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 RayEdwards.com.

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