By Michael Krueger
Everyone has heard that it’s important to live in the now. Don’t worry about yesterday because it’s gone and you certainly aren’t promised any tomorrow.
People such as firefighters and soldiers have had acute experiences that confirm this seemingly banal platitude. Nearly everyone has had at least one such experience or knows someone who has. At the time, such experiences are often quite traumatic, but that doesn’t mean that they make lasting impressions.
I’ve had a few of them myself, some dating back to my service in the U.S. Coast Guard and others more recently. Some were slow-motion events, like watching someone die of cancer or old age, while others happened in that proverbial “blink of an eye.”
How can you live in the movement and still effectively function in the world?
When I train, there is very little else that occupies my present. I put all of my effort, mental and physical, into what I am doing and feeling at that moment. I know people who tell me that exercise is boring and that they dread the very idea of going for a run or lifting a weight. On occasion, I have experienced similar emotions with regard to my training, but they began to fade the moment I started planning my workout and vanished once my training began.
I’ve observed people on treadmills, elliptical trainers, and stationary bikes reading or watching TV. I’ve seen people taking up space on a lifting bench just staring into space or at their phone. Their only plan on entering the gym that day was to “do something” for a while. They go along minute after mindless minute without ever consciously experiencing what their body is doing. They don’t feel their heart working or their lungs expanding to supply the oxygen they need to do the work that will take them a little closer to their goal. They are just putting in the time so that they can tell everyone that they worked out. You know what? They have no idea what it feels like to really work out.
How many things during your day do you devote all of your attention to? The buzzword of our culture is “multitasking.” People take pride in being able to do more than one thing at a time. They feel productive and good about their abilities. Unfortunately, every study has shown that multi-taskers do a poorer job and accomplish less in the long run than people who devote all of their attention to the task at hand.
An interesting experiment to do to self-proclaimed good multi-taskers is to interrupt them while they are watching something on TV, be it sports or “Game of Thrones.” They become annoyed just like everyone else and say things like, “Can’t you see I’m watching this?” If it was true that they can split their attention, an interruption such as that shouldn’t bother them in the least.
I’ve heard people say that exercise is so boring that they need a distraction to get through even a short workout. How many things that are important to you do you want to be distracted from while you are doing it? Is it a good idea to be distracted while you are driving? How about while you are working? Do you watch television while your spouse is talking to you, or maybe play with your phone? Common sense and courtesy say that you shouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t.
How well do you treat yourself in that regard? If you’re willing to spend the time working out, doesn’t it make sense that you would put all your attention into doing it well? Don’t you owe that to yourself; or, in that moment, is something else more important than you and what you are trying to accomplish?
Here we go again with the goals. If your only goal is to finish your workout, expending as little effort and experiencing as little discomfort and disruption to your life as possible, then you’ve set the bar remarkably low.
When you went to school or set out on your career path, did you look to just get by, or did you strive to learn, to improve, and to be the best you could be? We all know people who just don’t put forth much effort no matter what they do. They seem distracted and annoyed with everything; eye rolling and deep sighs are the activity of the day for them. Some people approach fitness with the same lackadaisical attitude–and they accomplish nothing.
When you have a challenging goal ahead of you, you plan and work hard to achieve it. When your training goes well, you’re justifiably proud but not satisfied. When you fall short, you examine your results and figure out what happened. Either way, you are focused on the process and you critique the results, because you want to do better next time. You can’t do this if you’re distracted. You need to focus on what is happening to you in the moment, or you have no data to work with.
When you are training in the moment, you feel every muscle working. You are aware of your posture and your movement in space and time. You can adjust your effort to maintain your pace or expend all your energy in one massive effort. You feel your heart beating strong and regular and your lungs expanding, bringing oxygen to your working muscles. Pushing toward your limits puts you in control of your fate and confirms that all of your hard work has been worth it. When you are done you are feeling sky high, knowing that you did your absolute best even if you fell short of your goal.
Many people are willing to work for someone else’s benefit, for a goal outside of themselves. They go to work each day (perhaps to a job they hate) for their required time and then go home. They feel empty because they’re fighting someone else’s battle, fighting someone else’s war.
When you physically train, you are fighting for yourself. No one else benefits from your effort, your work, or your dedication. You set the agenda, you set the goals, you do the work, and you reap the benefits… and the benefits are huge!
All for You
There aren’t many things in this life that you can control 100%, but fitness training is one of them. If you are willing to make fitness a top priority in your life, you will gain a sense of control and accomplishment that’s difficult to find elsewhere.
At first it may seem like just another demand in your already overscheduled and stressed-out life, but that will change. As it moves up your priority list, other less fulfilling activities that you have wasted your time on will slide downward and eventually disappear. Instead of watching TV, you will spend time shopping for good food and cooking tasty and nutritious meals. Instead of poking at your phone, you will have conversations with likeminded individuals about the things that truly interest you. You will become focused on your job (or find a new one) in a way that will give you a reason to get up and go to work. You will attend to your career and your relationships in a way that reflects their importance in your life.
All of this can happen when you learn to live in the moment and focus on what’s really important to you. Soon you will find that you are capable of great things, and then even greater things, in all aspects of your life.
Your Last Day
Today may be the last day of your life; isn’t that a great thought! Actually it is if it gets you to focus on today.
Every moment is precious, but that doesn’t mean that you run out and climb a mountain (unless you want to) or drastically alter the way you live (unless you need to). It means that you really experience everything you do and every second you live.
So from now on, really taste your food, listen to the people you are with, appreciate the sunrise, love your family and friends, pet a dog, smile at people, do your job well, sleep deeply, shut off your phone, turn off the TV, don’t worry about tomorrow or fret about yesterday, look forward to the future without sacrificing today…
and, of course, absolutely crush your workout!
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at [email protected]