The gym opens at 8:00 am Saturday morning. I like to be one of the first ones in once the doors open. Being early and first is a habit of mine. In the Marine Corps, fifteen minutes prior to any formation was on time. Once, many years ago, my ex-wife and I waited for close to three hours outside the “Good Morning America” studio to get in. I wanted to be first and I wanted to be on television. And we were, briefly. On Saturdays, I get up at 7:00 a.m, dress and make sure my gym essentials, towel, gum and water bottle are in my bag. I drive to a local gas station and get a cup of coffee. Three months ago I developed this habit of having a cup of coffee with me while I lift. I leave it at the cubbies where everyone leaves their bags. Although I have my water bottle with me as I lift, every once in a while, during my transition to a different exercise, I’ll go and and have a little coffee. Why not. It’s still morning so I know that plays a part of me including coffee in my lifting sessions. I arrive at the gym fifteen minutes before they open. I wait in my vehicle in the parking lot, sipping my coffee for a few minutes before I go and wait in front of the locked doors. I approach a group of older men with athletic bags slung over their shoulders, waiting outside the doors. It’s still dark and cold. It’s not snowing so that’s nice. They’re racquetball players but they also talk about work and trips taken and coming over for dinner – more like friends really. The doors finally open. I scan in and walk to the weight room. I’m one of the first ones there. The trainer there sees me and probably says to himself, “Weren’t you just here last night?” Yes, I was. When you’re first, there’s not much clang of weights and bars. There’s no traffic, no concern of being in some one’s way or tracking someone’s progress on a piece of equipment you’re waiting to use. I find that I’m very patient and slow moving in the gym. I find myself reserving a lot of my energy and strength just for the lifts. Between sets, I walk about, catch my breath, change the song on my phone and talk to myself about my progress, how I’m doing and what I’m doing next. I’m not in a hurry; it’s slow weight lifting. And then I think, I need to have this same sort of patience outside the gym. I need to have this level of patience and more with my children, with others, with myself. It’s times like these, these little lessons I learn as I lose myself between lifting heavy and resting between sets that I value.
On the other hand, the weight room could be a very dangerous place if one does not check their ego. It’s not difficult to observe the level of fitness of those in the weight room. One can be very strong but not at their ideal body weight. Another person can be lean yet not lift heavy. Others can be flexible with great genetics. Others are younger and others are older. Others have years of experience in the gym while others are just learning. There are so many reasons that explain the differences in fitness level. At the same time, it’s really easy to begin comparing yourself to others in the gym and to question your level of fitness. For example, there are a group of men in my gym that always lift together. I’m a loner. They’re stronger than I am and that’s fine. I used to hear my ego’s voice convincing me to start doing my best lifts, those that I lift heavy in to prove that I’m strong too. What I began to do instead, to shut off my ego voice, was simply turn my back, mind my business and focus on my routine. Turning my back and facing another way tells my ego, “You’re not in charge. I am and what you want me to do is childish.” I think it’s important for all of us to know the contexts where our ego seeks to push us into immature actions. In the weight room, there is something called an ego lift; and it means just that, it’s simply a lift your ego pushes you to do in order to feel validated. It may not be a lift I was scheduled to do but rather, one my ego persuades me to do. This is not healthy. Last Saturday, as I was finishing my routine, I was finishing with a superset of tricep pushdowns and dumbbell curls. As I walked to the dumbbells, my ego was telling me, “Grab 50’s. Nobody else is curling 50’s!” And I thought about it but recognizing what it was, I said, “Naw, 50’s are for ego, 40’s are for pump!” The lighter weight was what I needed and more suited for my purposes. In many life instances, less is more. It’s important to be aware of the degree to which ego drives our actions and to have strategies to quiet the ego voice.