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.