The life of the 21st century athlete is all about doing more. We want to be faster and stronger even as we get older. We want to do more, learn more, work more, earn more, even as the amount of time we have to do each of these things gets smaller with each additional focus. The popular solution of choice appears to be multitasking: I can drive and shave, I can shop and talk, I can run and watch the news.
But multitasking is really only effective in limited situations, very few of them applicable to endurance sports. Show me a runner yammering on a cell phone and I’ll show you someone who’s having a sub-par run and conversation! To truly change your exercise lifestyle and realize your athletic potential, you will need to reconfigure specific areas of your life to have context that maps with your fitness goals.
The Television Dilemma
The best way to dig deeper is to take a real-world example to explain what I mean by “reconfigure” and “context.” We all have a room in our house where a television lives. Formally known as the Living Room, this is where members of the family gather alone or together to pretty much sit down and zone out. Worse yet, there’s usually some kind of snack or junk food involved with this ritual. It’s no longer a living room, it’s a sit-here-and-stuff-my-face-while-zoning-out room.
But why does this happen? Why don’t we connect any more with one another?
The television has become the focal point of the room. With the advent of flat screen televisions, the latest models are ginormous and dominate the physical space of the room. And if wall-mounted, they also replace any other artwork or visual elements of the room. Aunt Ginny’s portrait is cute but dwarfed by your 58-inch plasma.
When we walk into the living room, then, the default activity is to turn on the TV. I do this all the time at home, sitting down on the sofa with my wife, one of us always seems to bring the remote and/or open the hutch (where the TV lives). We are working our way “away” from this by confining our TV time to the laptop — making it on-demand and very turn-off- and put-away-able.
Objects vs Context
So you know you need to do more with your time, and so you want to stack your activities. From a functional space perspective, most of us address this challenge as follows:
I need to improve my flexibility. I have a foam roller behind my sofa and roll my hips while watching television. Therefore, my living room is both a place to relax and a place to stretch…mission accomplished, right?
The problem here, of course, is that the foam roller is BEHIND the sofa — it’s not present. There are no cues to stretch, other than perhaps tightness in your hips. And chances are if that’s your cue, you’ll only address it after it’s already a problem and you’ll stop doing it once the issue is resolved. If you leave it out as a reminder, chances are you won’t earn any bonus points with your significant other.
Building A Context for Change
There are more subtle cues that can facilitate the change or behavior you want to encourage. I call this concept Physical Potential Energy, which I define as follows:
Physical Potential Energy is…the energy stored within a physical space as a result of the position or configuration of the different parts of that space.
The best example of this I could recall from an email conversation I had recently, where I asked my good friend and architect / triathlete / entrepreneur Rex Ingram (LinkedIn) how he has built a more “fit life.” I was thinking he’d talk about building an addition or adding a skylight or something…but his answer was far more profound:
“I made a coaster for my coffee table of a guy doing a handstand.”
Simple. Cheap. Effective. Brilliant.
Of course I had to investigate more deeply, so I reached out to Rex to talk more about his coffee table, why he doesn’t own a Solo-Bow-Flex-Master-9000 and to learn more about what he calls “Fit Space” – a project where he tackles the challenge of integrating space and the active lifestyle.
The full audio portion of the conversation, which is undoubtedly more accurate than my highlights/notes that follow, is available online here. Please download it, share it, and visit Rex’s website!
The people who want to change the most are already fit.
Chances are you don’t have to make massive changes to enable your fitness lifestyle, if you are at this crossroads, then you are really looking for subtle tweaks, not to lose 150 lbs!
Your body doesn’t go to the gym to get fit.
Your body can get fit anywhere. You to the gym as predominantly a mental exercise – putting yourself in a space where you are now ready to get fit. Insteady consider putting a pull-up bar in your entryway. Do 3-4 pull ups everytime you enter/exit that door and you’ll notice a real difference without necessarily breaking a sweat!
Consider mapping out specific activities in specific areas.
Think of oppositional movements: push stations and pull stations. You can even have a flexibility station. Perhaps these are denoted by different colors, where the colors serve as highlights to draw attention to the space.
I also managed to pin Rex down to ask for the top three things he thinks can make a difference for runners.
- Have A Library of Places to Go. Think of this as understanding the full physical potential of where you live.
- Organize Your Gear. Having a ton of stuff is not a benefit if you can’t find it to use it! Know what goes on when, know your most commonly used gear, and have things ready to go so you area mere minutes away from getting out of the house!
- Associate Space with Routines. Even if you can’t redo your living room, you can certainly “re-brand” it as your core strength room and set challenges for yourself to complete fixed activities when entering, exiting, or just sitting there!
We are a culture bent on action; measuring it…doing it. But sometimes the preparations for action are more important than the action itself. Set yourself up for success by eliminating obstacles and unleashing the potential in the space you already occupy. Who knows what will happen!