We all live in our own personal box of limitations. The size of the box has been determined for numerous reasons. Maybe we were told, time and time again, that we couldn’t accomplish a goal. Maybe we failed too many times, or even just once. The more we believe our limits, the stronger the walls of the box become, and consequently, the more powerful our limitations grow.
The strength of this box can influence our feeling of self-worth, and for some of us, it is so strong and paralyzing that it simply becomes easier to believe we can’t overcome the obstacle, thus shielding ourselves from future failure. From one minute to the next this box can change. It can become stronger or weaker, but in the end we are in control of its creation and growth.
As firefighters and paramedics, we are trained and expected to step out of the world’s comfort zone, or box, often. Whether it’s running into a burning building as everyone runs out, breaking down a door swiftly as all eyes watch and wait, or carrying out a medically invasive procedure in poor conditions to save a life; these are just the facts of our job. It doesn’t happen everyday, but we must be ready to act upon our training when the need arises. And if by chance we fail with any of these objectives, our own personal box starts forming . . . or not– it’s up to us.
As new firefighters, we quickly learn that we must become comfortable doing what is normally very uncomfortable. Training on the job becomes our mantra, for without this training we would be as fearful as the next person. It provides the basic response to any situation, laying out solid ground work in order for us to “think outside the box”. Job training also ends up being one of the tools that we use to help tear down our own personal box that constantly wants to form around us, sometimes unknowingly. However, we should not only depend on training at work to prepare us for the intensity of our jobs. It is not enough.
To control the formation of our mental and physical limitations, we must implement another type of training into our lifestyle: Exercise.
Exercise isn’t just for the promise of a beautiful body. If we shift our perspective we can use it as another tool to help us tear down the invisible walls of our own personal box. With exercise we learn our weaknesses, physically and mentally. Our muscles learn to work together, become stronger, and we grow more attuned to our bodies. We gain a mental toughness that can only be achieved through exercise, because here, failure is not feared but welcomed. In exercise, when we fail, it highlights our weakness and gives us the next objective to overcome. Then, when working in intense situations, physical and mental fatigue will be the last thing on our mind, and we will have more concentration and focus for our current objective.
The key to implementing exercise into our lifestyle is enjoyment. The key to keeping it in our lifestyle is goal setting and commitment to our goals. We must find an exercise we thoroughly enjoy (yes, they are out there), set a goal and stick to it. The fitness plan and goal must be something that is well thought out and that takes into consideration our aging bodies, the injuries we have sustained over the years, and our level of experience. If not, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
For example, if you have a hard time running do not set a goal to run 10 miles in two months or, as a forty year-old decide to reach a goal within the same amount of time as when you were in high school. We must give ourselves ample time to reach a goal with positive, yet realistic expectations. Keep in mind the goal should be forever evolving so that we remain challenged and interested in our fitness plan. Once you’ve reached your goal, create another one.
Exercise is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal for tearing down the box!
It isn’t just about exercise or goal setting, but rather the positive results that go hand in hand with it. During the process of exercising and reaching a goal, we learn not only about our body, but our mind as well. It lays open our own personal psyche and presents solutions on how we personally overcome obstacles, even if the obstacle is as simple as finishing a spinning class without stopping. The confidence and mental toughness it takes to accomplish that goal now translates into overcoming an obstacle at work. As we reach a personal exercise goal, we enter a physical/ mental high that is expressed in our work. We are happier, more confident, and we learn to cope with the heaviness and intensity of our job.
Exercise is an effective tool for gaining the physical and mental confidence to carry out any task set before us on the fire ground. I challenge those of you who don’t have a fitness program to find one and create a goal. Exercise is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal for tearing down the box!
Susana Oatmeyer has been a Firefighter/Paramedic with Miami Dade Fire Rescue for 13 years. She is a Special Ops Flight Medic with MDFR Air Rescue and has been a Certified Personal Trainer for 18 years.