The 5 Key Life Lessons I Learned in the Gym

Filed in Diet & Exercise by on January 30, 2014 0 Comments

In excellent physical shapeExercising in a gym might seem on its surface to be a bit simple and mundane. You pick up a barbell or dumbbell, and you either push it or pull it, right? Not very interesting.

But in fact, there is much to be learned in the gym, not just about exercise and your body, but about life.

Here are the 5 most important things I’ve learned about life while working out in a gym, in “David Letterman Top 10 List” -style reverse order, from least to most important:

5. You need to take care of yourself to function well.

4. Hard work, discipline, and sacrifice pay off.

3. Focus on the long view to make yourself better, vs. engaging in impulsive, short-term thinking and actions that do not contribute to your future.

2. Take charge of your own life, vs. expecting someone else to make you happy.


So what is the #1 life lesson I have learned in the gym? It is:

#1. What you believe, you can achieve.

I’ll admit this might sound hopelessly (and uselessly) cliché, so allow me to explain.

We spend much of our lives telling ourselves either that we can’t do something, or engaging in needlessly limiting “incremental thinking.” This pessimistic internal dialogue holds us back from achieving what we are fully capable of. We tell ourselves things like “I’ll never be able to afford that house I want,” “Someone else is likely to get that promotion,” or other such negative statements. Incremental thinking, which also limits us, is things like “I will try to lose one lb. per week” or “I am hoping to get a ‘B’ on my next biology exam.”


So when and how did I first learn in the gym that I was limiting myself and could achieve what I believed? I was in my early 20’s, a couple of short years ago (hah!). I woke up hung over from a night of revelry with my associates, but since I had a workout scheduled, off to the gym I went. Rather than feeling sorry for myself, on this particular day I was angry with myself for having been so reckless the night before.

I had a leg workout planned for that day. I had been squatting 275 lbs., and was incrementally increasing my repetitions by one each week, from 3, to 4, to 5. That seemed like great progress to me.

But on this day, since I was so miffed at myself, I decided, “Screw that!” I was going to squat for as long as I could. None of that 3, 4, 5 crap. Just go for it!

Well, what do you know? I did 15 repetitions! Fifteen! And this was in a depleted physical and mental state, being badly dehydrated and fatigued from the night before.

Afterward, I thought, if I’ve been limiting myself so much in terms of what my physical body can do, which by its nature actually is somewhat limited, how much have I been limiting myself in terms of what my mind is capable of? The possibilities seemed staggering.

Since that day, with the right mindset in place, I have been able to achieve some fairly remarkable things.

So take it from no less of an authority than Henry Ford, the inventor of the Model T automobile and founder of Ford Motor Company:

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t—you’re right.”

About the Author ()

TIM MCINTYRE retired in 2004 from his position as president of Applied Systems after facilitating a successful sale of the company. At only forty-six years old, he made the unusual decision to fully retire to pursue other interests and simply enjoy free time. As a hard-driving Type A personality, this turned out to be a significant challenge for the Notre Dame and University of Chicago-educated MBA, CPA, and Certified Cash Manager.

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