For over a decade I’ve pursued the freedom to do my own thing, on my own schedule, and at my own pace, without having to answer or be accountable to anyone except myself.
I thought that I’d feel happier if I could control all decisions and actions related to my business.
This is the great promise of solopreneurship: you’ll have the freedom to do what you want, on your terms.
Turns out this often isn’t the case. Not for me, and not for many people.
After two years of doing home workouts during the pandemic, last year I joined a CrossFit gym. I started by going for the “Burn” classes, which are high-intensity, fast-paced workouts. Several months ago, I started trying CrossFit classes.
Classes Forced Me Into Uncomfortable Constraints
I can’t overstate the degree to which my initial foray to Burn camp was out of my comfort zone. Not just “out of my comfort zone,” but something I actively stayed away from. I’ve never been into “gym classes” or studio classes like Barry’s Bootcamp or Soul Cycle.
I like to go at my own pace, which tends to be slow and methodical.
The exception has always been yoga, pilates and other classes where the pace is naturally slower.
In Burn boot camp, I was being told what to do and forced to adopt a pace that faster than my typical pace. I couldn’t just stop when I felt tired or no longer felt like working hard. I could modify movements, but I couldn’t just take a break mid-workout to distract myself with other thoughts, checking social media, or wallowing in my fatigue.
On the surface, this might seem constricting.
For me, it was freedom.
The freedom to focus only on what I was doing in the moment.
The freedom of having someone else hold the space for me while I executed.
The freedom to not have to come up with my own workout and make my own plan.
Decisions Drain Energy
This last piece is particularly relevant to how my workout impacts the rest of my day and how I set myself up for success or failure in my work.
You may have heard it before: decisions are distractions.
This is why Steve Jobs famously wore the same outfit daily, and why so many productivity experts preach the importance of habits.
The more we can automate or eliminate decisions that aren’t crucial to our business or creative projects, the more bandwidth we have for the important decisions.
Outsourcing the planing of my workouts to a coach or trainer gives me the freedom to show up and just do the work.
The Emotional Costs of Executive Function Challenges
This also is relevant to two challenges I have that are related to ADHD.
- Executive Function/Planning
(1) Executive Function and Planning
Planning falls under the executive function role of the brain, and in people with ADHD executive function bandwidth is often limited.
I find it difficult to plan and execute a workout at the same time.
If I spend too much time planning, then I drain the energy I have to actually do the workout I planned. I end up modifying the plan mid-way through, or changing it altogether.
This always results in my not feeling good about myself at the end. I’ll be angry at myself for not following my plan and for wasting time creating a plan I didn’t follow.
If I don’t plan at all, I often end up doing what feels comfortable or easy — the movements I’m already good at and that I like to do. In this case I’ll be angry at myself for sticking with what’s comfortable. I also won’t get stronger, because I don’t work the parts that need work.
Either way, I leave my workout feeling bad about myself.
Left to my own timing pace, I can get perfectionist about my movements. Whether its in my yoga practice or lifting weights, I tend to focus on alignment. This is certainly important to avoid injury, but overthinking is can be a huge drain on the nervous system and deplete energy.
It also makes my workouts take much longer, as I will push myself to keep going until I “get it right.”
The result of all of this is that when left to my own, whether in a gym or home-based workout, rather than carrying a sense of accomplishment and confidence into my day, I feel a sense of futility.
One of my reasons for starting my day with a workout is to fuel my confidence for the work ahead of me. This isn’t the way to do it.
Finding Freedom in Constraints
Over the past year of doing Burn and CrossFit classes, I’ve found freedom in the constraints of the structure.
I have coaches who tell me what to do and show me how to do it. They watch out for my alignment and offer corrections and tips to clean up my movements.
All I need to focus on is doing the movements. And if a movement really is too much, or a weight is too heavy, the coaches will tell me how to modify or scale it.
In the container of the class, I don’t get time to think — or overthink — about whether I can do something, or to obsess about whether I’ve done it correctly.
For the precious hour of class, I have complete and total freedom to implement and execute while someone else holds the space for me.
My sole decision related to this is the decision to show up for class. Once I’ve decided that, my cognitive work is done.
This is true freedom.
It’s freedom of the mind and emotion.
What’s the impact of this?
Let’s start with the measurable, physical results:
For years, I had been doing most of my workouts on my own. I saw little measurable progress in my strength or overall fitness.
In the past year, I’ve had notable strength gains.
But more important are the unseen benefits:
I show up in better energetic state for my workouts because I haven’t drained all of my energy in planning the workout.
Even when I have a “hard” workout, I don’t feel angry at myself about it.
I’m not wasting precious emotional energy on self-aversion. I’m not feeling the same sense of futility around my challenges with planning.
I have higher frustration tolerance for the issues that inevitably arise during the rest of my day, which help me stay more present with clients.
By starting the day having someone else hold space for me, I expand my capacity to hold space for my clients.
I thought the path to freedom was found by going solo and maintaining control over as much as possible.
It turns out that maintaining control and making all the decisions is depletes my energy to implement at the highest level.
Over the past year of doing Burn and CrossFit classes, I’ve learned that I feel much more freedom and execute better when I give up control and outsource some of the decisions to others.
This leads to better results and an expanded capacity to show up for the people I serve.