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5 life lessons from the fitness field

I recently graduated as a Level 2 Life Coach. Life coaching is an inherently awareness-building, reflection-generating experience … thus, the question that inspired this blog: “What does Kathleen the fitness professional wish the younger (and less fit) Kathleen had known?”

Now, on a practical level this question is somewhat nonsensical; Back to the Future is only a movie. Plus, younger Kathleen needed to navigate life in order to be current Kathleen. Experience is not only the birthplace of perspective; it is also an opportunity for growth. I would not be who I am today without living — and more critically learning — through my experiences.

The question becomes useful when used as a “growth” or “thought” experiment — as in, an opportunity to reflect on the past and learn what I want my current self to be aware of, so I can ensure I become the future self I envision.

Your future self is created in the decisions made by your current self!

After reflection I decided these are the five lessons (guiding principles) I want my current self to live by to ensure my future self is the fittest and happiest version of me!

Five life lessons

1. Don’t let the bus drive you; YOU have to drive the bus!

The “bus” is the bus of life!

Life (your health) is an active process. Better health — increased fitness, etc. — doesn’t “just happen.” Sure, some individuals are predisposed to healthier genes, but it is up to you (as my dad would say) to take what you are given and “hit a home run.”

You are in control of you. If you want to have more energy, do things that produce energy. If you want to be stronger, do things that elicit strength.

I am not saying “don’t be spontaneous” or “don’t enjoy food”; I am saying “be aware.” If you decide to have chocolate, own the choice; eat mindfully.

Another way to frame this is to stop focusing on what you can’t control and what you don’t have and focus on what you CAN control and what you DO have. Can’t go to the gym? Work out at home. Traveling for work? Pack a band in your suitcase and train in your hotel room. Want a cookie? Have one and fully enjoy it.

2. Self-care is NOT selfish! You HAVE TO inhale to exhale!

You “inhale” by doing activities that refuel you. For me that includes running, sleeping, meditation, and audiobooks. Others might inhale through painting or gardening.You “exhale” through activities for others.

Breathing (living) in this self-care metaphor requires inhaling AND exhaling; you have to give to yourself and to others. If you bias toward inhaling, add exhale activities to your life. If you only exhale — typically “exhalers” have nebulous boundaries — take time to inhale.

Put other ways, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” or “Protect the vessel.”

You can’t be of service to anyone — including yourself — if you are sick, resentful, burned out, tired, etc.

3. The golden rule goes both ways …

In a nutshell, have compassion — for yourself and others!

Too many of us are VERY cruel to ourselves. Our self-talk is hurtful, harsh — harmful!

We have to learn how to have empathy and compassion for ourselves, while simultaneously working to have the compassion and kindness for others that we would want them to have for us.The “golden rule” has to go both ways; yes, do unto others as you would want others to do unto you, BUT also do unto yourself as you would do unto others.

Fear, insecurity, uncertainty, self-doubt, frustration, pain, and suffering are all inherent parts of being human. The goal of eradicating them is akin to wishing to die.

Instead of fighting emotions, embrace and learn from them — have compassion and a growth mindset regarding your choices and experiences.

How does this relate to fitness? When you fall off your fitness horse (have a cookie or skip a workout) don’t shame spiral into further unhealthy choices. Note the choice. Understand that “falling” is a part of life. Then, have compassion for yourself as you learn from the fall so that you can make a more informed choice next time.

4. Compassion is not a synonym for self-indulgence! Not trying is NOT the same as failing and learning!

Expanding on point number three, compassion is not a synonym for self-indulgence, “being lazy,” or “letting yourself off the hook.” Trying and not succeeding is NOT the same as trying, falling, and learning.

Compassion has its roots in “caring”; care enough about yourself to make healthy choices. Think enough of yourself to expect yourself to try. Hold yourself to high standards because you love yourself. Just don’t berate yourself.

If you “fall” off your health horse, walk yourself firmly — yet kindly and with compassion — through the experience; note your emotions and learn from the experience. Be your own best friend.

5. Learn to fly above the chaos

Don’t get mired in the muck of life.

Work on having perspective — at having the skills to step away from your thoughts and view the experience as if looking at the chess board of life. Learn through practice how to be objective — how to respond rationally rather than giving in to knee-jerk reactions.

Think of the ability to respond objectively as a muscle. It is not going to get strong overnight. Practice, practice, and PRACTICE!

Kathleen Trotter is a personal trainer in Toronto who loves audiobooks, planks and having a growth mindset. You can follow her blog or find her on Facebook.