16 Life Lessons Learned from Being an Athlete

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Bulging muscles, swimming miles on a single banana, and running faster than a bullet – figuratively speaking – means that athletes can feel like superheroes during their time of glory.

Yet, being an athlete isn’t that glamorous.

No matter your sport of choice…

Here are 16 lessons learned from athletes to make you a better person in life.

1) Embrace change

Most athletes change their workouts to make sure their body doesn’t get too comfortable with routine. When the body learns to adapt, it can slow progress. When you get too comfortable, changing your pace can make you stronger.

Change is inevitable in life. Many people resist it. However, those who adapt and embrace new possibilities find happiness.

2) Surround yourself with successful

The best way to get better in any athletic discipline is to work out with stronger athletes. Successful competitors seek out others who can bring up their game. While it may be uncomfortable and humbling to have others leave you behind, it will make you better.

You should also try to surround yourself with winners at the game of life. Some people feel uncomfortable if they aren’t the richest, strongest or most intelligent person in the room. They also thrive on bringing others down to feel more secure. This isn’t the way to grow; it’s the path to atrophy. Always make sure those closest to you inspire you to become better by their example.

3) Limitations are only as real as you make them

When you train in the elements, Mother Nature is going to throw you a curve ball. You may have sweltering heat, freezing temperatures or pounding rain. I’ve had some of my best runs in some of the worst weather.

Top athletes learn to embrace the hardships to test their limits. Image what you could do if you saw every challenge as an opportunity to conquer something weak within yourself! You would start to seek out tougher battles instead of shrink from them. With every tested run, you gain confidence in your body’s ability to perform.

The secret is the true challenge isn’t about what you face on the outside. It’s about what you think inside that will determine if you’re workout is going to rock your world or defeat you.

Life also throws us unpleasant circumstances. To become successful, you can’t run away when situations get hard. If you keep your inner fire fueled with positivity and focused determination, you will weather any storm and become better for it.

4) Seek progress over perfection

Everyone has their own journey. Too many times, I got frustrated that someone else was farther along the path. I would look to that magic moment when I could run a mile in a certain time.

Now, my goals have changed. I no longer want to be better than others; I want to be better than the person I used to be yesterday. When you are always looking to the distant future, you have an unpleasant present. Don’t get so caught up in the person you want to be someday that you don’t appreciate where you are now.

So many people live life in the future tense. They believe that when they achieve goal “X” they will be happy. That’s a hard way to go through life. Learn to be happy during the process – not only at the end of it.

5) Setbacks happen, but defeat is a choice

I’ve had a few pretty tough setbacks in my athletic career. Health problems put a stop to my running for several years. It’s tough starting back from ground zero. Slogging along on a slow run or bike workout when you’re used to flying is one of the hardest mental battles. I was tempted to give up. The mountain seemed too high to become the person I used to be.

However, the misery of not being the best version of myself continued to push me back to my workouts. Once you have tasted the endorphin-drenched happiness of smashing through your previous PR, you can’t go back to a leisurely life without the longing always tickling the back of your consciousness.

In life, setbacks will also happen. You may lose your job, face a health crisis or find yourself settling instead of living your deeper dreams. These bumps in the road will only defeat you if you let them. Choose to keep going, and you will never experience failure.

6) Performance isn’t dependent on outside forces, but inside perseverance

When you train in the elements, Mother Nature is going to throw you a curve ball. You may have sweltering heat, freezing temperatures or pounding rain. I’ve had some of my best runs in some of the worst weather.

Top athletes learn to embrace the hardships to test their limits. Image what you could do if you saw every challenge as an opportunity to conquer something weak within yourself! You would start to seek out tougher battles instead of shrink from them. With every tested run, you gain confidence in your body’s ability to perform.

The secret is the true challenge isn’t about what you face on the outside. It’s about what you think inside that will determine if you’re workout is going to rock your world or defeat you.

Life also throws us unpleasant circumstances. To become successful, you can’t run away when situations get hard. If you keep your inner fire fueled with positivity and focused determination, you will weather any storm and become better for it.

7) Hard work now makes it easier later

Sprinting uphill is one of the most difficult ways to run. Yet, once you master running hills, everything else feels easy. Hill sprints make you faster. In a race, you won’t be intimidated by these tug-of-war sessions against gravity, because you eat them for breakfast.

Any athlete will tell you that there is no way around hard work. If you skimp on your workouts, you cheat yourself on race day.

Focused efforts in any area will give you future life rewards. Those with a strong work ethic often succeed where others fail. So learn to appreciate that sweat equity!

8) Run from the stagnant life

You can never stay the same. You are either moving toward your goals or away from them. Every choice pushes you either forward or backward. If you stop working out, your body slowly melts back to couch-potato status. If you crush that hard workout, you are one step closer to reaching your next PR.

If you notice that you are simply gliding along wherever the current takes you in life, it’s time to wake up. Anyone can go with the flow. Even dead fish move with the current. Every choice to do nothing is a step closer to dead-fish status. The tough fish swim against the current and go places others never dreamed!

9) Live outside of your comfort zone

All athletes know true change only comes through challenge; and you won’t be challenged living in your comfort zone. Top athletes sign up for races that scare them silly. They know if they sit back, they will soon be on the sidelines.

10) Not all pain is bad, but don’t forget to listen

An athlete understands that there are two kinds of pain. There is the pain of soreness, showing that you’ve torn down your muscles to build them back stronger. There is also the pain of injury and over training.

Smart athletes walk the fine line between pushing their body to the limit and pulling back when they know they’re dancing with disaster. After all, taking time off training to nurse a torn ligament or sprained ankle is going to set you back a lot more than taking a necessary rest day.

You’d be surprised how many people recklessly grind themselves into the ground in their jobs, lives and relationships. Steven Covey talks about taking time to sharpen the saw. You can’t cut down a forest with a blunt blade, and you can’t achieve success when you’re too exhausted to think straight. If life is running you instead of the other way around, start taking control. However, don’t shy away from hard work either. Find that balance.

11) Recognize your excuses and crush them

I didn’t run a marathon until my early thirties. I did it when I saw people twice my age running multiple marathons per year. My excuse used to be that I was too old or too busy. After watching others defeat these ideas, I realized these excuses were a smoke screen to cover up my fear of failure.

Learn to recognize your defenses for defeatism. When you discover your underlying fears and address them, you can eliminate your excuses. If you truly want to do something, you will find a way while everyone else keeps a white-knuckled death gripe on the reasons why they can’t.

12) Don’t be a hermit

I grew up as an only child. I’m naturally pretty independent. Yet, I’ve learned to let other people into my workouts. I need people to push me, give me feedback and hold me accountable. I value coaches and their input into my training. I’ve learned that other athletes make me better.

In life, we often need an outside perspective as well. Many times, we are too close to the goal. It’s important to be open to what other successful coaches can teach you and not resist sound advice. A little humility and a listening ear go a long way toward making you better in any discipline.

13) Learn to forgive yourself

An athlete understands that there are two kinds of pain. There is the pain of soreness, showing that you’ve torn down your muscles to build them back stronger. There is also the pain of injury and over training.

Smart athletes walk the fine line between pushing their body to the limit and pulling back when they know they’re dancing with disaster. After all, taking time off training to nurse a torn ligament or sprained ankle is going to set you back a lot more than taking a necessary rest day.

You’d be surprised how many people recklessly grind themselves into the ground in their jobs, lives and relationships. Steven Covey talks about taking time to sharpen the saw. You can’t cut down a forest with a blunt blade, and you can’t achieve success when you’re too exhausted to think straight. If life is running you instead of the other way around, start taking control. However, don’t shy away from hard work either. Find that balance.

14) Big dreams need focused plans

Most athletes don’t randomly work out. They know that strategic workouts equal better results. They have a plan to target weak areas and improve on strengths.

If you have a big life goal, like starting a business, paying off debt or bringing a new idea to life, you have to put a plan in place to ensure success. Think about it like climbing a mountain. Plan for each little step of the journey. Eventually, you’ve met your goal and are enjoying the view. No one gets to the top of any mountain in one big jump – unless they’re superman.

15) Comfort is sweeter when earned

There is nothing better than letting the hot water of a shower wash away the grime from a long run, slipping into you comfiest pajamas and sliding into bed for the night after a hard workout. You will sleep so much sweeter because you earned your rest.

Did you know that 70% of lottery winners lose all their money within seven years? They didn’t earn that money, and they don’t know how to manage their winnings effectively. They didn’t go through the lessons or the pain to achieve all of those comforts; so they blow it all.

You will find that success tastes much sweeter when you get there on your own. Don’t go through life looking for handouts. You have everything necessary to win your own battles. Your success is 100% within your own control.

16) Time Management

This is pretty self-explanatory, but being a student-athlete is a full-time job. Between hustling to classes, eating lunch, going back to class, working your on or off-campus job, going to 2 1/2 hour practices 5 days a week, traveling 5+ hours every other weekend for games, doing homework, watching films, trying to have a social life, and finding time to sleep is the definition of struggle. How we find all the time needed in a day to do all of this still astounds me, but we get it done. Time management is definitely a skill we can apply to anything and everything we do post-athletics in the real world work, or otherwise.

Doing anything legendary takes risk. All of the biggest inventions, companies and success stories started when someone stepped away from routine to become revolutionary. So don’t wait another minute. Find something that terrifies and inspires you – and then go do it!