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I’m going to make the case for a regular exercise practice being the single most effective strategy for career success.
Of course written by a career personal trainer as this article is, you’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes at the title and what you might assume are my motivations for writing it, but bear with me… I may actually be about to talk myself out of a lot of business, you see I’ve worked with literally thousands of people from all walks of life, and I’ve been privy to see how they performed, thought, and acted with and without exercise playing a major role in their lives, I’ve also been fortunate enough to spend hours of one on one training sessions with very successful people, and hear first hand what exercise has meant for them personally and professionally.
Of course, I’ve also built my own online personal training service with a considerable international client base, an endevour that at times has seen myself, on the wrong end of healthy choices due to the effects of overworking and under resting in order to burn the midnight oil to deliver the best service possible.
I estimate the sum of these training sessions to be in excess of 10,000 coaching hours and thats in person, not to mention what is now probably twice that online, my conclusion is that exercise is the single most effective driver of success i’ve ever seen, I know, pretty convenient considering thats what I sell, but give me 5 minutes and I’ll explain why, and if you take the advice in the paragraphs below, chances are you’ll never even need the services of someone like me.
In my view the main benefits of exercise are two-fold. Firstly, I believe that the act of daily exercise actually cultivates many character traits that are useful in one’s working life, but also extend to personal relationships and, somewhat more esoterically will be reflected in those moments where we slow down enough to afford ourselves an honest internal dialogue.
The video below outlines my method for making exercise a daily habit:
The second major benefit comes at the autumn of one’s career (unless you make it big super early) and it at this stage when people generally seek my services, as what I do is basically help people who aren’t happy with the way things are physically, change that state of affairs, of course specific circumstances and goals arrive in various forms e.g I’d like to.. lose weight, gain muscle, get fitter, be better at sports etc, but ultimately delivering health & fitness is about two tings, helping people regain confidence and helping people cultivate a lifestyle that naturally affords them more energy.
Before we discuss the character building traits health & fitness delivers, let’s see what kind of company we’re in, this is a short list of just some of the notable business icons that famously keep a regular exercise practice:
- Richard Branson
“I seriously doubt that I would have been as successful in my career (and happy in my personal life) if I hadn’t always placed importance on my health and fitness”
- Oprah Winfrey
“I try to do something every day that allows me to feel active”
- Mark Cuban
“That I will find a way to get [a workout] done, I think, reflects how relentless I can be in the business world as well"
- Ariana Huffington
- “Fearlessness is like a muscle. I know from my own life that the more I exercise it the more natural it becomes to not let my fears run me”
Personal Development Lessons Learned From Exercise
Getting the desired result from your work in the gym requires a lot of prior planning. You have to make sure that your food is prepared, your kit is ready, that you know what time you’ll get to the gym and what you’ll do there. Advanced preparation is incredibly powerful in other areas of life too. Consider the advantage of preparing a comprehensive task list for the week each Sunday evening, what would that do for your productivity? Another great example is the amount of time you save by preparing your bag each evening before bed, rather than rushing around frantically in the morning, it can change your entire day. Endeavour to plan each day ahead of time and make it a success and you will soon find that enough of these days stacked back to back soon add up to great things, just like working out.
Loss of Ego
Sometimes in the gym, depending on the stage of a workout it becomes very difficult to do ostensibly very easy things. For example a drop set, where you go from lifting heavy weights to very light weights, and struggling hugely on the light ones. Anyone could walk in and see you struggling with tiny weights unaware of the larger workout you’ve already done. I’ve seen a lot of people squander their workouts because they were trying to look too cool and competent in the gym, or trying to lift weights that were clearly too heavy and getting nothing out of it. The reason for this is ego. This really is a metaphor for your road to success. People aren't going to see the hundreds of hours you’ve clocked up in the background, they are only going to see the moves you make on the surface. Some of these moves won’t work out perfectly first time, and to the outside world it will look as if you have failed. This is fine, failure is not the opposite of success, but rather the pre-requisite for it. Never lose sight of that fact that all setbacks are temporary and noone’s opinion can harm you anyway. Lose your ego, push your boundaries and fail big and publicly if you have to, you will look back on it and laugh when you have attained achieved your goals.
Achieving health & fitness goals is often a long process, significant change certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Developing the ability to delay gratification is crucial. This is the skill of rejecting immediate temptations in favor of greater reward to be claimed later. This is key to life in general, it can be the difference between those that really achieve their lofty ideals and those that fall by the wayside. The Ability to delay gratification also divides those that are able to live within their means and those that are not. Learn to delay gratification if you are serious about reaching the top, if you can do that you’ll come through all sorts of economic downturns, even recessions undeterred.
If you want to attain, and maintain a great looking lean and toned physique it stands to reason that it isn’t going to come easily. You simply aren't going to be able to eat whatever you want, you must eat healthy nutritious food. You cannot over consume alcohol and you have to make time to exercise. This can mean putting off some social engagements and skipping a few indulgences, it stands to reason that if the lifestyle you’ve been living hasn’t gotten you where you’d like to be, something is going to have to change in order to get you there. Any goal that is truly worth dedicating yourself to is going to involve sacrifice. The process of achievement is really quite simple when broken down into its component parts. First you have to decide what it is that you want, then you must determine what its going to cost to get it (sacrifice) then you have to decide to pay the price. Once you’ve done that, your half way there. That’s it, it really is that simple.
Not a bad list of character traits honed through exercise, as an employer myself certainly a list of traits that inspires interest and faith in a persons ability to get things done, in an ethical way, and in my view, equally as impressive as any qualification or academic accolade. So you can see then, that a regular exercise practice offers a fantastic sand box for legitimate life skills.
The Other End Of The Spectrum
As I mentioned earlier, for the most part, in my business I meet people at the other end of the spectrum, those that have already followed their ambition to achieve success, typically they’ve gained a degree of financial comfort, accolades and perhaps even garnered esteem in their chosen fields. However in my observation ambition comes with its rewards, but also a heavy price tag.
All too often the enviable results of ambition come at the cost of ones’ health. It’s no secret that high stress, long working hours, eating on the go and sleep deprivation are commonplace in workplaces today and believe me this takes it’s toll, I’m speaking from personal experience, I’ve run myself into the ground more than once.
This toll lands not just on superficial things like body composition that’s an easy fix, but also on facets of health that can be far harder to correct, health risks rise with poor lifestyle choices, we know that, but thats not really the point I’m making.
My call to action here is really about the opportunity cost of not firing on all cylinders. Can you imagine the increase in creativity and productive output you would have with optimal baseline energy levels? And if you manage a team, even a workforce can you imagine the impact on your organisation?
Imagine waking up not just feeling driven to succeed, but actually fresh, pain free and clear of thought. Imagine a steady, reliable stream of energy all day long, no mid afternoon lull. These benefits aren’t limited to work alone, consider what all that extra energy and mobility would mean for your personal life. I’m asking you to think about those things because visualising things that mean a lot to you, and actually feeling them through, rather than thinking them through can be very powerful, it’s actually how I teach many of my clients to workout on days where they really don’t feel motivated to, because anchoring a powerful emotion to access later is a more reliable tool than sheer motivation or will power….they waver, core human drives don’t.
This Video explains the truth about how motivation works in health & Fitness:
2 Powerful Examples Of The Real Reasons People Exercise:
Having The Energy to Do the Things You Love (with the people you love)
Having the energy and mobility to play games and sports with your children and grand children, indeed just taking steps to be around and healthy longer for family members is an incredibly meaningful goal.
Having the fitness levels and mobility to keep doing outdoor activities like hiking and cycling, you’ll want to be able to do these things in your retirement, start protecting that ability now.
To Feel More Attractive (and confident)
Wanting to feel more attractive, or have greater confidence in or out of a committed relationship, of course aesthetics help, but so too does confidence and self-esteem, and that comes from keeping the appointments we make with ourselves on a regular basis, when your parter knows that if you say you’ll do something, you mean it, you’ll see what that can do to ignite desire.
Both of these can be used to drum up the initiative to workout when you know it would be in your best interest to do so, but for many of us, excuse after excuse still present themselves.
Making Exercise Work For You
The key is to use exercise as a dynamo, in other words as a tool to create energy. Workouts don’t need to be gruelling, at least not at first. If you were in debt, you probably wouldn’t go out and put a whole bunch of purchases using money you didn't have, on a credit card, think of energy levels in the same way.
Tougher workouts can be used as a stress buster, which I’m sure will come later, but initially, workouts should be calibrated lightly enough to allow your body to gradually become more efficient and not get completely overwhelmed, over time this will produce more energy, this way you are using exercise as what we call a ‘hormetic stresser’, essentially you are using the stress of exercise to buttress yourself against the demands of your working day, the caveat to this is that this only works if you can actually recover from the stress induced by exercise, which is aided by proper sleep and nutrition, if you don’t meet that requirement, exercise can become just another stressor adding to your burden, hence the term ‘over-training’
You can learn more about overtraining in this clip from my podcast, with Professor Greg Whyte OBE where he outlines the signs and symptoms to look out for. Watch here
Over time you’ll get all of the benefits of enhanced efficiency, focus and energy, your body will ache less, you’ll start to feel more mobile, you’ll sleep deeper and wake up with more energy.
But more importantly than that, you’ll be able to rest easy in the knowledge that you are taking care of your body, and health. My career as a personal trainer has given me a unique insight into how working hard plays out, I’ve worked with everyone from the college student yet to receive their first pay cheque to the 100 million pound business owner at the top of their field, what i’ve observed is that first of all, we’re all the same, no matter the heights we ascend to, or where we’ve come from we all get stiff joints, the occasional digestive issue and feel the effects of stress.
I’m still yet to meet someone at the top of their game who isn’t accustomed to working 16 hour days, or at least wasn’t for a good deal of their career, but I think even that can be done in a healthy way if you love what you do, and don’t let it supersede your lifestyle choices.
The biggest lesson i’ve learned both through osmosis and personal experience, is that if you sacrifice your health in the pursuit of success and career development, there may come a point where you wish you could trade everything you’ve worked for in for a second chance at a clean bill of health, I’ve been told this in as many words by my clients in their more reflective moments, my aim and plea to you in this article is to not let it get to that.
The irony is that it isn’t even as if working on your health & fitness is going to make it less likely that you’ll achieve your career and business goals, as we’ve discussed it’s actually quite the opposite. The difference will be prioritising yourself, and sticking to your healthy intentions consistently. A good trainer or coach can help you tune up the finer details like schedule, building workouts and what kind of meals to eat, but thats all minutia.
To make it happen, you need to make a shift internally. Perhaps this article won’t be enough to drive that shift, perhaps it will take a shot across the bow, it did for me. In any event I wish you the best with both your health and your career, and may they form a symbiotic relationship that catapults you to become all that you’ve envisioned for yourself.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Gary Verynerchuck, CEO of 200 million dollar advertising agency Veyner media. “F*ck, money, F*ck all of it, you know what’s really important?, Health”