The Leadership/Weightlifting Connection

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So I’m at the gym this morning, lifting a few weights and doing my best to avoid (or at least postpone) decrepitude, and at one point I turned to the person next to me and said, “How come this never gets any easier?” He laughed appreciatively at my joke (in my mind that’s what he did; in reality he looked at me, blinked, and then moved over to a different station across the room), and I went back to my workout. But, hilarious as my joke was, I know why my workout never gets any easier. It’s because when it starts to get easier, I put more weights on the bar. I don’t keep lifting the same amount. I consciously make it harder.

Now, doesn’t that simply make sense? If you want to develop a muscle, like, say, a bicep, you give it harder and harder work to do. Right? If you keep giving it the same amount of weight, eventually the muscle gets used to it, and stops growing. It remains static.

It turns out the same thing is true of that three pound lump of neurons in your head.

A study recently published in the journal Psychological Science showed that learning new, progressively more difficult skills significantly improved memory in older people. Not doing crossword puzzles. Not listening to classical music. Only learning new, progressively more difficult skills. [Note: This doesn’t mean you should stop listening to Mozart. He might not make you smarter, but he’ll make your life richer.]

I’ve written before about the importance to leaders of continual, intentional learning. This latest research shows that, if you want to keep your brain sharp well into your later years, continual, intentional learning is not enough. That’s the equivalent of continuing to bench press 150 pounds. It’s good, it keeps the muscles from atrophying–but it’s not growing them. Instead, you need to make sure that your continual, intentional learning is also progressively more challenging. First you learn arithmetic, then geometry, then algebra, then calculus.

Your leadership--should feel like it's being stretched. Continually. Intentionally. Click To Tweet

In order to grow as a leader, you need to make sure that tomorrow’s tests are more challenging than today’s. Just like your muscles feel like they’re being stretched (and, in fact, are being stretched) when you add another ten pounds, your brain–and your leadership–should feel like it’s being stretched. Continually. Intentionally.

That’s why, tomorrow, I’m going to put another ten pounds on the bench press barbell. Because that’ll bring it up to thirty pounds. Like I said, you gotta stretch!


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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