Seven Lessons I Learned From My Son at the Gym

I’ve been on a personal health quest over the last few months, proactively taking control of what I’m eating and the quality and frequency of the physical exercise I get. The results are clear. I’ve lost over 20 pounds, had to buy a new belt, and had to buy some new clothes. I have a lot more progress to make, but it’s been a very encouraging, if somewhat challenging experience.

I’ve tried to take control of my health in the past, and frankly didn't have a great deal of success, at least not long-term. This time, I decided to try something different: I have enlisted an accountability partner that I absolutely don’t want to disappoint. That accountability partner is my son, Sean Edwards

Sean is a great accountability partner and coach because he is unrelentingly truthful in his assessment of how I’m doing (“Hey dad, when you do those squats you need to go all the way down…”). He has a great sense of humor, and he is a good teacher. Here are seven lessons I have learned from Sean in our time working out together.

  1. First, you have to show up. It’s so easy to talk yourself out of going to the gym. I like to get this done early in the day, so Sean and I typically hit the gym at 7 AM, six days a week. If you don’t go at all, it’s pretty much a guarantee you’re not going to get a workout. But even on the days when I don’t feel like working out, Sean encourages me to get moving and get to the gym, and it always turns out well. It’s kind of hard not to get a workout when you’re standing in front of the weight rack. Showing up is way more than half the battle.
  2. Intensity matters. It shocked me to learn that I can do the same exercise, with the same weight… but the amount of focused mental intensity I place on the exercise makes a difference in the results I see. If I consciously focus my will on having an intense workout, it produces more sweat, and therefore more results. Intensity matters.
  3. Emotion follows motion. This is not a new thought, but I have certainly proved it to be true. Many days Sean and I have set out for the gym and I was not in a great mood. Perhaps I was a little downcast, tired from not having slept well, or just wishing I could do anything other than get my butt kicked at the start of the day. But every single time-and I do mean every single time-that I show up and do the workout, I finish feeling emotionally happier and stronger than when I started. If you tend toward depression, exercise truly is the very best medicine.
  4. The effectiveness of accountability, and coaching, depends on the relationship. I have hired coaches and trainers at the gym before. Sometimes it worked well, other times not so much. One thing I have learned while being coached by my son is that because I’m committed to the relationship, I simply don’t want to let him down. And I can’t just fire him and never have to face him again. When working with strangers, or even casual acquaintances we may like, there is no deep committed relationship. It’s easy to dismiss the trainer whom you’ll never have to face again. If you’ve never been able to stick with the training program, I highly recommend getting a partner/accountability buddy/coach that you already have some kind of relationship with. Someone you can’t “fire and forget.”
  5. Progress usually requires pain. I’m not encouraging you to do something stupid and seriously injure yourself. But if you’re lifting weights and you’re not feeling any discomfort, if you’re doing cardio and you’re not sweating buckets, if you’re not pressing hard against resistance and feeling pain…the chances of your making significant progress are slim-to-none. I don’t mean to go all macho on you, but I really like the slogan I saw on a Marine Corps T-shirt recently: “Pain Is Merely Weakness Leaving the Body.”
  6. Most of our limitations lie between our ears. Three years ago I was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s Disease. While my symptoms are managed mostly through medication, there are certain physical activities that are difficult for me. I have to be very careful, for instance, walking up steps, as I am prone to trip over them. My brain seems to think I’m lifting my feet higher than I actually do. Imagine how excited I was when Sean recently introduced me to an exercise called “box jumps.” This involves standing with your feet flat on the floor in front of the box, which is anywhere from 12 to 24 inches tall. Your task: Squat, and then jump with both feet landing on top of the box.  Over and over again.When Sean originally presented me with this exercise, I stood frozen with fear in front of the box. I knew logically that I had enough strength to perform the maneuver. I also knew how frequently I trip over steps. I turned to Sean and told him, “The price of failure here seems quite high.” I had visions of tripping over the box, landing face-down on the concrete floor, and injuring myself. Sean laughed and coached me through getting past this mental hurdle. And I did the box jumps just fine, thank you.Frankly, the whole thing was rather embarrassing. But I hung in there, and Sean patiently cajoled and prodded me, with good humor, to give it a try. I’m glad he did. This is just one example of many physical challenges I have faced in the gym, only to discover I was capable of more than I supposed. So are you.
  7. Embarrassment won’t kill you, but fear of embarrassment might. I don’t like looking stupid in front of other people. I imagine you feel much the same. But I can assure you, as a guy who was never very athletic, that it’s better to show up at the gym and be embarrassed for a while (until you get the hang of things) than it is to let the fear of embarrassment keep you at home. The fear of embarrassment could keep you fat, could keep your arteries clogged with plaque, and could ultimately shave years off your life. Don’t die of embarrassment.

Those are just seven of the many lessons I have learned from my son at the gym.  I know this post has gone a little far afield from my usual subject matter, but taking care of your physical body is important to every single one of us. And the lessons I’ve learned, as I have just begun this journey, have proven valuable in all other areas of my life as well.

Question for you: how have you applied any of these seven lessons in any area of your life, whether at the gym or elsewhere?

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at

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  • “The price of failure here seems quite high.” Now THAT sounds like something you’d say. So eloquent in your arguments. Congrats on pushing through. The battle rages on.

    • Thanks Andy!

      • Listened to you and Cliff on your show yesterday. Hope you’re well my friend.

  • Great lessons! No. 6…when the chatter in my brain tells me I can’t do it I seek help from my friends that either guides me through it and/or gives me the confidence I can.

  • Inspiring Ray! “Intensity matters”

  • Christy Largent

    BOX JUMPS!!! Holy Cow Ray! You rock! I’m so proud of you. The picture you posted looked like a Cross fit class – is that what you are doing? Way back in High School I learned that “age is between your ears”. Funny how that quote is applicable in so many areas of my life – as you wrote so beautifully in number 6. Oh, that it were that easy. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed this article very much. Very encouraging.

    • No, we’re not doing crossfit, but in some ways it’s similar. Basically a High Intensity Interval Training program.

  • Herb palmer

    I figured it all out, here it is ready, Eat less and work out more….sounds simple, why don,rt we do it….its the inner journey and its all in my book The lobster and the Chicken…. you must believe in yourself at the soul core level to succeed.

  • Sea Dog Water Lion

    I hear you on that, however, that system does not work for everyone. I am a Crisis Responder, and I need to build my body to be able to carry people all day long. I also work 10 hrs construction. Gym work for me I usually just showing up and working my core, if I do not have someone to love, and encourage then I need to leave after my core is cared for. These are priorities that are more important. I have, however, began to wear my ankle weights, all day at work, and I plan to start doing the same with wrist and a standard weight vest for Firefighters. If I find someone to work out with and invest in I will work out more at the gym, but un-till such a time, I will be working on finding people to disciple and love on. This whole I have to write books is not God’s only way to change the world. The Holy Spirit shares all my break throughs with all Christians globally instantly, and I have no need to write a single thing. If other people “Sinners” want to know what I know they can show me honor and I will disciple them.

  • Love this one Ray. So important! “Emotion follows motion” – I’ve found this to be true in health, relationships and business. Your realness with this post & the action you are taking is inspiring.

  • Sandra Horne

    Thank you Ray for encouraging me with this today. You are a very generous person and open with your emotions. Your blog reads to me and I believe to everyone else who read it as coming from a personal friend who cares. Since listening to a free webinar on How to write a book that I have always wanted to, you continue to send me articles and teachings for free. You just do not seem to give up on me. You continue to give, give and give. You are wearing me down to the point that now the only thing I think about is ‘My Book’ Thank you, thank you, thank you so much, I will be signing up soon ! You are a Blessing from God.

    • Thanks for those encouraging words, Sandra!

  • This is gold Edward! Love it, I needed to hear this encouragement. Especially that emotion will follow motion!

  • David

    This is awesome Ray! I’ve been getting up at 6 and doing the same thing with a buddy of mine. I have always struggled to put ON healthy muscle/weight. I’ve gained 25 pounds in the last year and a half. It’s got me pretty excited. I love you writing style and the honest almost sarcasm that came through with “the price of failure seems quite high” made me laugh. I’m grateful for you and your vulnerability and transparency in this journey. Love you bro.

    • David, I really appreciate this comment – congratulations on putting on those 25 pounds.

  • Stephanie

    Have you been reading my mail?
    Wow! I went back to the gym May 15th,29014th and I did cardio for 45 minutes at least 4 sometimes five days a week.
    I would watch people working out with trainers! (I have my certificates to personally trainer) stopped going to the gym for a couple of years. Well I don’t have to tell you what happened. Gained weight, lost confidence in myself and all together gave up on exercise. Tried the drive through quick diet plans, all left me more discouraged.
    I knew how to weight train but the fear of other people watching me stopped me in my tracks for 3 1/2 months. Now I’m happy to say I’ve been training with a friend of mine for 6weeks and I haven’t felt this great in years.
    THANK YOU for sharing your story. So glad to see I’m not the only one with that kind of thinking.
    You know God didn’t make us to have a spirit of fear but he made us to be whole, strong and courageous, and to have a SOUND mind.

  • Lisa Rothstein

    Hi Ray
    This post may have been about exercise, but it applies to other things too, like business for instance 🙂 . Showing up, focusing with intensity, not letting fear of embarrassment stop you (or kill you), and feeling better after taking action (even if it was painful to do at the time) all play a part in success in any business or creative endeavor. It sure applies to writing a screenplay! Now I need to apply to to finally doing for myself what I have always done for my clients, and getting my own marketing house in order. The good news is, of course, like any workout, it works if you work it. 🙂

    • Such good parallels, Lisa – thanks for sharing!

  • Keep at it Ray – you’re doing great. Showing up consistently is most of the battle. Once you’re there, the momentum kicks in and you really do feel thankful that you fought through the resistance to even get up and go. Have you ever read ‘The Slight Edge’ by Jeff Olson?

    • Thanks Dan – and yes I love Jeff Olson’s book!

  • PaulVandermill

    Way to go sir! Your thought about dying from the fear of embarrassment really struck me. Another illustration of how powerfully fear impacts our lives if we don’t manage it successfully, ah! the resistance.

  • Ray

    You are an inspiration. Thanks for all of the valuable content you share.

  • Rick Carter

    Hi Ray – I don’t think this post was far afield. Myself and I am sure many others want and need to know what you and others who are successful do on a day to day basis. I started to ‘record’ that of friends years ago and my maladies stopped me. Recently it’s come to mind again because of you! So very very many over the years have confided that they believe that the ‘gifted ones’ , have all these ‘people’ helping them from sunrise to sunset .. we know they don’t so this post is great in my opinion! I will pray it continues to improve and that I too will move forward in this area of my life! God Bless Ray! Rick =)

  • Sean Edwards

    Thank you for all the kind words, dad! And even though you make it look like I’m the one pushing you, working out together has pushed me a lot as well 🙂 Thank you for that!

    • We can talk about it at the gym. See you at 7am. 😉

  • Micki

    Ray, this is very inspiring and contains many good lessons. The most important being that our biggest challenges lie between our ears. That is so very true! We can be our own worst enemy!

  • Ray – you’re absolutely right in saying showing up is more than half the battle. Just showing up is often the main challenge. In fact, “show up” is the first part of “Show Up and Shine.” (Couldn’t resist getting my tagline in there.)

    Congrats on your personal achievements outside of business. Way to go! Also, see you next month.

  • Great to see you doing well Ray! God gave you a good son, so good to see father & son working together, not just in the gym!

  • As a regular consumer of online marketing information, I don’t look for every book, blog post, or podcast to “knock it out of the park”. I look for nuggets that I can use to learn from or say the same things differently. I’ve only been doing this for a few years, but I’ve read and listened to countless hours of material. I’ve found your content consistently genuine, refreshing, and of a caliber of helpfulness that is far above most. I am going through some major personal transformations that at the age of 39/40 I wasn’t expecting. Maybe I should have been, but I wasn’t. During this time I have found a majority of what you produce for free helpful and what I believe to be Divine. Which isn’t in my personality to throw that word around. This article is continues to support that. Thank you for being genuine and providing great content in the process.