Control by exercise

“Continue to invest in your physical temple. Through our aches and pains there are some worthy dividends.”

– Jimmy McMillian, Retired Air Force General and member of our local gym in Chapel Hill, NC

One of the common denominators of people who go to the gym (consistently), all the way up to professional body-builders [1] is a desire for a sense of control. Sometimes, in our lives, there are so many events that are outside of our control, that we feel constantly buffeted and helpless. Even activities that we may enjoy or people we want to spend time with are dependent on external variables i.e. will they show up, will we have a fun time, etc?

I was the CEO of a software company for many years but I couldn’t control if we released a build that day, whether a prospect would purchase or not, if someone would quit or I would get sued, etc. Even though a single line of code will do exactly what you program it to do, 10 million lines will often (or always) result in unexpected and unpredictable behaviors. Often, I would wake up, check email, and then just start going through all of the unexpected events that would hammer us that day. Rather than being the driver, I often felt like I was just along for the ride.

Going to the gym provides an opportunity, for however brief of a moment in your day, to control everything you do. When you push the weight, it goes up. When you run hard, you sweat. Your body will respond exactly as you will it and can be shaped exactly as you intend.

In times of challenges, I do find solace and sanctuary in the gym and find myself bouncing out of bed in the morning, in eager anticipation of an activity I generally hate e.g. could you imagine having fun lifting up and putting down heavy rocks for an hour?

There are many reasons to exercise, whatever form that may take. My form has always been weightlifting at the gym. And there are many benefits like endurance, heart health, strength, weight loss, etc. For me though, the more ethereal aspects, including a sense of control that really improves my mental health, is ultimately is the most important benefit.

You often can’t take full control of your life, but you always can control some aspects of it which includes scheduling time to exercise and committing to it. The sense of control you will gain will improve your emotional and physical resilience to tackle those issues you can’t control. Those issues will come. You can’t prevent that. But you can learn to manage and deal with them more effectively.

You can’t control what other people will do, unexpected events and circumstances, etc

  • You can control switching off-screen time and going to be early so you can get out of bed in the AM
  • You can control setting a time to wake-up in the morning
  • You can control not checking email or social media before leaving for the gym
  • You can control what exercises you do, how many and the duration of your workout
  • You can control whether you will allow for distractions and interruptions, during your workout, or whether you will focus

In doing so, you can control the success of your workout regimen and how you will look and feel physically, over time. And in the process, you can improve your emotional and physical resilience and the sense of control that you have over your own life.


[1] From my readings, such a sense of order, control, separation etc is particularly helpful to women who’s lives can often be much more complicated than men’s. It is a common thread in the motivation of female bodybuilders.


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