This morning when I woke up I didn’t feel quite right. My energy was low, my head was fuzzy and I was sluggish. But I don’t always feel 100% when I first stumble out of bed. I’m not a morning person so that’s pretty normal for me.
I forced myself to get up, get moving and go to the gym. My regular routine is the Stronglifts 5×5 so I cued up the weights for my first exercise – squats – and got ready. For some reason, my warm-ups were surprisingly hard. I wasn’t even doing my work set and I already felt winded. That was weird but I figured it was just a matter of getting everything moving.
I finished my first four work sets but I could only finish three of five reps on my final set. That’s always frustrating because I want to kick ass every time. Whatever. It happens. I marked the dropped reps in the app and moved on to the overhead press.
At that point my heartbeat was going pretty good and I felt slightly nauseous. I checked my heart rate monitor and it showed 130. I’m hardly ever that high during my squats so something didn’t seem right. Just punch through, I told myself. Mind over matter. I can do it. I’m awesome.
I started on my warm-up for the overhead press and found myself struggling with just the bar. Something was definitely up. I waited a few minutes, added my work weights and told myself I was fine. My body disagreed. I couldn’t even finish two reps, and now my legs were shaking and I was breathing heavy. What the hell was going on?
I tried to squeeze out one more repetition but my shoulders flat out refused. It didn’t matter how much I wanted to fight through the rest of my workout, it was clear that for some reason my muscles were toast. After a quick head check, I decided to do something I had never done in five months of strength training: Give up in the middle of a workout. I re-racked all the weights, cleaned up my area and went home. In the car I checked my workout log and gritted my teeth. I’d barely finished a quarter of my workout.
I had failed.
Driving home my head was full of doubts. My inner critic – this mean son of a bitch who knows all my weaknesses – started whispering in my ear.
How could you quit early? You should have rested and kept going. You obviously don’t have what it takes. You’re 41 years old. Your body is weak and your mind is weak and you’re always going to be that way. Bottom line? You’re a loser.
Thankfully, over the last couple years I’ve learned that although my inner critic does occasionally help, he is wrong most of the time. I rolled down the window, took a few deep breaths and began the painful process of objectively analyzing my performance. What had happened? What were the steps that brought me here?
Why did I fail?
As I thought back, I began to see there were actually some very good reasons I crapped out. I’ve been under a lot of stress for the last several weeks. Both of my grandmothers died this year which has caused a lot of personal and family stress – and I haven’t been dealing with it very well. This last week I’ve been going to bed late and waking up early so I’ve been missing my eight hours of sleep. I was on the road five out of seven days so instead of whole grains, protein, vegetables and superfoods, I’ve been eating too many processed foods and sugar. Also, because of travel and work, I haven’t gotten my rest day for several weeks. And then, in addition to all that, I decided to stay up very late last night and play video games with some friends.
After looking at the data it’s not at all surprising I wasn’t able to make my numbers. Challenging circumstances plus cumulative stress plus interrupted routine multiplied by bad choices equals poor performance. I failed because I set myself up for failure.
That was an hour ago. Since then I’ve been sitting here at the computer, organizing my thoughts, looking for the steps I must take to feel strong and confident once again. Okay, here’s a quote that might help.
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” ~General Colin Powell
He should know, too. Powell started out as a poor kid in Harlem and worked his way up to four-star general and commander of the US Army Forces. The general’s advice couldn’t be more perfect. If I’m going to learn from this mistake, I must prepare better and do the work I haven’t been doing. So what can I do differently?
- I need to upgrade my diet. Even if I’m on the road, there’s no excuse for eating hamburgers and Coke every day. I can bring healthy meals and supplements with me, I can stop at grocery stores and spend the time finding good nutrition or I can pony up the dough and buy expensive, quality food at higher-end restaurants.
- I need to prioritize sleep. Even in busy, stressful environments full of social obligations, I can excuse myself early to get the sleep I need. In fact, the more stressful the environment, the more important it is to be healthy so I can be a good leader for those around me.
- I need to stay inspired. Even on the road I can spend time reading inspirational books, magazines or websites every day. We are what we surround ourselves with so in a sea of chaos it is vital for a Superior Man to keep himself anchored to excellent and positive philosophy.
- Sometimes I need to say ‘No’ to fun activities. I love my friends and family and there’s nothing better than hanging out and having a good time but I need to make sure to set smart boundaries. If I wasn’t working hard on building muscle and getting strong, it wouldn’t be a big deal if I regularly stayed up late and had a few more beers. But you can’t achieve excellence by doing what everyone else does. As Stephen Hogan says, “You can’t have a million-dollar dream with a minimum-wage work ethic.”
Today I failed. It hurt like hell and I hated it. But it wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. Failure is a part of learning. It is an important step on the road to success.
I must learn from my mistakes. I must move beyond them. Just like muscles that get torn up and rebuilt stronger, our bad habits must be smashed and replaced with better, more powerful habits. That is the way of growth for all things and for all men.
I will take the lessons from today and become stronger next time. I am a Superior Man and I am committed to accomplishing this goal, no matter what it takes. I won’t settle for anything less.
This week, I encourage you to fight through your failures. All of your dreams are on the other side of the wall. Punch through. You can do it!