Chasing 300: Lessons learned while striving for a goal

I was recently reminded of two valuable lessons about life. I thought I’d lead into them with a little story about my recent quest to reach a goal.


I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights, but it wasn’t until last year that someone mentioned to me that he was in the “300 Club”. This is an informal term referring to people who have bench-pressed 300 pounds. Well, this sounded like a club I wanted to join! So I found a nearby gym and decided to get started.


When i did a diagnostic “maxing out” session, my maximum weight was 240 lbs, so I knew I had some way to go. I started by making some great progress, but then seemed to reach a “plateau” at around 280. Try as I might, I couldn’t get past it, even when I started eating more red meat in my diet.


I was determined to reach my goal, and now it had reached 8 months with very minor progress. I was getting a bit frustrated, and starting to worry that my age (39) was a factor in the lack of improvement. And then I was informed that my gym was closing. True, there were other gyms in the city, but I had become rather used to this one, and liked it — and it was within walking distance.


It took me a few days to find another gym nearby, and when I did, I wasn’t exactly impressed. It was crowded, didn’t have the same set-up, and had Michael Bolton blaring on the stereo system (I prefer rock and roll!). On my first visit, I couldn’t even get a bench to use, so I ended up going for my first real workout at 7am on a Sunday.


I walked into a beautifully empty gym that morning, with one trainer there who could “spot” me, and after two warm-up sets, went straight to my max of 280 lbs. To my surprise, I was able to do several repetitions, which was unusual. I added on weights, and before I knew it, I had bench-pressed my goal of 300 pounds! Things were going so well that I even pushed myself to 310.


Despite my exultation, I was a bit confused. How did this actually happen? The answer is simple and a bit embarrassing. At my previous gym, all the weights were in kilograms, rather than pounds. As an American, I’m not exactly fluent in the metric system, and combined with the fact that I’d been doing the conversions to pounds in my head, the numbers I was arriving at were way off. In addition to that, I had totally underestimated the weight of the barbell I was using. In short, I’d been bench-pressing my goal of 300 for the past few months, without even knowing it!


I said at the beginning of this post that I was reminded of two life lessons from this experience. The first was that Change is generally a good thing. In this case, if I had not had to change gyms, it would have taken me much longer to realize that I’d reached my goal. Yes, the change was not exactly what I wanted, but it was definitely for the better. So often in life, we resist change, or run away from it, not realizing that in order for our lives to improve, we have to allow things to change.


Secondly, and less simple, was the reminder that in our self-assessments, we often underestimate ourselves, because we don’t have the right perceptions. In this case, I was doing the math wrong at the other gym, and my erroneous results were starting to affect my confidence. So often, we are harsh on ourselves, so overly judgmental of our decisions and actions, and it causes us to think less of ourselves. For years, i had a confidence problem, and was often told by friends and colleagues that I was much more capable than I thought i was. It was my own perceptions of myself that were holding me back.


So I advise you: when you start getting down on yourself, remember that you are usually much better than you think you are. You’ve just been miscalculating. Don’t let your miscalculations deter you from moving forward. Ultimately, the desire for progress will take you to where you want to go. And, be positive about change that comes into your life. Choose to look on the bright side of change. Sure, I didn’t enjoy hearing Love Radio at the gym, but there was also an inspiring picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the wall, in his peak bodybuilding condition. I chose to focus on that rather than Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”, and I got a very positive result. We always have a choice to focus on the positive, and that is always the way forward.


By Tom McKinley, author of Winning the Fight to Be Happy and Make the Right Decisions Early.

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