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Create exercise success by learning from failure

Published June 12. 2010 09:00AM

Marcus Aurelius, The Roman emperor better known as a Stoic philosopher, is credited with saying, "It is a wise man that learns one thing from another."

Now that doesn't mean only wise men have the ability to assess one situation and apply it elsewhere. It means you become wise at least momentarily anytime you recognize the similarities in things and act accordingly.

For instance, a distinguished running coach once confided to a client that he had always wanted to be a writer, but had no idea how to turn the ideas in his head into a novel. Luckily for him, the client was Natalie Goldberg, a highly accomplished author who may be even better known as a writing instructor.

And she said he had the ability simply by learning one thing from another.

She told the running coach that he already knew what he needed to know because he had already structured so many running programs. This was not what the coach had expected to hear, but as Goldberg explained how structuring a running program and structuring a novel are similar, the coach's understanding and excitement grew.

By the end of the discussion, the coach felt ready to begin writing.

Today's column will offer you a chance at that momentary wisdom Goldberg showed by using a rather unconventional source: the students who failed at least one marking period in my language arts class this school year. My hope is that you'll create health and fitness success from learning from their classroom failure.

Before I share what caused their failure, let me stress what didn't: intelligence or the lack thereof. Even the students reading three and four grades below the seventh grade level who failed a quarter or two were not ultimately done in by their impeded understanding of the written word.

Oh, no. The coup de grace came from one or a combination of the following: not doing assignments at all or not doing them on time, not making up work assigned during absences, and not giving a consistent effort.

Now let's say you're days away from beginning a new and ambitious exercise regiment, one that will really test your mettle which is what the move from elementary school to junior high school does to less-than-inspired students.

Do you see how their failures could become your failures, too? But that doesn't have to be the case if you're willing to learn from them.

For example, the most frequent school excuse for not doing an assignment is a professed confusion over how to do it. Learn from that.

If you're not sure how to perform a movement at the gym, ask.

If you're working out at home, seek out information on the Internet. A recent search, for example, for information on how to properly perform a front squat quite possibly the best exercise to work the quadriceps though potentially the most complex and uncomfortable provided a handful of explanations and dozens of videos.

Missing a day of school is sometimes unavoidable. Many times dare I say most times? it isn't.

Learn from that and a correlation that was established long ago: that there is an inexorable link between classroom success and classroom attendance.

In other words, learn to exercise even when you see a potential excuse to avoid it or when you simply don't feel like it.

And while missing a day of school is sometimes unavoidable, giving less than your best effort when you are there isn't. Unfortunately, however, many students choose to focus their mental efforts on what happened last week or last period or what might happen next week or next period instead of the lesson immediately presented to them.

Learn from that. Learn how to make your workout time a time to learn more about your body and how to best work out rather than a time to rehash or speculate.

Not all this advice, you might argue, is easier said than done, and I won't disagree with you. It's easy to have your exercise regiment stray because what ultimately directs it, your mind, is so easily led astray.

Thoughts, like breathing, are involuntary. You can't stop your brain from producing them.

But you can decide what thoughts produce the right mindset and the proper motivation. It's what the Buddhists call "Right thought, right mind, right action."

One way to keep "right thoughts" in your head is to have easy access to them. What I have done is taken a number of the quotations that create "right thought" in me and written them down on note cards that I keep in places where they will be frequently seen: in my weight room, beside stationary bicycle, and on my nightstand.

Though there are dozens that have left a deep impression on me, here's one that I feel will work for everyone. It's from Dan Millman, a former world champion on the trampoline and elite-level gymnast whom you may know as the author of a book that became a movie a few years ago, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

Millman says, "Accept your emotions, know your goals, do what needs to be done."

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