Everybody wants to know the secret of success. These days, our social media-driven culture gives us a high definition picture of what success looks like, who’s winning, and who’s losing. While pop culture images probably distort reality, I have my own vision of what success looks like. It starts with health and fitness.
We intuitively know how important health is. More than just the absence of illness, being in good shape feels great and makes us more confident. Fit people are consistently seen as being more attractive and have an easier time finding mates, getting jobs, and closing deals. It’s so simple, and yet elusive for many people — to be successful, start by getting healthy.
There are two sides to physical fitness: what we eat, and what we do. I want to focus on exercise because of its potential to shape us across dimensions. Beyond our bodies, exercise offers us a chance to strengthen ourselves mentally, emotionally, socially, and more. In short, sports can make you more successful, even if you’re not an athlete.
First, physical fitness requires hard work over an extended time, so it signals that a person has self-discipline. Between career, family, friends, hobbies, volunteering, and who-knows-what-else, it’s not easy to make time for the kind of regular exercise program that keeps us trim. Building a routine takes commitment, effort, and a long-term perspective. These are all things I love to see in the people around me.
It’s not enough to just show up. No matter what field you look at, successful people are the ones who constantly challenge themselves to improve. Just like with physical muscles, mental and emotional muscles grow with use and raise our performance across our lives.
We’ve all experienced self-doubt and suffering from physically challenging activity. That little voice that says you’ve had enough and tries to persuade you to quit early — that is the voice that holds us back throughout life. That voice doesn’t care if we succeed, it just wants comfort and instant gratification. Learning to control or ignore that voice is the key to the kind of gritty resilience that separates the average Joe from the kind of success that we all want. The better we learn to manage that voice, the stronger we become, across all dimensions of our lives.
Exercise is particularly well suited to developing our grit because a good workout takes us to the edge of our abilities. When we’re out of breath or our muscles give in, there’s no ambiguity about reaching our limits. And whether it’s running faster, lifting more, or improving in some other sporting metric, athletics offer us the chance to clearly measure our progress, so we can really know when we’re improving.
Sports are also a great way to strengthen social ties. In team sports like basketball, winning demands teamwork and cooperation. Golf is famous as a vehicle for cementing business relationships, and even running offers a chance to bond with others. By challenging us, these sporting scenarios strip away the social masks that we wear in public and help us to see each other more as we really are. If we can bring our best selves, this opens the door to broader and deeper relationships, whether business or social.
The most direct evidence of sports’ value is that it makes us feel really darn good. After a great workout, I feel happier. Even when my body is tired, exercise leaves my mind energized and focused. An hour in the gym is an investment in myself that pays off with big productivity gains that very same day. That doesn’t even count the long term benefits of fitness.
Some people think that fitness is an overvalued and superficial trait, but I’m not one of them. Exercise strengthens our bodies, minds, emotions, and our perseverance. It’s an opportunity to challenge and know ourselves better. It makes us feel better and more confident, energizes us for work each day, and leaves us feeling happier. Focusing on fitness creates a positive cycle, and it’s the closest thing to find a “secret to success” in life that I’ve ever found.
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