How weight lifting made me a better designer.
Lifting weights? Better designer? Yes!
I didn’t write this to teach you the techniques of lifting weights or how to build muscles (you can find everything you need to know about that on bodybuilding.com) but rather to share with you what lifting weights has taught me and how I used that to make myself a better designer.
About three years ago, I decided I wanted to be fit and healthy. I started exercising, not consistently though but I was doing something. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted and it was even harder because I am naturally slim. After a while, I realized I was going about things the wrong way and most importantly I didn’t have the right (or adequate) knowledge of what I was doing and how to achieve my fitness goals. So, I decided to start afresh.
After months of trying so many things, I figured it out(still figuring it out though). What I figured out didn’t just move me closer to my fitness goals but I also became a better designer by applying what I had learned in the gym to my career.
Define a starting point
Even though I had been doing this for about three years. I needed to answer the question — Where am I right now? Where am I going?
To have a turning point, you need to define your starting point.
In bodybuilding, this was the time for me to take measurements, check my weight, know what my body composition was, take before pictures, and analyze what has worked for me in the past and what hasn’t.
In design, I needed to know what skills I was lacking, what my weakness was, and what I wanted to get better at.
If I don’t set timely goals, how will I measure my progress? How do I know I am progressing in the right direction unless I set a goal?
But mind you, there are goals and there are goals. I didn’t set goals like I want to increase in size or I want to be a better designer. That kind of goal is shallow. Why? Because it doesn’t exactly say anything specific.
Do I want to increase in size, how? Do I want to be a better designer, in what aspect?
So when I say proper goals I mean goals like I want to gain about one pound of lean muscle every month or I want to get better at problem-solving and thinking.
Now that’s a proper goal.
If you love it and want to get better at it, you will do it every day
This point is inspired by Corey Gregory’s Squat Every day Challenge. Even if you are not a lifter, you can just listen to the opening message in the video here. It could help with whatever it is you want to get better at.
Corey said I want people to walk over to you and say didn’t you squat yesterday? and you then say, Yeah I squat every day.
I wanted to do this with designing but I knew that would be a little bit hard because life will always happen. So I told myself — Feed your brain by reading more about design, how people have solved complex/hard problems, follow up on companies that have put design at the center of their business, and study how they do it. You don’t have to open Sketch to design.
Before I knew it, I started to wake up thinking about problems I wanted to solve because I have been subconsciously designing in my sleep.
Sometimes you need someone, a coach or a trainer or a mentor or a friend; you need somebody
I remember a certain leg day at the gym. I was squatting and my trainer came in and saw me.
Trainer : You have been coming to the gym for two months now, what are you doing with 45 kg?
Me : *Smiles*
Trainer : You are always smiling when I see you in the gym, you shouldn’t be smiling.
Trainer : So what do you weigh now? You should be lifting above that.
He decided to add more weight plates and encouraged me to lift them. Though heavy at first, after a couple of tries and him cheering me on, I was able to lift them eventually. Looking back, if he didn’t push me, I’d probably just stay in my comfort zone.
Sometimes, you need an external push, someone who sees your potential even when you struggle to see it yourself, someone who has the experience and can share with you their mistakes, and knowledge, someone to cheer you when you don’t cheer yourself, someone who has passed through the same path and can give you advice on what works, and doesn’t. You can’t always do it all alone. We all need people.
Discipline is key to achieving any goal.
As a beginner in bodybuilding, starting with light weights is always advised. Then as you progress, you increase the weights according to your capability to avoid being injured.
Even though I am not a beginner in design, I recently applied this to my career. Why? Because I noticed I was getting injured. How? I was trying to lift beyond my capability. I wanted to be better with design and also with web development at the same time. That’s not a bad thing, as I know many designers who are excellent at coding. Me trying to get better at development was slowing my design progress down. I wasn’t even looking forward to working anymore as I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing.
So I asked myself, am I learning this because I want to or because it is what is required of me to work as a designer in some companies? You can write HTML, CSS, and JS which is very okay, why not concentrate on your design for now?
You know what, I got better.
Don’t compare yourself
So after a few months of lifting, I was already seeing progress but I wasn’t satisfied because I was seeing pictures of other people doing the same program. I started feeling bad. Am I not eating enough? Am I not lifting heavy enough? Am I not training enough?
Before I knew it, I wasn’t even just comparing, I started copying. I wanted what they have. Anyway, I ended up with an injured hamstring.
I had to understand I cannot get someone else’s progress of 3 years in 3 months. I have to go through the process to get there.
I realized I was doing the same thing with my career. I noticed most of the people doing well around me stayed up at night to do things, so I decided to do that too, and see if I would be more productive and get better faster.
I did this for a while, to be honest, I didn’t like myself. I wake up tired and sluggish. I manage to perform well at the gym or even when it's time to work. I even end up sleeping while I should be working.
I am more productive in the morning. I wake up really early and do a couple of things, set out to the gym before sunrise, and make sure I am in front of my laptop by 9. So why would I want to be awake till 2 because somebody else does that?
I try not to have anything less than 6 hours of sleep during working days because I need it. I need to sleep. I have 18 other hours to be productive.
Until I accepted that I couldn’t be productive at night, I started making good use of my time during the day.
You don’t have to be a pro in something before you help others that are trying to catch up. I have just been lifting for 5 months and in that short period of time I have made many mistakes, gotten fat in the wrong places, and lost weight which was the opposite of what I was trying to achieve but I have also made progress and learned many things that could be of help to someone else.
There was this girl that was coming to the gym consistently just like me and anytime I see her doing something the wrong way, I would correct her. Before I knew it, she started asking me questions frequently. How do you do this? Why are you doing this? What is it for? Sometimes she would even ask me something I have little or no knowledge about. I would have to go research it and I learn more because of that.
Sharing knowledge makes you gain more knowledge.
At about the same time, a friend who just left school decided to take up a career in design. Just like I had done in the gym, I decided to start sharing things I know and anytime I read an article or see something that would be useful I send it to her (reminds me of what a friend used to do for me too). Somehow I even began to read more so I could share with her and of course, I got better by doing that.
Them : Why are you always in the gym?
Me : Why aren’t you always in the gym?
Them : Why do you work so hard? You don’t need to
Me : Why don’t you work so hard ? You need to
Them : You are okay like this, you don’t need to come to the gym
Me : Errrrrm……
Them : Why are you always lifting weights, you will have too much muscle as a girl.
Me: Who says girls don’t look good with muscles? I love my muscles, I don’t know about you.*Flexs arm*
Them : You are taking this gym thing serious more than your career…
Me : Who says it’s not going to be my one of my careers?
Them : You eat too much, you are always eating
Me : My muscles need food to grow
The Me part was me replying in my head. I just smile back as usual.
After typing this, I realized I have nothing to relate it to in design. It’s too late, not deleting it…
Anyway, people will still have something negative to say about you. Just do what makes you happy as long as you are moving closer to YOUR goals.
Well, I have learned a lot. I can’t even begin to type all that here but I hope you have learned one or two things. I also hope that I have done enough to convince you to start lifting weights. There are a lot of benefits asides from being a better designer. I also became more confident, stronger, and happier, felt more alive, my self-esteem increased, my motivation and drive for my life goals increased and of course, all these come with a great body.
“Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore plays in the background”