Mental Exercise

crossfitI’m not in great shape.  I’m not completely out of shape either.  I’m somewhere in the middle, you know the spot, between athlete and armchair quarterback.  I was active through most of my early life, and played sports through college.  Even after getting married and having a family, I managed to stay active in local basketball leagues for quite some time, usually playing against younger challengers and doing reasonably well.

I have what many would consider a “desk job” for the most part, but because I like to stay busy, I tend to only be in front of my computer screen during the day about 30% of the time.  The rest of the time I try to move around, working with my co-workers in the warehouse operations, or with our customer service reps, or another member of the management team.  On the weekends, I stay active, working on my own landscaping, or washing one of the cars, or organizing the garage, fixing an appliance, whatever is on the “to do” list for the weekend.

My wife recently signed me up for a free class at a local “crossfit” gym.  She really wanted me to try it out, and reluctantly I agreed to go.  Wow….I’m still feeling it today even as I write this post.  Crossfit training is a fairly recent trend in exercise that combines some traditional equipment (balance bars and medicine balls) with everyday types of exercise (squats, push ups, running, sit ups, etc.), paced in such a way to work up your cardio and get you moving and sweating.

It was painful….in many ways.  Sure, it was painful on a purely physical level, and I was challenged to really move my body in ways it hadn’t been challenged in quite some time.  But even more importantly, I was challenged mentally and emotionally, in a way I hadn’t expected.  As I moved into the routine for the evening, I could sense my body fighting to get through the exercises and keep up with the rest of the group (who, by the way, were all closer to my kids ages than my own).  But mentally, in my head there was an all out war being waged.  It was as you’d expect, thoughts of “you can’t do this” battling with “keep going, you can do this”…back and forth.  Equally at odds were thoughts of “this isn’t so tough” and “you’re almost there” versus “your knee is going to give out” and “why are you killing yourself with this stuff”.

I came away with thoughts at the end of the night that stayed with me the next morning.  I realized that the mental challenge was way more difficult to get through than the physical challenge.  Sure, I need to exercise, and the benefits of such a program seemed pretty obvious–improved flexibility, weight control, improved overall strength and conditioning–but what was really interesting to me was the mental aspect of pushing myself through the physical activity.

Mental toughness is a key ingredient found in nearly every successful venture. It’s a necessary component of anything worth doing right, whether in life, business, relationships, all of the above.  Physical challenges will vary from person to person, and to be sure, I was probably more challenged than most in my class that evening.  But more importantly, we all shared a common ground–the battle within, the mental game.

As you face your day, be aware that overcoming the mental blocks, the mental “what if’s”, the fears of failure, the self-doubting at times, these are worth focusing on and finding strength to overcome.  If you can get past the mental challenge to the work you face, the obstacles blocking your success will be much easier to overcome.  Remind yourself whatever the challenge you face that you aren’t alone, that others have gone through your particular challenge, or are facing a similar task, and know that “it” can be done, whatever the “it” is.  Pushing through the negative thoughts is half the battle.  Getting the job done is other half, but really, when you consider it all, actually doing the job is the downhill portion of the trip.  If you can set your mind on your challenge with the view that you can and will accomplish the task, you’re likely to be that much more successful in whatever the challenge you face.

Lessons from a Retaining Wall.

build-retaining-wall-heroI recently had the opportunity to take a few days off from my “regular job” to travel to Idaho, visiting my wife’s aunt and uncle.  They live on a very scenic lake north of Boise, surrounded by pine trees, mountain ranges and lots of clean air.

While there I set out to help them in any way that I could.  They are aging, and so there were some pretty obvious projects that needed to be moved along or completed.  One such project was a small retaining wall near their circular driveway.  It had been started nearly five years earlier, but had stopped when my wife’s uncle became ill.  I noticed the four pallets of blocks still parked, with what appeared to be the start of a base that lined the driveway curve.

Thinking it was an obvious choice, I awoke early one morning to surprise everyone by building out the wall.  For me, the visual of seeing the blocks moved off their pallets and into a newly formed retaining wall would be truly welcomed.  Alas, “not so much”.

About half way through the building process, my wife’s aunt stepped outside to the front porch, and noticing what I had done, quickly asked me to hold up.  Apparently Uncle Tommy had envisioned a different way to build the wall.  I found my wife’s uncle, asked him about it, and after hearing of the plan, determined I would need to undo all the work I had done.  What a bummer.

Lots of sweat, and a sore back later….I had some thoughts.  Here they are, in no particular order…maybe something useful for you in your life, in managing your business operations, or maybe even with your role as a parent:

1.  Good intentions are….good intentions.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that good intentions alone make for a successful business operation.  They don’t.  They aren’t a bad way to get started, but in the end, really, they don’t amount to much at all.  They are only intentions.  Same truth applies to work, to parenting, to just about everything in life.  Intentions are a great starting point, but not enough to be successful at anything really.

2.  There is wisdom in seeking the counsel of others.  My wife told me not to pursue this particular dream, but I didn’t listen to her.  She was right…I was wrong.  Sometimes we really think we know best, that we have a great idea, that we’ll show everyone around us once it’s done, etc…but it’s a wise person who bounces their ideas off of those around themselves, if only as a sanity check.  This is a great practice.  And of course, it works well if you take others advice into consideration when making your decision (honey, you were right, again).

3.  Sometimes our differences aren’t really that different.  Uncle Tommy had a vision in his mind of how the wall would be built, the steps involved in it, etc.  So did I, and really, we were on the same page (sort of).  We both wanted the wall built but our approach was different.  Same is often true in business operations–stay focused on the goal, even if the approach isn’t exactly the same way for each team member.  A great manager understands this truth.  Work with the end result in mind, and ultimately you should end up there.  Most issues within a team stem from not having the same goal, a clear vision, etc.  This is where leadership comes into play, too.  Good leaders communicate clear goals to their teams.

4.  Retaining wall blocks get heavier when you have to move them twice.  Okay, I had to say it.  It was hot, I was sweaty, and they were heavy to start with, and mysteriously became heavier when I had to undo my progress.  Doing the job over to correct your mistakes (which does happen at times) is never fun, so taking the time to plan out our intentions, to engage those around us, to really understand the goal….these are great steps that can help us avoid having to do things twice.  Efficiency balanced with accuracy is what’s needed in most cases, both in Operations, in parenting, in life.  Now get outside and build something!