The key to longevity in any endeavor, is that you have to enjoy the work. Whether it be working out, eating correctly or studying for an exam, the best mental strategy to have is to set your sights on long term success and focus on enjoying the work. This has worked for me over the years of lifting. Don’t get me wrong, hitting my medium term benchmarks of weight lifted is great, but the day in day out struggles under the barbell are what I truly enjoy. A day just isn’t complete unless I’ve completed a training session.
The cliche that it’s not about the destination but about the journey is so true. When we enjoy the work and forget about the result, we set ourselves up for long term success. Happiness and fulfillment are not a product of success, rather success is a product of happiness and fulfillment. We can’t base our notion of success on a result that we ultimately have no control over, we should be basing our success on whether we did the work, over and over and over again.
Look at the Superbowl, both teams entering the game both believe to their core that they each will win. However, they both also know that only one will be winner. The outcome of whether then win or lose is no longer completely in their control, it is up to the other team, the referees, the weather, injuries and any other factor that contributes to a win or a loss. What they had control over was the work they put in before ever stepping foot into the arena. This work done in the days, weeks, months and years prior to game day is the only thing these players have true control over. When they control their work, they can shape the outcome.
Forget about the short term goals, focus on short term work
When we focus purely on the results, we can get disheartened when we encounter setbacks and losses. Yet the solution is simple, put in the work that will lead to success. This is because any change takes time, the concept of the overnight success is a myth, every overnight success story was predicated by years of training, hard work and failure. Nobody is born talented, the only thing we are born to do is breath, eat and scream. Even walking takes time to master, so how can anybody be thought of as successful overnight? Nobody in the course of history has gone to bed a failure and woken up the very next day being successful. Even as ridiculous an example as winning the lottery required the person to put in ‘effort’ and buy the ticket before they won.
When we take a look at improving health outcomes, we can only talk about long term outcomes. The only short term and immediate impacts are due to accidents and acute injuries. Eating a healthy meal won’t have any immediately positive health effects. Positive health outcomes is caused by repeated bouts of ‘healthy’ choices.
Getting stronger comes down to overloading the body to force it to adapt to lifting heavier weights. If you have the goal to deadlift 600lbs no amount of focusing on the goal itself will help you pick up the weight. It all begins and ends with the work you put into achieving the goal. The body responds to stress applied and adapts to the overloading of weights by getting stronger. Today you may star with 45lbs and each and every day you attempt to add more weight to the bar. Now this week you might get stuck at 315lbs, or even get stuck at a certain weight for months, however, what you need to do it keep chipping away at the training and eventually you will bust through the plateau and lift more weight.
Leading indicators and lagging indicators
Taking a page out of business management, there are two metrics that are measurable, leading and lagging indicators.
Leading indicators are input oriented that are easy to change, but hard to measure. An example would be customer engagement, by simply smiling at every customer. Easy to implement, but hard to measure the outcome against any metric. Lagging indicators are output measurements that are hard to change but easy to measure. An example would be profits – either the goal is met or not, yet the process of change is very complex.
Leading indicators are usually actions we can take, whereas lagging indicators are the results. We can easily change our actions, because these are things in our control. We can’t control when a hurricane will hit, but we can choose to take out hurricane insurance. We can’t control how our body will respond to healthy eating choices, but we can take action to eat a little bit healthier each and every day. If we miss out on the work needed for that day, it doesn’t matter, because in the long run does 1 cheeseburger really affect your health?
A different scoreboard
I like to begin each day with a scoreboard that starts at zero and at the end of the day, I ask if I have put up any ‘leading indicator’ points. Did I eat well? Did I workout? Did I educate myself? Every time I put in the work for that day, I get points. My goal is to be able to go to bed with a positive scoreboard. This isn’t about taking away points either if I don’t do anything or do something unproductive. This is purely a mental model to make sure that whether I am able to realize one positive and productive task for the day, I am moving forward and progressing, no matter what the ultimate outcome is.