Healthy, wealthy and wise; the wide-reaching effects of exercise
Exercise has a far wider benefit than in improving the health, strength and endurance of our bodies. You knew that already, I’m sure.
Its effects compound in our mental agility, the quality of our sleep, our ability to deal with anxiety and stress, fend-off depression and increase the energy that we bring to every aspect of our life. It seems to me that it also plays a massive part in our work lives too, our physical exertions in turn influencing the prosperity, wealth and success that we enjoy in life. I’ve seen it both in the corporate environment where the big-hitters and rising stars who dominate and lead tend to be those who invest time and energy in exercise, and in the world of entrepreneurship where for many, exercise is treated as an essential part of their recipe for success.
Towards the tail-end of 2017, my first year spent in pursuit of the illusive existence of a lifestyle-entrepreneur, I felt drained, demoralised and exhausted. My resolve and determination was declining as I began to doubt my plans and feel insecure about my efforts. In spite of what had been a productive year of focus and action, I could see little to show for it. I was also dog-tired.
I’d adopted many routines and practices into my life that were positive in their own right, rising early to meditate and do creative work, relentlessly reading books on personal development instead of relaxing in front of the TV. For all the positive effects of these efforts, I felt wasted physically and mentally.
In all my efforts, I’d lost sight of the role of exercise in giving an opportunity to move out of the mind and into the body. I’d let exercise slip lower and lower on my agenda to the extent that I was making a token-effort at best. It isn’t just an add-on, an accessory or the icing on the cake, but rather one of the essential ingredients of the cake of success. I’d lost sight of that. Truth be told I had also probably vainly convinced myself that I was too busy. As I’ve expressed in another article, busy is just an excuse. It is a lie used to disguise something that I didn’t consider important enough to be worthy of my time. How wrong could I be?
In January this year, I joined a gym (like about 90% of the rest of the western world, coming out of the festive season of lethargy and overeating). My first session was actually between Christmas and New Year but I’m certain that I’m still viewed at my gym as one of the resolution-makers who sign up in January and are a distant sweaty-memory by March at latest. I’m determined to prove them wrong.
This isn’t like any other gym I’ve been a member of (and I’ve carried a few membership cards in my life). It’s not the most expensive, it’s not the best equipped and it’s the most inconveniently located, requiring a half-hour drive from home to get there. It’s also the one through which I’ve achieved the best results in the shortest time and which has had the biggest impact in various aspects of my life.
Gone are the days of driving up a winding shrub-lined driveway to what my kids used to describe as ‘the country club’. Located in an area of town that can most-generously be described as ‘up-and-coming’, it’s based in an old school, crammed between a building-site and some retirement apartments. My visits aren’t spent drifting between state-of-the-art machines, occasionally doing a little exercise to justify the sauna and the meal in the attached restaurant afterwards. At my new gym, you park where you can find a spot and get in there to exercise. Hard. For as long as possible.
One wall is emblazoned with the slogan ‘Go Hard or Go Home’ but it’s not full of screaming men (or women) throwing weight plates around. There’s no intimidation, no bravado and very few pay attention to themselves in the few mirrors on the wall. Everyone there is committed to two things; helping themselves improve as much as possible and to helping and encouraging anyone else who is committed to the same. The members seem universally successful in their quest, and their fitness-successes seem to echo in the wider-lives of most (in fact all) of those who I’ve chatted to since joining.
I was first prompted write this piece when I noticed the calibre of cars in the car-park. Can it purely coincidence that of the 20–25 cars in the car-park that at least 80% of them would be considered luxury or high-end? Bentleys, Audis, Mercedes and Jaguars compete for space in the part-shingle/part-asphalt car-park. There’s an unwritten rule that if you get blocked in, then you may as well stay for another class or shift some more weights.
I have no wish to promote the gym in question, since it’s hard enough to get a parking space at the best of times. For me and my wife (who was a committed member before and who introduced me to to it) it’s one of those hidden-gems that we feel blessed to have discovered through pure luck.
The gym exists in itself as the fruits of the owner’s entrepreneurial labours and vision. It provides a condensed example of the effects that exercise seems to have for those who build it into their lives as an intrinsic part of their existence rather than merely an add-on or a leisure pursuit that they fit in when they have time.
The cars in the parking-lot are an outward-measure of the success of those who train there in their wider lives; a short conversation with most will reveal that they are largely self-made or on high-up rungs of various corporate ladders. I’m among the older members in my early forties and most there have seemingly attained financial comfort far earlier than I, an on-off ‘dabbler’ in exercise (to now), ever had.
Its busiest times are early morning (pre-7am) when the world sleeps, and after 6pm when most others are settling in on the couch for the evening. This, in common with most other gyms signifies another facet that exercise has in common with pushing ourselves towards goals in other fields such as entrepreneurship; exercise happens when a choice is taken to accommodate it around the many other commitments that we all have. It’s those who use that time productively, who don’t use the ‘too-busy excuse’ who are more likely to succeed in the world.
The other parallel between success in exercise and entrepreneurship, is in the role and importance of accountability. My gym provides that by the truckload. There aren’t any anonymous members who shuffle in and plant themselves on a treadmill for an incognito workout, immersed in watching downloads from Netflix on their phone. You’re greeted on the way in by one of the personal trainers (all of whom seem to know every member by name). There’s a collective unspoken rule that every member encourages each other to stay for extra classes, to commit to their next session and to generally push themselves as much as possible, with every session they train.
The accountability of being part of a group of like-minded individuals all striving for the same goal, is compelling in encouraging and maintaining progress. We are collectively pushed by trainers who are there to keep us honest, motivate and bring the best out in the ‘team’ as we’re collectively known when we’re at the gym and after we leave (via the private Facebook group).
Mentorship is acknowledged as a means of supercharging success, and in fitness or entrepreneurship it helps enormously not to work in isolation but rather to seek the input and support of those who’ve dealt with the same challenges that we wish to overcome.
Healthy body, healthy mind
There are parallel challenges between the cerebral and the physical demands that I place upon myself and mastery of each helps overcome the other as I become fitter, stronger and more resilient both in my head and in my body.
When I’m riding my bike up a steep hill, pushing out a set with the weights or trying to keep up with my peers in an exercise class, my mind will scream out at me to stop. That’s my inner-chimp calling out to say that I really don’t need to do this, that I’d be far happier and more comfortable if I were to stop and relax, letting myself off from the effort. The same voice comes when I’m heavily entrenched in creating a training course, curating content for my membership site or writing an article. I’ll be plagued with self-doubt, fearful of the reception that may greet it and regularly berated by the inner-voice for wasting my time on such things when I could be relaxing instead.
The practice of regular exercise and the process of working on our business goals both provide ample opportunity and prompt for us to confront (or ignore) that inner voice, to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and to take the uncomfortable decisions, to do the stretching actions. Both demand discipline, commitment and the desire to set and then work towards stretching goals. Each requires acceptance of pain, hardship and at times, failure along the way. Each also benefits mutually from the other, since they help to engrain the same behaviours that will ultimately assure success in different aspects of our lives.
The evidence is plain to see among those who have achieved mastery in their fields of business; Richard Branson, figurehead and founder of the Virgin Group plays a couple of sets of tennis each day before breakfast and has kite-surfed the English Channel more than once. For the illuminati of success, exercising the body regularly is just as critical as giving the mind a regular workout via reading and learning.
When we’re faced with a mammoth task-list, vexed by the many practices that we’re supposed to employ in our lives to emulate those whose successes we aspire to, it can be a challenge to fit it all in. We each have the same number of hours in the day though. Perhaps it’s by paring out some of the detritus and noise that consumes precious minutes, and prioritising the things that will make real and lasting improvement to our lives that we can see growth as we work towards our goals.
I intend that exercise will form one of the foundations to my life from now onwards, and I’ve got a small gym full of others holding me accountable to that commitment, so I’m pretty much guaranteed to succeed.
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