“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” — John Bingham
The people who make their dreams come true have one thing in common: the courage to start. But not only that. The ones who achieve success pursuing their dreams have the discipline to keep on going. For many of us, fitness may sound like a daunting task. The uncertainty of a new terrain, more so the world of fitness, can be intimidating, discouraging, and even scary. The paralyzing effect of self-doubt easily kicks in. Nobody wants to look or feel awkward inside the gym. Some already feel uneasy or anxious by the mere thought of strangers looking at them while they are working out. The fear is real and many never even get to start their fitness journey.
But this is not the life we want, don’t we? We don’t want to live a life constrained by people’s opinions or a life defined by our fears. Somehow, something inside us, a voice, tells us to go for it. Our instincts demand us to rebuild and rewrite our lives for the better. Well, here’s the good news: we may feel uncertain and still be ready. We can be afraid and still sign up for that gym membership anyway. We can fear criticism and still go for it. In each one of us, in the depths of our hearts, is a place where courage can be found. In every moment of doubt, amidst the convolutions in our minds, fortitude can be found. Such has been my outlook in life and this is what my fitness journey has always been teaching me.
Back in high school, I was a pessimistic, scrawny and insecure teenager who was overcome by self-doubt but despite all my psychological baggage, I decided to go for it anyway. Up until today, I unceasingly make a choice to listen to my heart and cultivate the awareness that the treasure of my life is already buried within me. I am the source of power in my life and you are yours. Our potential for greatness does not rely on our parents, our workout buddy, our team leader, or our go-to colleague at work. We unlock our true power when we get to know and take ownership of our true self. To know who you are and to harness who and what you are maybe the greatest gift of all.
My clients and students know this: there is more to life than fitness. My philosophy is simple: fitness is simply a tool, as I would always tell them. Like a screwdriver we can use to tighten up loose bolts or a hammer to nail thoughts in our heads. We all can benefit from pursuing a fit and healthy lifestyle. Believe it or not, fitness can help us gain the awareness of who we are and what we are called to do and ultimately help us write the story of our lives. A means to and end, not an end in itself, fitness is a tool to better ourselves— to teach ourselves humility, patience and discipline not just for our own personal benefit but, more importantly, for the benefit and improvement of our community.
Fitness teaches us to dare greatly. By being willing to leave our comfort zones and be vulnerable and exposed in the gym, we unearth a buried courage within us that would enable us to face life’s uncertainties. By coming to terms with our weaknesses, illnesses, failures, and unfulfilled lives, fitness gives us a second chance to take hold of our lives and make things better. By experiencing physical pain and hardship inside the gym, it becomes easier for us to swallow our own egos and really take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror. Oftentimes, looking at ourselves in the mirror with utmost honesty is the most difficult thing to do. Either we only choose to see are our flaws and imperfections or we choose to believe our illusions or delusions of grandeur about ourselves. Either way, we lose the opportunity to take hold of our lives. But experiencing and overcoming a painful workout increases our tolerance for life’s harsh realities and bitter truths. Over time, fitness enables us to know who we are, where we are, where we want to go, and how to actually get there. We sense inside us a surrender on what the universe wants us to do.
“It takes courage to grow up and be who you really are.” — E.E. Cummings
It can finally feel good when we are up and at it but like the laws of physics, the higher we rise, the harder we fall. In 2011, after a year into exercising, I injured both my Achilles tendon from doing too much calf raises. It may sound really funny but, back then, I was oblivious to proper programming and thought that simply beating up my body was the way to see results. After rising too strong too early, I ultimately overdid it. It took me eight months to recover but the pain in my tendons seemed so minuscule compared to the pain in my heart. Knowing better, I channeled the pain and I used those eight months to educate myself in biomechanics, technique, and programming.
After a good two years of getting really nerdy with exercising, my old gym buddy, Kevin, insisted I become a personal trainer. My immediate response? No way. I thought he was crazy. He kept on convincing me and I wasn’t buying it. I loved fitness and all but the idea of teaching it to people scared me. It’s such a vulnerable place to be. It wasn’t like I was unsure of what I will teach, but more like I was scared of what people would think of me as a trainer. Growing up in a traditional Chinese-Filipino family, familial traditions were too strong. I was afraid of disappointing my parents and shattering their dreams of me becoming a doctor or at least become a business person. Long story short, it took me a good two weeks before finally diving in head first. It was after watching Man of Steel, the film about how Superman came to accept himself for who he is and how he owned his role in the universe, that I started getting inspired to live out what I am created to do.
“Every person can be a force for good, free to forge his own destiny.” — Jor-El, Man of Steel
I have always been formed and fueled by books. What I lack in experience, I compensated for through the worlds I visited in the books that I have read. Not only have I gone far and wide with my books, I have also found mentors and sages to learn from and to take counsel from. That is why whenever my best friend, Patrick, travels abroad, I ask him to bring home some SoulFood and BodyFood for me: books that speak to the spirit and build the body. He was recently in Singapore for ten days and I asked him to find some essential titles by two of my favorite authors: Mel Robbins and Brene Brown. I also asked him to bring home some books on exercise science, fitness, and sports. What I received from him was such a perfect stack! Probably my most favorite stack of books ever! Aside from the books that we “devour” together, it’s quite easy to know my flow with Pat. Either we eat real food together, workout together, kill time together, or share ideas about everything and anything under the sun. Pat knows all my favorite authors and the choleric in him never fails to find all the important titles that I need! Boom!
I’d like to share with you the two resonating themes that struck me from this stack: courage and timing (as in the wisdom of timing in training). These two inspired me to write this blog.
According to Mel Robbins, author of The 5 Second Rule, to keep us from the dangers of the unknown and unfamiliar, our brain has evolved to protect us by putting us in a state of hesitation. The longer we hesitate and think about doing something, the more likely we are never going to do it. The more we hesitate, the more we feel afraid. On top of that, according to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, it’s our feelings that decide for us 95% of the time. We feel before we think and we feel before we act. As Damasio puts it, “Human beings are feeling machines that think. Not thinking machines that feel.” After watching Man of Steel, I remembered my deep passion for fitness and in that moment I finally decided to jump. No more overthinking. The message was too strong and in less than five seconds, I said YES.
“Human beings are feeling machines that think. Not thinking machines that feel.” — Antonio Damasio
My view of fitness has changed the moment I became a personal trainer and coach. All of a sudden, I was thrust into the arena of professionals who not only took their work seriously but also were directly responsible for other people’s lives. It was a rude awakening that I thought I knew a lot, when in reality, I knew nothing. Quickly, I studied and studied away and taught myself the very core principles in fitness that I teach to this day. That is, in pursuing any goal in fitness, one needs to first generally adapt to training, build muscle or hypertrophy, develop maximum strength, specifically adapt to specific goals and use sound nutrition to tie it all in. These are the basics of periodization. A meticulous process focused on understanding the needs of each individual and harnessing the power of epigenetics to alter the mechanism of an individual’s gene expression for better health and improved overall wellness. This is the core, the essence of building the better version of ourselves.
“The broad truth is that nature and nurture are so interlaced in any realm of athletic performance that the answer is always: it’s both.” —David Epstein, The Sports Gene
Building the best version of ourselves or our 2.0 is a daily process. We need to have an awareness of who we truly are. A resonating WHY and a vision to dare greatly as Brene Brown puts it. Our moments of failure, pain and disappointment enable us to rise strong. In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown tells us that from shame we learn to be compassionate, from disappointment we learn grace and in failure we learn courage. In pursuing our dreams, we must not hesitate. The 5 Second Rule, 5-4-3-2-1, by Mel Robbins shows us HOW we can take massive action to finally act on our dreams. Hesitate and overthink and we will never get it done. So just do it!
“Start before you’re ready. Don’t prepare, begin.” — Mel Robbins
Start with your body. Build and continue to rebuild yourself. Have the discipline to follow through and learn more about the science of real periodization and programming. Stop accepting mediocrity just because society favors that we fit in, fall in line, and keep the system running. Raise your standard and take action. Set micro fitness goals and tick them off the list one by one. Never wait until you’re ready because chances are you’ll never be. If you have the courage to begin, you definitely have the courage to succeed. Finally, only in taking action that we achieve real success: acquiring the strength both in body and mind and the ability to transcend into what we are truly called to do. And for me, that is the simple yet complex art of teaching fitness.
“Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later.” — Jor-El, Man of Steel