Sunday, April 25, 2010

Get off your couch and give me 20! Healthy life role models from the front lines.

(from Army Times:  my new 4 star whole man role model!)

I recently finished reading a fascinating article about General David Petraeus in the May issue of Vanity Fair by Mark Bowden (of "Black Hawk Down" fame).  No matter your politics (and I would encourage everyone including myself to not share them!), Gen. David Petraeus is an unbelievably impressive and inspiring guy.  So what does this have to do with the size of my belly?  Nothing and everything.  Let me explain...

First off, I really was amazed reading about Petraeus, not just in his accomplishments, but also learning more about him as a man.  His combination of intelligence, discipline, drive and focus on his whole being is incredible.  Most of all his competitiveness is undeniable and inspiring.  Again, what does this have to do with me and my relationship with my couch and remote control?  I will attempt to answer in two parts:

1. He puts it out there and makes public commitments

His standard approach to attacking challenges, both personal and professional, is to make public commitments.  For example, his standard doctrine is to announce the specifics of how he plans to conduct a campaign and then to deliver virtually all of the objectives.  One quote from the article really stuck with me:

"Committing to a particular goal publicly puts pressure on oneself.  It becomes an enormous action-forcing mechanism and often helps you achieve more than you might have had you kept your goals to yourself."

I found this to be an incredibly compelling statement that could be very aptly applied to accomplishing a personal goal, such as reaching a weight loss or maintenance milestone.  It is one of the big reasons I blog.  I like sharing and being part of the Weight Watchers community, but frankly writing about my own challenges and goals really has been my own highly effective forcing mechanism for staying on the straight and narrow of a healthy lifestyle.  Public commitments can be to a close circle, such as friends/family, to a wide circle such as the planet Earth by way of the internet (not that all of planet Earth reads my blog).  

2. Mental toughness is achievable and contagious 

David Petraeus is the walking, breathing form of the expression mind over matter.  Apparently, one of his favorite expressions to his troops is the simple "Life is a competitive endeavor."  He applies it personally to both physical and mental dimensions.  He graduated at the top of his class in West Point both academically and physically.  I'm sure he is naturally bright and physically gifted, but these kind of achievements come from discipline and mental commitment, not just born gifts.  He chooses to achieve, and therefore he does.

To whit, this is a man who took a bullet through his chest in a live training exercise, taking away a portion of his lung at the age of 38.  Apparently, days after surgery, he pulled out his IV tubes and starting doing push-ups to show the hospital staff that he could return to active duty.  That is the definition of tough.

He is now 57 years old, and I have a sneaking suspicion that he rarely, if ever, misses a workout, no matter how little sleep he has had.  Granted, it is a bit of a job requirement when you are in the army, but I think I can safely assume that he takes this responsibility particularly personally and seriously.

What I find important in his example is this:  he is just a man, not an alien or different species of human.  He's not Michael Jordan or LeBron James, who have an array of physical gifts that bely comprehension (though it is worth noting that mental toughness is the X-factor for both of those guys too).  Any one of us is as capable to developing mental toughness and focus.  It's a choice.

Role models are important.  When living my life, I am constantly facing decisions both professionally and personally.  I try to do the right thing as often as I possibly can.  It is easier in some ways to make the right decision professionally because I know that I am accountable to so many other people, ranging from our members, to our staff and colleagues and to our shareholders.  Sometimes making the right decision in your personal life, particularly health and wellness can be harder.  Not having the pressure of responsibility to others means I have to find motivation from other places.  Even if it means seeking it from the example of people I admire, like David Petraeus.

I put this into play this past week.  I had just gotten back from vacation, which was fun and rewarding, but was also a little exhausting.  I was feeling a little bit unmotivated when I got back.  I was dragging to the gym, and I was slipping in some of my food choices.  I read this article, and I was immediately fired up, focused and energized.  My workouts have bounced back big time, and my head is very much in the game.  If he can do pushups after a chest cavity blast, I can get off my rear and hit the gym.  And I did so with no small amount of vengeance.

So the next time, I'm feeling like not setting my alarm clock for 4:45 AM, and I will simply ask myself:  what would the General do?

For whatever it's worth, you would be justified if you felt a little bit of concern for my colleagues at work.  I'm not really known for lacking intensity, and it's hard to imagine that their discovering that I'm choosing a general as a new role model is particularly comforting.  Therefore, I am publicly promising not to shave my head and not to wander the offices demanding spontaneous bouts of calisthenics or pushup demonstrations.  Unless they want me to.  




  1. You make me laugh, but I agree with your point. Making public statements does encourage follow through thus my reason for sharing more than anyone could possibly want to know about me on my blog.

  2. Hola! Gen. Petraeus is an impressive example of what can be accomplished by committing to a goal! I’ve found that public accountability is a driving force among many individuals set out to achieve something, including me (at times). I second the part about the challenges we may face maintaining responsibility in our personal lives. One way I like to look at the decisions I make in my personal life is that indirectly they, too, impact my professional/”public” role.

    The personal choices I make carryover into who I am now and will one day become in the public eye. It took me awhile to realize that my professional goals are only obtainable by me succeeding personally, weight loss included. Ultimately, each of us is an inspiration to someone, somewhere, somehow. I often remind myself how each goal I commit to is part of God’s plans for my life. Alright, alright, before I go into what my sister calls “preacher mode,” I’ll close by saying gracias for a great post! Saludos and smiles!

  3. I absolutely love your perspective! And I also enjoyed learning more about Gen. Petraeus. Wow, what an inspiring guy. Kind of makes me feel like a sea slug, LOL, but it's still motivating!

  4. Sounds like a kick ass role model. I've been praised (and also chided) for my intensity and dedication, but this guy adds a whole 'nother meaning to the words!

    I definitely agree with announcing my goals publicly - it helps me feel accountable. :)

  5. Great post! This was my first visit and I just wanted to say thanks for the inspiration. Had I read the article, I think I could have easily rationalized his choices. You making it real made the whole impact more authentic and motivatng. I just started a blog ( would love to have you stop by sometime. Thanks again for the fabulous read! :) - Kirsten

  6. Very inspirational! I think I too will be wondering WWTGD (what would the General do?).

  7. Wow! I think I want to be like him when I grow up . . . oh wait. I'm grown up. Okay. Time to "man" up. Or woman up!

    I love that! Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. Great blog entry ! Thank you for sharing. Setting goals is powerful. Publicly stating them makes them go beyond powerful. I went back on WW one year ago, last week. I hit my goal by last July and kept going for a "buffer zone." From 218 to 163, I could not have done it without Weight Watchers. But now I've publicly stated my goal as being to maintain lifetime membership from here on out. General Petraeus is a living testimony to goal-setting, determination and discipline. I'm reminded once again of those basic lessons taught to me as a young Marine recruit at Parris Island, many, many years ago.