In 2012, on a residential road in Glen Allen, Virginia, 22-year-old Lauren Kornacki lifted a BMW off her father before performing CPR to save his life.
5 years earlier, on the heights of Mount Everest (23,600 feet up to be exact), a Dutch man named Wim Hof retired his ascent due to a recurring foot injury.
He was wearing nothing but shorts and shoes.
In his best-selling book, Can’t Hurt Me, Navy SEAL David Goggins recounts the greatest achievement of his life:
‘She kept talking, shouting, crying, trying to reach me through the haze, but I knew if we went to the hospital they’d give me pain killers and I didn’t want to mask this pain. I’d just accomplished the most amazing feat in my entire life.
It was harder than Hell Week, more significant to me than becoming a SEAL, and more challenging than my deployment to Iraq because this time I had done something I’m not sure anyone had ever done before.
I ran 101 miles with zero preparation.’
All three stories force us to face the uncomfortable yet inspiring fact of being human: we are almost always capable of more.
Physically, there was nothing special about Lauren, Wim, or David. But through sheer willpower, they did and lived things that we can‘t even fathom.
For those of us who want to live our best lives, the question is always the same: how do we consistently push the boundaries of our own potential?
As someone who once weighed 115 pounds at 5'9'’, I found the answer in the gym. These are the 5 lessons that lifting weights taught me about reaching success.
1. Nobody is Thinking About You
When you first walk into the weight lifting section, you’re immediately met by enormous bodybuilders and the clang of metal slamming against the ground.
After settling on an empty bench, you take a glance to your right and notice a guy (or girl) lifting twice the weight you’re holding without breaking a sweat.
You start to feel self-conscious, maybe even ashamed about your flabby arms. You feel discouraged because you‘re struggling to lift a 15 lb dumbbell. You want to give up and go home because you think everyone’s eyes are on you.
Believe me, everyone feels that way on the first day.
But after the first week, you realize everyone’s too focused on themselves to worry about you (unless your squat form is border-line suicidal. Then they might say something).
You realize the negative thoughts in your head were yours and yours alone. And if someone was judging you for trying to get fit, then screw their opinion, because that’s a terrible opinion.
The fact is, every master began as a fool. But a fool who continued to show up day after day, putting in the work to improve. Don’t be afraid to be a fool.
As Winston Churchill put it,
‘When you’re 20, you care what everyone thinks. When you’re 40, you stop caring what everyone thinks. When you’re 60, you realize no one was ever thinking about you at all.’
2. To Start a Positive Habit, Remove Barriers of Entry
Manage yourself like you would want your boss to manage you.
If your goal is to consistently hit the gym, don’t berate yourself as you stand shirtless in the mirror. Instead, eliminate every possible excuse or barrier until the only thing standing between you and what you want is the front door.
Here are a few examples:
- Buy a gym outfit that you enjoy wearing and makes you feel confident
- Put the clothes and shoes out the night before
- Choose a time that’s convenient
- Sign up at a gym that’s close by
- If the front door is too much of an obstacle, build a gym at home
The same goes for quitting bad habits (like an unhealthy diet):
- Put junk food in hard-to-reach places
- Even better, don’t buy it in the first place
- Prepare healthy snacks ahead of time (washing fruit, portioning out nuts)
- Don’t go to the grocery store hungry
You are the sum of all your actions, and humans are creatures of habit.
Use strategies to control your habits, and you’ll gain control over your life.
3. Focus on Consistency Over Intensity
In a Joe Rogan episode, Firas Zahabi teaches viewers how to workout smarter by focusing on consistency over intensity.
If you leave the gym and your limbs are on fire, then who’s to blame you for not wanting to go back? Don’t demand too much, especially at the start.
30 minutes of exercise is better than none. 1 day of Meditation a week is better than none. A flawed 2000-word article is better than 200 words sitting in Drafts.
Remember: success is a marathon, not a sprint.
4. The First Step to Success is to Define it. The Second Step is to Measure it.
The first year of weightlifting is heaven. But you don’t meet Jesus, you meet beginner gains.
Every week you see huge, visible progress. Your arms, legs, forearms, everything just gets bigger and stronger fast. Just after a month or two, you could probably lift double what you did at the start.
Basically, you’re on your honeymoon. But after a year, the gains inevitably slow and your motivation along with it.
That happened to me about a year ago, and it’s been hard to hit the gym more than 2 or 3 times a week since. But I realized very quickly what was missing: a clear goal and clear progress.
How was I going to achieve success if I didn’t know what that was? How was I going to approach my goal if I didn’t know where I was?
A journal is all you need. On a piece of paper, write down in specific, measurable terms what it is that you want.
3 days of exercise a week? Fine!
Lose 20 pounds? Awesome!
Bench press 225? Great!
But 20 pounds were never lost in a day. And going from 160 to 225 in a day would literally kill you.
Keeping meticulous track of your progress will not only reveal whether your process is working, but will also help you celebrate the small victories. When the honeymoon’s over, you’ll need those small victories.
5. Lifting Heavier is the Only Way to Get Stronger
I remember asking my friend Josh (we have two Joshua’s in our friend group. We call this one Big Josh) loads of questions about how to get big.
All my questions were about the tiny details like optimal form, when to drink my protein shake, and which lifts to focus on. (By the way, compound lifts is the answer.)
After answering about six of my questions, he finally said to me: “Listen, the only way to get bigger is to lift heavier weights.”
Now, you might be reading this thinking that’s obvious. Of course it is.
But I also want you to picture having 160 pounds of metal floating over your face. That’s called the bench press. Or having 135 pounds of metal floating over your head. That’s called the overhead press.
As you can see, fear is a non-negotiable part of weightlifting.
It’s why after you start lifting, you can’t help but feel immense respect for the men and women who lift more than you do. Because there’s no doubt that they felt fear at some point but still managed to push through it.
It doesn’t matter what you fear, whether it’s speaking in front of a crowd, starting a new business, asking for a raise, quitting your job, or lifting heavier than you’ve ever before. This principle applies to all of them:
The only way to overcome fear is to watch yourself do the very thing you fear.
That’s why I love weightlifting and why I’m so grateful that I pushed myself to drive to the gym at 5 AM (when it’d be empty) those four years ago.
Weightlifting has shown me that I’m capable of so much more than I thought possible and helped me become a braver, smarter, and better person.
Not bad for $15 a month.
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