In my recent visits to the gym, I’ve been trying a dangerous new experiment. It’s not a daring new exercise routine, or bizarre workout diet. My latest tweak to my workouts is ditching my iPhone and carefully curated music playlists in favor of….nothing. While I’m not the biggest fan of the cliché’ hi energy music mix pumped over the gym’s loudspeakers, I’ve challenged myself to exercise sans soundtrack of any kind.
The results have been varied, but all beneficial. Less set up time, less rest time between reps, less dancing, no more DJing through the workout, and just an increased overall awareness of the surroundings. Most noteworthy are the conversations that I’ve been having with…myself. Subdued in the eclectic mix of jazz, hip-hop, classical, and alt rock were messages that I had opted to ignore or didn’t want to reckon with, but there they were, right between my ragged, rhythmic breaths.
Some messages were complimentary and motivating. “You’re slaying this rep…You’re outrunning everyone on the treadmill lane…You’re outplaying everyone on the court”. Conversely, a sizable set of statements that weren’t so positive, or inspiring also surfaced. “You’re tired, lets quit…You hate doing that particular exercise…Your elbows are going to cave in trying to lift that much”. These contrasting messages were now louder, alternating between moments, but consistent throughout each 90-minute ordeal. Cheerleader-vs –Competition. What pushes me forward-vs-what appears to demotivate me or insert fear or concern? When I saw my reflection in the mirror, what did I see after hearing these voices?
At first, I started to engage in only the activities in which I could hear the cheerleaders the loudest. Cardio machines, basketball, weight machines. The workouts were fun, simple to plan and do. The muscle memory was reflexive and automatic, and I could essentially do reps on autopilot without any effort or focused concentration. I also noticed that the workouts were easy: maybe a bit too easy. After some time, the sessions were becoming repetitive and ultimately boring. I wasn’t achieving progressive results and coming to the gym became a chore rather than a challenge.
So, I started dabbling in the areas where the voices of the competition would find me. Jump rope, shadow boxing, core work, free weights, pull ups, plyometrics, squats, lunges. Some days I failed. Some days I surprised myself. Some days my form was off, the reps weren’t as long or it could have or should have been, or I would just observe someone who performed more masterfully than I could. What I did notice over time was that my body responded more positively to the latter set of exercises. I was more eager to return to the gym to develop and progress on the gains that I had achieved, some more rapidly then the repetitive exercises that I had become bored with. Best of all, the competition voices that would greet me on these rigorous exercises had over time morphed into cheerleader voices.
By leaving my iPhone in my locker, I was reminded of a nuanced lesson that relates to everyday life. We need the encouraging voices of the Cheerleader, but we also need the voices of the Competition as well, maybe even more. One can get intoxicated with the praise of the Cheerleader and become lazy, complacent, self indulged, and entitled. The voices of the Competition, if not managed correctly can lead to perpetual self doubt, negative view of self, and hinder needed risk taking and creativity. We have both messages speaking to us – everyday -, and we need both. We also have to engage with them wisely. We need a Cheerleader to pick us up when we’re down or giving ourselves a hard time, but we also need to meet the challenge of the Competition at every notice. Every result in our life stems from how well we’ve managed those contrasting voices. The important thing is to ensure that we can hear them and see ourselves properly to start with.