School is back in session: How the gym became my professor, changed my behavior, and gave me a glorious life.

I am thankful. Thankful for science, thankful for a supportive environment, thankful for the world we live in. Thankful for the opportunities given to me, and those unknown. I have been reflecting more lately on graduation (still 2 years to go!) and the progress made over the past 4 years. It’s been a journey, but I attribute a lot my success to lessons learned in the gym…

Last Saturday, I was working out and Macklemore’s “Glorious” started playing. This song is motivational while moving weight and while moving in everyday life.

(I even put the song on while starting this blog…go ahead and play the video while you read the rest of this blog).


With lyrics like,

‘The world is up for grabs’ and ‘I was born for this,’ you can’t help but think about the endless possibilities each day may bring.

I also reflected on how what the gym has taught over past 4 years allowing me to feel “glorious” in many areas of my life.

Of late, I have become so laser-focused on sharing my story, bringing my vision to the world with BehaviorFit as my vehicle, that everything came together for this blog. There are many metaphors that work, but after putting in so many hours in the gym, it is what I have come to know best.

The gym became the ultimate professor, changed my behavior, and gave me a glorious life.

Let’s go to school.

LESSON #1: A Routine Establishes Discipline

In last month’s article, I discussed ways I stayed productive in the gym. But the routine itself deserves an analysis. An exercise routine, whether it is 3-, 4-, or 5-days long, sets the standard each day, and every week.

Having discipline in the frequency and duration of my workouts allows consistency and predictability in my school and work schedule.

I know which days and when I will be in the gym. This discipline carries over to my academic work. Although I am a full-time student, and my schedule does not likely mirror yours, a principle remains, non-negotiable time. Just like workout days are non-negotiable (workouts MUST occur on M,W, F, Sat), my study time became more structured as well. What are your non-negotiables?

Quick tangent: My first semester in graduate school (Fall ’13, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL) was a bit of a mess, undisciplined, and all over the place. I had not discovered CrossFit (or any consistent fitness routine) yet. Once I did, all areas of my life fell into place.

Simple morning routines like:

* Leave house by 9:00 am
* Workout
* Return home
* Shower
* Breakfast
* and so on…

…quickly produced benefits in other areas of my life.

Another behavior chain in action? Yes indeed! A strong chain like this frees me to spend more time on a daily basis thinking about other things. Besides, I no longer have to decide if I am going to workout this day or the next, when I am eating, showering…

However, this discipline rests on one thing, a decision. A decision to continue and persevere no matter what.

Prior to working out consistently, my routine was all over the place. I had two stints of running that lasted 5-6 months on two separate occasions. What has been different this time around?

I made a decision, a commitment to myself, that this something I have to do for the rest of my life. It is the best decision I made related to my health. The decision freed me.Yes, there are days that I do not want to go to the gym. If we all waited to go the gym when we felt perfect, then would miss training days more often than not (credit for this idea to a favorite podcast/comedian of mine, Joe Rogan).

Yes, there are days that I do not want to go to the gym. If we all waited to go the gym when we felt perfect, then would miss training days more often than not (credit for this idea to a favorite podcast/comedian of mine, Joe Rogan).

The same goes for whatever it is you do on a daily basis. Yes, there are emails you do not reply to. Yes, there are blog deadlines I do not want to meet. But sometimes, we just have to do some things and “throw some behavior” at the problem.

However, I am enjoying THIS process more and more (LESSON #4 below).

The decision itself (a behavior change too) and commitment to perform keeps me on track. Discipline that started in the gym.

LESSON #2: Our Work Is Really Not That Hard…

Sure, we all have our stressful days and weeks, but compared to the way we are living now to Americans in the early 1900’s, life is a cakewalk.

(well, not in the short-term, Hurricane Irma is inviting herself the party we having in Florida…be safe everyone)

Back to Joe Rogan, he routinely says, “We live in amazing times.”

Our first-world problems are just that. First-world problems.

Outside of finding a new appreciation of the strength sports like CrossFit, power lifting, and Olympic weight lifting, lifting on a regular basis shifted my perspective on the work that most of us do.

Our work is really not that hard? Is it?

I feel invincible for the rest of the day after a good workout. Especially, after lifting something heavy or setting a new personal record. Powerful reinforcers (the things we work for and enjoy)!

I imagine it is a matter of opinion, but can a sales call really ruin your day after a successful day in the gym or at the track?

Whether your flavor of exercise is a heavy squat, a difficult yoga pose, or intense cardio session, no stressful email, meeting, or sales call can pale in comparison to pushing your body physically at the beginning of the day.

LESSON #3: Gains in the Gym Parallel Gains in Life and Business

How long does it take to notice gains in the gym? A long time.
How long does it take to notice gains in life? A long time.

Whatever gain you are interested in, I ask: What’s the hurry?

Sure, there are shortcuts to gains in the gym: weight loss pills, performance enhancers
And sure, there are shortcuts to gains in business: inviting all your “friends” to like something, selling your “soul” for an marketing deal

If you take shortcuts in the gym, then what could happen? You could develop imbalances in strength and flexibility.
If you take shortcuts in business, then what could happen? Your professional network shrinks, or worse, you ruin your reputation.

Yes, I have taken a shortcut in the gym.

  • What happened? I rounded my back when pulling a heavy deadlift.
  • What was the consequence? Lower back pain for a month or two, and the inability to pull heavy (with proper form) for quite some time
  • What did I learn? To listen to my body and back-off the movement when I lost my form. I traded a short-term reinforcer (completing the final rep) for a long-term consequence (back-pain and poor form). We all know the rules, but having your injuries are incredible teachers too!

Yes, I have taken a shortcut in business.

  • What happened? I wrote a blog without thinking about the audience, and my message
  • What was the consequence? Low likes and shares, and little feedback on social media
  • What did I learn? To tell be a better story, focus on what people want to learn and hear about.

(see the parallels?!?!)

No matter the area of life in question, there always the question of:

Are you playing the short game or the long game?

In the gym and in business, I have learned that having a long-term plan, following a program, and sticking to it provides the most meaningful outcomes.

I often find myself following a rule like: “If I cheat this workout by skipping out a few reps, then I am likely going cheat myself on something else later in the day.”

I heard a story about Evander Holyfield completing a workout that involved completing 300 reps of some exercise (probably jumping rope, sit-ups, or push-ups). His training partner lost count, and Evander asked: “was that 299 or 300?” The trainer said I think 300, and Evander did another rep, and said, “there are 299s, don’t be a 299”. Powerful.

This type of work ethic reminds of countless stories from comedians, writers, and rock stars that claim something like:

“It took me 10 years to become an overnight success!”

Said differently, slow and steady wins the race.

Gary Vaynerchuk, a very successful social media mogul/marketing business man, taught me something relevant: (you should have) “macro patience, micro speed”

Again, life is glorious, what’s the rush?

…and another from Gary: “Enjoy the process”

Yes, BehaviorFit likes are up, to which I am incredibly thankful, but the real reason “I feel glorious” is because through this process I have met incredible people, and started and extended interesting conversations about health, wellness, behavioral science.

It’s a slow burn, and I am enjoying the process.

LESSON #4: The Gym Teaches You Humility

Sometimes a program is too hard and you need to scale it back a little. This too requires extensive behavior change. Do you know WHAT to scale back, HOW to scale back, WHEN to scale back and so on…Each are complex skill sets that can be learned.

For example, the workout I had to complete last Saturday was:

“Barbara” <—– (for the non-Crossfitters, benchmark workouts are often a lady’s name)
5 rounds:
20 Pull-ups
30 Push-ups
40 Sit-ups
50 Air squats

(Take a 3-minute rest between rounds)

As a diligent rule-follower, and trusting the system, I read the coaching notes that went along with the workout. The goal was to finish the workout in about 40 minutes.

(By the way, I follow a program called CompTrain if you want to check it out)

The first round took me 8:11 (following strategy #2 from my last blog) which would have put me at a pace well above 50 minutes. So, what did I do? Accepted that I could not perform this workout as prescribed (or RX’d) and made the appropriate adjustment.

A warm slice of humble pie. Yummy!

So, I scaled down all the reps down by 10, and the remaining rounds went like this:

Last 4 rounds:
10 Pull-ups
20 Push-ups
30 Sit-ups
40 Air squats

Following my strategies above:

WHAT did I scale back? Each exercise
HOW did I scale back? Reduced each exercise by 10 reps
WHEN did I scale back? In the last 4 rounds

This is a simple way that a behavior analyst would look at this performance problem just like many coaches would.

These adjustments put me at a better pace and I finished the remaining rounds at 5:04, 5:10, 5:19, and 5:04. On top of the improved interval times, I was more confident in completing these last 4 rounds than the first one, which was a big mental win.

The gym is the ultimate source of feedback. It tells you what you can do, and tells you what you still need to work on.

(in my industry, organizational behavior management, we LOVE feedback!)

In this workout, this volume of reps was a weakness for me. So I knew WHAT to scale back, WHEN and HOW (see notes above). When similar workouts come up in the future, I will have a better idea of what adjustments to make if necessary

…and of course one of the many reasons I subscribe to the CrossFit methodology: individualized and scalable while maintaining intensity.

At the end of the day, the weights never lie. You either did the work, or you didn’t. You emitted the targeted behavior or you did not.

In life, we encounter situations that we are not “strong” in. We lack knowledge about a competitor’s product, a new marketing strategy, or an answer on a quiz. This feedback is invaluable and informs us what our next homework assignment will be.

In a sense, we all may need to “scale” back on some life adventure because we bit off more than we could chew.

Life is Glorious

At the end of the day, if nothing goes “right”, at least you can sleep peacefully knowing you woke up, engaged in a few healthy behaviors that day, and made the best decisions you could.

Let the gym be your teacher.

Life is glorious.
You are glorious.

The world is up for grabs, what are you going to do with it?

Keep moving my friends,


By | 2017-09-07T18:37:29+00:00 September 7th, 2017|Behavior Analysis|0 Comments