10 things I learned by getting in shape

Almost two years ago I decided to get in shape. I stuck with it, and kept showing up at the gym 3-5 times per week. Over time I gradually improved what I ate. I got stronger. I got fitter. I got leaner. You can see the results below.

I show you this not to brag (too much), but to show you that I worked hard, for a long period of time, and got results that a lot of people would be proud of. But oddly enough, the fitness gains are not as important as the side effects of getting in shape. The past two years have taught me 10 lessons that I want to keep in mind for the rest of my life. These are lessons that apply in all walks of life.

  1. Focus on process over outcomes. The scale changes day to day. Your weight fluctuates, as does your performance in the gym. Not every day is going to be a new personal best. Just keep showing up. Keep lifting and working hard. Keep eating right. Keep getting lots of sleep. The results will come.
  2. Results take time. You can’t just eat incredibly healthily and do one intense workout and suddenly be in shape. It takes a lot of time. You have to be patient (and refer back to point 1). Each workout and healthy meal is another brick in the wall that you’re building.
  3. Being a peak performer takes massive effort and sacrifice. There are people in my gym whose fitness is far, far beyond where I will ever get to.  They’ve made a choice to sacrifice a lot of things to achieve that, and I’m not willing to make that trade–and that’s OK. Because…
  4. There is always someone better than you. When I first started CrossFit, basically everyone was fitter than me. Now that I’m in decent shape, I’m in the middle of the pack. But I will never, ever be the fittest in the gym. So be it. All I can focus on is improving my own fitness.
  5. Tangible evidence of progress creates a powerful feedback loop. I’ve tracked my scores on some popular CrossFit workouts, as well as my one rep max lifts. I’ve also tracked my weight, and taken regular progress pictures. When you start to really see results, it’s incredibly motivating. It makes you want to do better.
  6. You will regret not having started sooner. When you do see results, your first thought is, “That’s awesome!” Your second thought is, “Fuck, imagine where I’d be if I’d started a year earlier.” And while there’s nothing you can do on this particular front, it’s worth bearing in mind the next time you’re considering taking up a new habit.
  7. Surround yourself with the right people. The reason I love CrossFit so much is the community: the people I work out with every week who want to get better, and who want me to get better as well. It’s like having a whole crowd of mentors and supportive colleagues. When you find people like that, you should keep them around.
  8. Changing your actions changes your identity. If you’ve ever thought, “I’m not the type of person that works out”, then you’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you’ll never set foot in the gym. On the other hand, if you just lace up your trainers and work out once or twice a week, sooner or later you will start to think that you are the type of person that works out. Your actions shape your identity just as much as your identity shapes your actions.
  9. Sleep and diet are crucial. Obviously, this is true when it comes to getting in shape, but it’s also true for managing energy levels at work, staying mentally sharp, keeping your mood up, and so on. Sleep and diet literally feed into every single other aspect of life. You simply HAVE to get them dialled in.
  10. The hard work is its own reward. Some of the happiest moments of my days are immediately after a killer workout. The kind of workout that you first think you won’t be able to do. Where, halfway through, you think you can’t go on. Then you take a breath, and get back to work. You break it up into small chunks. You chip away, bit by bit. The end approaches. And then, all of a sudden, you’re done. And you look back at what you did with a sense of pride and accomplishment that makes it all worth it. Then you show up again the next day and do it all again.

As I said, these are lessons that you can apply to your career, relationships, finances, or any area where you want to improve. Starting today.

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