3 Leadership Skills We Can Learn From Doing Push-Ups

Performing pushups with ease in a strong, straight position requires practice. You may be surprised to know that practicing pushups can have a direct, positive effect on your leadership skills. While pushups flex the muscles of the body, they also flex the neurons in the brain, and this helps you to adapt and adjust to any type of challenge life presents. Pushups are just one example of a physical challenge that primes the brain for success in leadership and other areas of life.

Here are three reasons why doing pushups can make you a better leader:

Skill Number 1: Push-Ups Build Self-Control

Performing pushups involves challenging your pre-existing mindsets and behaviors with every repetition. It requires a clear sense of focus and determination to push toward your goal (literally!), even when your muscles send signals of discomfort and fatigue to the brain. However, the more you practice, the more the body and brain adapt, and gradually you will realize that doing pushups is easier than before.
The same concepts apply to leadership skills. Performing a physical challenge increases self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation. These behaviors impact and increase leadership success.

Self-awareness is our ability to reflect on our own moods, actions and emotions, and to accept our own responsibilities and flaws. Self-regulation is our ability to control inappropriate impulses that may arise from emotions, whether from the frustration of physical fatigue or of juggling multiple responsibilities at work. And the more motivated we are to succeed in any endeavor, the more willing we will be to regulate frustrations and navigate around our challenges – in the gym or in the workplace.

Skill Number 2: Push-Ups Improve Adaptability

If it challenges you, it changes your brain. Challenging yourself to do another set of pushups forces your brain to adapt, and eventually the pushups become easier. Overcoming physical challenges also helps your brain overcome mental challenges. Research shows that neural circuits rewire themselves to adapt to changing situations, solve problems and regulate impulsive behavior.

In his 1949 book, The Organization of Behavior, Donald Hebb proposed a neuroscientific mechanism that occurs during the learning process. In this phenomenon, neurons repeatedly fire together and eventually wire together, creating a new neurological pathway. Over time and with repetition, that pathway becomes dominant, and the new behavior – whether easily doing 20 pushups or becoming a skilled listener at work – is solidified.

The same neural circuits involved in changing exercise behaviors are also involved in changing workplace behaviors. They flex our abilities to manage discomfort, stay cool under pressure, acknowledge and communicate feelings without behaving emotionally, and build adaptability.

Skill Number 3: Push-Ups Build Resilience

Our ability to push is a fundamental movement pattern required for many movements in daily life – from opening or closing a door to catching ourselves in a fall. Much more than a show of strength, the ability to perform a solid pushup throughout our aging process can even add years to our lives.

In addition to the strength benefits, research shows that those who do pushups or other regular exercise seem to have a more positive “personal affect” than non-exercising people. An executive who exercises puts off a stronger, healthier vibe.

Research conducted by the Center For Creative Leadership showed that executives who exercise are perceived to be better leaders, calmer under pressure, and more productive. This shows that by pursuing mastery in our exercise and nutrition, we inadvertently achieve greater resilience and mastery in our work as professionals and as leaders.When you exercise regularly, you become more engaged in life. Concentration levels go up; distraction time goes down; and productivity, creativity and the ability to communicate all increase. This resilience can make you appear relaxed, poised and confident even in the face of challenges. It’s amazing what exercise can do to strengthen your body and your leadership skills at the same time.

So, the next time you find yourself in the gym dreading those annoying push-ups, think about the amazing things these push-ups are going to do for your body, your brain, and your leadership skills.

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