Three Business Lessons I Learned at CrossFit

09/26/2013 10:50 am ET | Updated Nov 26, 2013

As a working mother, I must admit that I sometimes look forward to my business trips. While I would never tell my husband this (no worries -- I don't think he reads my articles), I love ordering room service to my hotel room and having complete control over the remote control. I also like sleeping in a little later each morning that I'm away, since I don't have to get anyone on a school bus by 6:55 a.m. But the part of my business trips that I secretly like the best is when I am boarding a plane with my carry-on luggage and some polite man inevitably offers to hoist it overhead for me. "No, no..." I always say. "I do CrossFit." And with a quick clean-and-jerk, I've lifted and stowed that bag with a confidence that I've slowly and painfully earned over the last 18 months as a member of CrossFit "The Rock" near my home in Long Island.

But being self-sufficient in handling my luggage isn't the only benefit I've gained from attending this hard-core strength, speed, flexibility and agility exercise program. Over the past year and a half, I have regularly engaged in effective and supportive teamwork, goal-setting and achievement, feedback-sharing, managing expectations, anticipating and overcoming obstacles, and one-on-one and group coaching -- all of it in a "box" (that's CrossFit lingo for the gym) that is decorated with such heart-warming signs as "Please disinfect anything you bleed on."

So what does my workout have to do with work? Plenty. Here are three professional lessons that I learned while sweating my eyeballs out:

1. Don't multitask -- focus. In olden times, I was the woman on the treadmill who was reading a magazine while watching the morning news and thinking about my work for the day. It's not surprising that the effectiveness of both my workout and my workday planning suffered. These days, I recognize that if I don't want to drop a 75-pound barbell on my head (and that's pretty light for CrossFit), I had better concentrate on what I'm doing. At work and in life, we are often given positive reinforcement for how busy we are (or seem), even when that busyness comes at the expense of quality. At CrossFit, you get credit for focusing only on doing the workout of the day with excellent form -- and you can't achieve excellent form if your body or mind is forming a million different ideas. So the next time you're tempted to answer your emails while attending a webinar and eating your lunch, focus on what you can put into and get out of really, truly attending to just one of those at a time.

2. Do something that scares you. It shouldn't come as a surprise that every time I leave CrossFit, my heart is pounding. But it does come as a surprise to me that every time I enter CrossFit, my heart is pounding. Why? Because, frankly, there is something terrifying about lifting massive amounts of weight over my head without getting a concussion or trying to repeatedly jump up on a 20-inch box without breaking my shin or attempting to do "double-under" jump ropes without strangling myself. I am scared of the workout almost every day, and that's part of what keeps me coming back -- facing my fears.

In our work, we can easily become complacent about what we're doing. And in fact, many of us feel satisfied to have work that doesn't ask us to work too hard, until we get bored and burned-out, and then need to look for work elsewhere. I suggest that you volunteer to take on a project that feels intimidating to you. Whether it's a piece of work where you feel you don't know quite enough, or haven't done anything like it before, or might put you directly in the line of sight of senior management (making you feel exposed), try it anyway. Of course, don't do something that could really hurt your job, relationships, career or the company. Like when I try to climb the ropes at my box, I have a thick crash pad waiting for me at the bottom. Protect yourself, but don't avoid the thing you fear. It may just be the thing you need to keep you interested in your job, and make your higher ups more interested in you!

3. Make your goals public. There's no crying in baseball, and there's no hiding at CrossFit. At every class, the coach asks you how much weight you intend to lift or how high you plan to jump or how much or little help you're going to need pulling your own body weight up over a bar. And not only does the coach ask you this in front of everyone, he or she then writes it down on a whiteboard where everyone can see it for the next several days! After that, you either make your goal or you don't. If you needed to go lighter or lower or have more support, your intended goal gets erased and your actual accomplishment gets written in. No big deal (for most people, anyway). But the process of announcing what you intend to accomplish in front of your classmates or colleagues or coaches can help you set the bar higher (or heavier, as the case may be) than you might if you kept it all to yourself. In addition, it gives your team members or higher ups the opportunity to share with you when they think you can and should do more than you're asking of yourself. I've had plenty of times when I've announced the weight I planned to lift, and my CrossFit coach told me to try to go heavier. And more often than not, I've done it. If you're a manager, ask your direct reports to aim higher, or accomplish more in less time, or overcome roadblocks that they don't believe they can -- as long as you make it ok for them to fail and try again another day. And invite everyone on your team to announce publically what they're trying to do so that the support, help and team spirit can emerge.

Every time I go to CrossFit, a little part of me wonders, "What hell am I going to have to go through today?" But a bigger part of me wonders, "Why didn't I realize how much I could learn from this hell a whole lot sooner?"

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