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What CrossFit™ Teaches Me About Engagement

Those who know me understand that about two years ago, I discovered CrossFit. Until that point, I had spent a lifetime fighting a losing battle against weight, diet and exercise. For me, CrossFit was the answer. There is a lot written and discussed about CrossFit, both good and bad. I have many people ask me “why CrossFit?” Others have suggested it is dangerous and that I will hurt myself. I kept answering rather sheepishly, “I don’t know, I just seem to like it and it works, so, I stick with it.”  And for the record, I have never gotten hurt in CrossFit. I did fall off a ladder trying to put netting under the deck though. I’m okay.

But the “why” question kept gnawing at me. Why did this work when years of other programs failed? Why now, in my later fifties have I committed to this level of exercise through this program? Why, after two years, have I not yet quit, like I did with the others? Why am I pulling a ninety-pound sled around a parking lot in the dark? Why do I enjoy it?  It finally dawned on me…because I am engaged with it.

A few blogs ago, I wrote about Leveraging Engagement and shared the five big ideas of how and why people engage with organizations; how and why employees engage with their employers, families engage with schools and students engage with their learning.  Here is a brief synopsis of the five ideas of engagement in case you missed the blog:

Unite in a Common Purpose: Bond the actions, intentions and emotions of all stakeholders in a common, meaningful purpose that transcends traditional thinking and practice have the best chance of leveraging engagement, energy and productivity.

Banish the Quick Fix: Persistence is the only path to effective and sustainable success. Focus on root causes of problems not the superficial symptoms. There are no short cuts only the desire energy to engage.

Clarify Expectations to Liberate Hope: Develop a culture of trust. Eliminate fear so that the faith and hope of all will emerge and thrive. Camaraderie and strong relationships will replace hopelessness and isolation.

Nurture Excellence Rather Than Results: Cultivate desire throughout the organization by engaging with continuous improvement frameworks. Desire begets motivation, and motivation nurtures a willingness to achieve personal and organizational objectives.

Celebrate Accomplishment to Sustain Success: Honor the accomplishments and participation of all, which promotes new social capital. Support the recognition of individuals and their contributions to the organization and celebrate the participation of individuals and their contribution to the organization. Encourage individuals to continue their path toward improved results that will sustain the purpose of the organization and solidify lasting, positive change.

These big ideas when implemented cause an increase in the level of engagement with an organization, or in my case, the CrossFit program. It became clear as day to me – that my reason for my enjoyment, success and satisfaction with this program is directly correlated to these ideas.

So, how does CrossFit meet the big ideas of engagement?

Unite in a Common Purpose: Members of our local CrossFit gym (or box as CrossFit calls it) come from all walks of life, and all ages; from college students to those who are retired. Everyone is there for one purpose: to improve his or her health and quality of life through the CrossFit program. Each of the members begins with different skills, from absolutely none (me) to gymnasts and semi-professional athletes. Everyone is encouraging and no one ever judges another because they do or do not possess specific skill levels. Those that are novice train along side professionals and each support the other. It doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are, what ailments you have, or how skilled you are. We all come together to improve our lives through health and fitness and have united for the one common purpose. I often hear and read about the “family” atmosphere of the box. We’ve become friends and champions of each other.

Banish the Quick Fix: Oh, How I wish I had the money I have spent on exercise, fad diet programs and equipment over the years! I never got my abs in 8 minutes, my fat was not assassinated and the exercise equipment rusted from sitting in the basement unused. I purchased food programs and succumbed to “quick fix” schemes that I either saw on television or read about in health magazines. I drank concoctions that smelled like floor cleaner. The CrossFit model banishes the quick fix and in its place, produces a logical and sequential program of both skill development and metabolic exercise. There are no corners to be cut, no miracle pills to take and no 14-minute tapes that will change your appearance overnight. All of that nonsense is replaced with commitment to change and improvement over time.

Clarify Expectations to Liberate Hope: At the time I began CrossFit, my trainer clarified what CrossFit was (and was not) and his expectations of me if I joined the box. He explained the process of CrossFit and what I could expect from each class. The pace of improvement was up to me. He made no promises of instant success but indicated that he and the other trainers were dedicated to improving my skills that would improve my experiences and outcomes. I was intimidated, at first, by the younger, stronger athletes and at times embarrassed at falling behind. But my anxieties and fears quickly dissipated. The clear goals set for my success and the encouragement from classmates and trainers soon found me focused on improving upon my last performance and cheering on my classmates. I am truly amazed at my progress over two years. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe. My hope of weight loss and fitness has truly been liberated!

Nurture Excellence Rather Than Results: Most of the other programs, fads and various elixirs I have tried over the years captured my attention because of the instant almost miraculous result I would achieve by purchasing the product or service. My experience with CrossFit is just the opposite. There were no ads for dramatic weight loss or promises of winning iron man competitions. More important than those results is the excellence of process in getting to them. The constant training and support to ensure that exercises are being done properly and just the right amount of pushing by trainers causes me to improve and excel. I really never focused all that much on results, but they came and the improvements continue. The excellence of process and continuous improvement trumps total focus on results every time.

Celebrate Accomplishments to Sustain Success: Many of the workouts are “for time” or have a time cap, and often, I can be found among the last struggling to finish. Everyone who has already completed cheers and supports those who continue toward the finish line. Nobody judges or leaves or grabs their cell phone until everyone has finished. At the end of every Workout of the Day (WOD), every member of my class congratulates me and I do them. Each of the trainers makes sure to get to every class member and acknowledge their work and improvement. Scores are recorded to help build upon past successes. A dedicated app allows others in other classes to see results and further celebration comes in the form of “likes” on recent performances. Athletes are recognized for their accomplishments, however big or small. The conclusion of every WOD is a victory that advances us onto the next one. Classmates bond and make new friendships. There are even social events that are inspired solely by camaraderie and celebration.

My experience with CrossFit demonstrates the validity of the ideas of engagement and can be applied to any situation, yours included. Consider for a moment your professional situation at work or your personal goals. The degree to which you are engaged will have a direct result on your progress and outcomes. Understanding what engagement is and recognizing it when you see or experience it is an important piece of the puzzle as you move toward whatever success is important to you. Engagement is the path to success for you, me, families, students . . . everybody.

I have to run…I have to burpee bar hops, box jumps and wall balls to do.