage it further. Here is how you can do this — not just in weight lifting, but in other aspects of life.
Treat The Basics As Rules To Follow
The first thing is to establish the foundation and then reinforce it. But from my own experiences, it’s not always easy to reinforce those things.
It’s easy to come up with excuses or to simply stop because we feel uncomfortable about our lives changing. Even if that change is inherently good for us.
What I found to be helpful is to be treating the habits that we have on the foundation as rules that you need to follow. If you stick to them — especially if they come from a viable source like a trained and knowledgable professional or your past experiences — then you know you’ll succeed and grow.
With that in mind, you need to change those habits into specific rules.
Going back to my bench pressing there are certain things that I do to set myself up to do each set properly.
I ensure I’m breathing properly and that my arms are locked before getting into the proper position.
I check my legs and ensure that when I’m lowering the weight, I feel my legs tightening and there is pressure on my heels. I also check to ensure my rhomboids are tightening as well as my chest.
After that, I start getting into the reps, making quick mental checks that everything is in order and that nothing feels weird or off.
Translating these into rules is simple:
- Breathing must be proper.
- Arms must be locked before getting into the set.
- Chest, legs, and rhomboids are to be tight and present while lowering the weight.
- Pressure in the heels and legs must be felt.
- Grip must be tight.
- Arm muscles shouldn’t be used at all when pressing.
While these are all things that you ought to be doing in the first place, it’s easy to slip into a state where you neglect those things. I’ve been bench pressing for months and these rules were taught at the very start. It’s only been recently that I’ve been capable of pushing myself further and with heavier weights.
Some of that can be attributed to strength, but also of understanding these rules.
How this can apply to other areas of life is simple. Say I want to be writing more consistently. I could start establishing strict rules for myself:
- Start writing at a certain point each day.
- Every day, generate at least 3 topics to write about.
- A deadline must be set for when to be publishing these articles.
Having these rules in place can ensure further consistency. Not only that, but the quality of the rules and the number of them I find can reinforce growth in those particular areas.
Outline The Consequences And Rewards
Simon Sinek explains that in order for us to pursue and achieve goals effectively, having a why is essential. Ever since I knew about this, I consider it a fundamental concept for everything in life.
Whether it’s to pursue goals or making decisions, asking yourself “why” dives deep into your values. And if you can connect an action to something that you value, there are higher chances of you doing it.
Since then, I’ve been building onto this concept. Having multiple why’s to do something reinforces the activity until it becomes part of your life. And one way to be making that process easier is to outline the potential rewards by doing certain actions and a prediction of what might happen if you don’t.
Outlining the potential rewards is healthy, although you don’t want to depend on these too much. Like with weight loss, seeing the same number on the scale day after day can make some feel dejected no matter how much they know that working out will help them lose weight and have a healthier and stronger body.
Instead, you want to be leaning more on the consequences of your actions.
I remind myself that if I don’t follow the rules I won’t be lifting heavier weights. And if I’m not lifting heavier weights, I’m not burning as many calories. This means that it’ll take longer for me to get to the results that I’m looking for.
That’s a big deal for me since I’ve spent most of my late 20s trying to lose weight and sculpt my body into a figure I’m happy with.
Furthermore, if I’m not committed to losing weight and getting in shape now, it’ll only get harder for me as I get older. And stopping now means the thousands of dollars I’ve spent at this point would amount to nothing. Nothing at all during a time where the economy isn’t doing too good and money is more precious than it usually is.
The list for me can go on and on, but you can see already the ripple effect of one decision and how much impact it can make if you don’t do something. Yes, skipping a day or two probably won’t mean the end of the world or anything. But it plays more on your own principles. Your own character. Your own identity.
The rewards of committing to a certain habit are a bonus for showing up and reinforcing the rules you’ve established in the first place.
Integrate Them Into Your Life
One of the beauties — and curses — of the mind is that despite all of these things pushing you to do a certain activity repeatedly and build a habit, we can still relapse and stop doing these things.
Until you begin applying these things on a regular basis, they’re not going to be sticking. And what this means deep down is that you’ll need to have it fit into the lifestyle that you have right now.
This means making sacrifices in certain areas of your life. Particularly in habits that eat up a lot of your time and don’t give you much tangible benefits.
For me, my vices have been watching Youtube videos and playing video games. As much as I enjoy them, I know I have to start reducing time from them if I am to grow my writing further and go to the gym.
It’s a small sacrifice to make in the grand scheme of things as while it gives a sense of satisfaction, it doesn’t advance my life or enrich it in any way.
You’ll need to do a similar analysis in your own life. Maybe you watch too many videos like me. Or maybe you’re spending time with people that drain your mentally. Whatever the case is, you’ll need to ease yourself into these new areas if you are to find any kind of success.
You’ll need to outline clear rules and ensure they are relatively easy for you to ease into.
Now that it’s set, you’ll want to focusing on it and reinforcing it as you have been all this time. The more you focus on it, the more you start to grow and get used to the new lifestyle change you are making.
There will be other changes as well such as outlining more rules and making adjustments to them. You can also find more reasons to keep committing to those actions too.
All of this works in a loop and from this alone, you’ll build habits in any aspect of your life.