Boot Camp

Six months ago I declared my intention to adopt a healthier lifestyle. The aim was to get fit, lose weight and (hopefully) feel better.

On the recommendation of a couple of friends I enrolled in ‘boot camp’ – a military themed, thrice weekly training group.

In January I joined a group of around 60 people at 6am in Adelaide’s parklands. To be frank, I really struggled for the first few weeks. It was a rude awakening as to just how my fitness levels have dropped since entering the Senate in 2006.

However, improvement was evident at almost every session and after six months it is time to take stock.

Due to travel and work commitments I have only participated in boot camp for three of their four week programs. But the habits learned at boot camp have encouraged me to exercise even during the off months, wherever I am.

I am much fitter than I was when the year began. I have lost just over ten kilograms and my wife says I am now ‘addicted’ to the boot camp philosophy.

There’s a certain truth to what she says as the combination of team building and individual challenges posed by the instructors satiates even my most competitive instincts.

The secret to the boot camp success is that no matter what your fitness level, there is always a place for you. Beginners feel welcome and are urged to push themselves as far as they can.

As one progresses up the fitness hierarchy, the competitive instinct to beat your fellow platoon members remains intense, but the biggest challenge is with yourself. There is always another ‘rep’ to do, there is always a personal best time to set and a further distance to go.

While the personal and individual goals assist you in doing better, there is also a team game evident in every session. By encouraging others to do their best, there is also a notable lift in one’s own performance.

New recruits are always amazed at how easily the exercises are handled by the longer serving troops. They are sceptical when you tell them that after a few weeks, they will be doing much better too. A few words of encouragement go a long way to inspiring others to achieve.

The lessons of boot camp can just as easily be applied to achievement in every other walk of life. To do better you actually have to get started on the path to self-improvement.

Learning from those with more experience and benefiting from their expertise will improve your own results dramatically. Encouraging a strong team around you will not only enable more to be achieved collectively but will also allow every individual member of that team to do better.

Unfortunately, these lessons seem to be lost on an increasing number of people in our society. In the age of individual entitlement, where our government fosters the entitlement mentality rather than personal responsibility, the primary question many ask when faced with choices is “what’s in it for me?”

In the case of boot camp, there is certainly a lot in it for every participant, but the real benefits are felt in the broader aspects of life. I think participants are healthier, happier and more productive. If my experience is anything to go by, I get a sense that those around them become happier too.

Importantly, it fosters the team mindset that translates into wanting to help others do better.

Finally, boot camp also offers an opportunity to learn to cope with a certain amount of personal humility. I learned that lesson this week when I joined the Canberra boot camp group as a visitor for their dawn pre-parliamentary sessions.

Despite what I thought was an impressive preparation, I struggled to keep up with the intensity of the exercises. After two sessions, I can hardly lift my arms above my head and every movement hurts. It’s a reminder that no matter how happy we may be with progress to date, there is always more work to do – in all aspects of our life.

And, having lost some weight, there’s also some new suits to buy!

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