This sense of being rushed has snowballed over the last two decades. People feel rushed because they are trying to do something faster than it can really be done. For instance, to become a top athlete you need 10 years. If you try to accelerate that you’ll rush, fail, and probably injure yourself. We’re trying to override the natural processes that need a certain time for completion. This causes overwhelm, disappointment, frustration and depression.
As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Jerzy Gregorek. Aniela and Jerzy Gregorek came to the United States from Poland in 1986 as political refugees during the Solidarity Movement. As a professional athlete, Aniela has won five World Weightlifting Championships and established six world records. Jerzy has won four World Weightlifting Championships and established one world record. They have also been professional coaches and personal trainers since coming to the United States. In 2000, they founded the UCLA weightlifting team and became its head coaches. Over the years, they have transformed hundreds of people, from housewives and physicians to athletes and celebrities, who came to them with every conceivable body shape and desire. Some wanted to improve their athletic performance; others had never trained before and wanted to lose weight and be attractive; still others just wanted to be able to get down on the floor and play with their grandchildren. But regardless of the words they used to explain why they wanted coaching, there was a clear pattern in their motivations: Everyone wanted to be youthful. Aniela and Jerzy have devoted the last three decades of their lives to finding solutions to this universal goal. In the course of this search, they invented The Happy Body program. (please link to https://thehappybody.com/)
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began weightlifting at the age of 13 in Poland. The nearest weightlifting team was a forty-minute train ride away, where I found my mentor-coach, Andrzej Kowalczyk. Once a week, I traveled to work out with my coach for two hours, and with my father’s help, I built my own training room in the garden behind our house, where I practiced every day for the next eight years.
When I was 21, I began to compete in the national Polish weightlifting league, and by 23 was ranked as a first-class Olympic weightlifter in my weight category. Unfortunately, as I was preparing that year, 1977, for the 1980 Olympic competition in Moscow, I injured my spine as I was lifting 700 pounds in a quarter-squat lift, and was temporarily paralyzed below the waist. I spent the next two months in bed recovering, a month in physical therapy, and three more months progressively returning to weightlifting. Six months later, I moved to Warsaw to study at the Fire Protection Academy and joined the Warsaw weightlifting team, coached by Waldemar Baszanowski, who had himself won three gold medals in Olympic competition. Under Baszanowski’s expert direction, I quickly began to reclaim my previous personal records, but then I experienced numbness in my legs from my old injury, and was advised by doctors to retire from competition or else face the prospect of permanent paralysis. For the next sixteen years, I continued to lift weights, to coach others, and to judge events, but without competing myself.
Aniela was a sprinter from the age of 12, but always disliked the skinniness of her upper body. When she met me at the age of 16, I suggested that she lift weights to reshape her upper body. She did so, and became seriously interested in bodybuilding. From the age of 21, she taught aerobics and gymnastics for adults, and in 1985, at the age of 26, she won the silver medal in a national bodybuilding competition. Later that same year, she decided that there was too much vanity in bodybuilding, and switched instead to weightlifting.
When the Solidarity Movement erupted in Poland in 1980, I was studying at the Fire Protection Academy in Warsaw, where I was a student leader. In 1981, when the government decided to use firefighters as paramilitary forces against Solidarity demonstrators, I led a student strike at the school. After the police put down the strike, I went underground, where I worked for three years until March 1985, when I was compelled to leave the country.
I went to Sweden, where I sought political asylum and lived in Stockholm. After much trouble getting a passport, Aniela bribed her way out the country, and joined me in Stockholm. I wanted to emigrate to the United States, which I had regarded since the age of 15 as my spiritual home. The opportunity for this arose when the CIA contacted me in Stockholm about my solidarity activities and then advised me to move to Germany, where I could apply for political asylum in the United States. In March 1986, Aniela and I took a ship to Kiel, Germany, where we asked for political asylum. October 1986 asylum was granted and we flew to New York.
After a very brief stop in Detroit, we flew to Los Angeles, where we contacted Bob Hise, the president of the American Weightlifting Association (AWA), who told us that there was no work for Olympic weightlifting coaches in the United States, and that the best thing to do would be to become personal trainers. After two days of combing Los Angeles, we found a gym in Burbank named The Power Source, where the owner employed us as personal trainers once he saw our level of expertise.
After a year, we opened our own practice at the North Hollywood Health Club, calling our business Jerzy Made. We also trained clients at their homes. A year later, we moved our business to Gold’s Gym in North Hollywood, where the equipment was better and the clients were more serious. Several months later, in August 1989, we bought a house in Van Nuys, where we began to train some of our clients. In 1996, since most of our clients were coming from the west side of Los Angeles, we moved to Marina Del Rey and transferred our business to Gold’s Gym in Venice, where we launched a team for Olympic weightlifting competitions. The business was now called “The Happy Body,” led by Aniela and me who were mentoring 11 trainers in the program.
In 2002, because our clients were getting better and better, we needed better equipment, so Jerzy went to see “Doc” Kreis, the head coach of strength and conditioning at UCLA. That led to us founding the UCLA weightlifting team, with “Doc” Kreis as the president of the team, and Aniela and I as the head coaches. In 2003, when Aniela became pregnant, we decided to move to Northern California because we thought that would be a better place to raise a child, and established our practice in the heart of Silicon Valley.
According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?
This sense of being rushed has snowballed over the last two decades. People feel rushed because they are trying to do something faster than it can really be done. For instance, to become a top athlete you need 10 years. If you try to accelerate that you’ll rush, fail, and probably injure yourself.
We’re trying to override the natural processes that need a certain time for completion. This causes overwhelm, disappointment, frustration and depression.
Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?
If we’re always stressed and in the sympathetic nervous system, we’re always in survival mode. This drains your hormones, making you feel exhausted and depleted. With no energy you can’t achieve anything. If you’re rushed you can’t avail yourself of the small pleasures that contribute to well-being and happiness. Rushing makes us tense, the goal is really to remain alert without unnecessary tension. Only then can you maintain that open sense of flow that allows deep creativity. Rushing leads to anxiety, which is not the same as excitement, which sparks energy, inspiration and productive action.
From a technical point of view in becoming fit, the heart of our program is micro-progression, the small steps that create a solid foundation for becoming strong, flexible and consistent. People who try to rush by lifting too much weight too early, or losing weight through crash diets, set themselves up for failure, whether through injury or rebound eating.
On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?
If we slow down enough to plan and strategize, we can always do more. If we’re aware of what we truly want we can find the best path there, drawing on our own inner resources. Many worthwhile things in life must be earned; there’s no instant magic that can manifest them.
You have to first catch yourself when you really are rushing. For example, if you’re reading and after turning the page realize that you don’t remember what you’ve just read, it’s time to examine your process. Are you reading too fast? Are you just distracted? Reading poetry properly really slows you down so that you take in every word as if it’s for the first time. You can’t experience or feel a poem if you read it fast.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1. 5 minute meditation. If you feel overwhelmed, you should stop immediately and meditate. You can meditate any time and any place, it doesn’t have to be long to restore a sense of serenity.
2. Daily contemplation. Contemplate the day, week, or month ahead by walking somewhere so you slow down.
3. Journaling. One technique is to emphasize important thought with capital letters, which extends the time.
4. Planning using lists and calculating numbers. For example, if you want to lift 100 pounds, you’d decide how much time you need without rush and then spread this over two years.
5. A well-rounded, mindful daily exercise routine to maintain strength, flexibility, well-being, speed, good posture, ideal weight. You maintain 100% focus for each movement — for example, inhale, flex, exhale, etc., with each becoming its own mantra.
6. Simple cooking or washing dishes with relaxing music like jazz.
How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?
Mindfulness is 100% focus.
In 1996 I was in Baltimore, attempting to break a world record. When I snatched the bar, I nailed the squatting position, and my lift was assured. At that moment I smiled inside, and immediately lost mindfulness, envisioning myself standing with the bar above my head. So when I lifted I didn’t account for a shift in the bar and I dropped it. That one lost moment of mindfulness cost me a year of work — I didn’t make the record.
Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?
Mindfulness is linked to personal responsibility in every aspect of life. Once you take responsibility you are mindful. If you’re responsible for learning what you study, you’re going to be 100% engaged, which is mindfulness. No matter what you do, do it with all of yourself, all of your focus. Respect your time so you don’t drift and have to redo things.
And because you can’t maintain perfect focus at all time, it’s important to take breaks to restore yourself. The break must be rejuvenating, not just distracting.
Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?
Again, singularity of focus and staying in the present. When you converse, be 100% on topic. Don’t digress and don’t allow your mind to drift.
Maintaining strong character principles is another practice that keeps you clean, calm and focused. If you’re honest and straightforward you’re not distracted by a need to cover-up lies or flaws.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices?
Tim Ferriss’ podcast
Creative writing books
Sports or skill-oriented activities
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.
The ultimate wisdom is to fall in love with what you don’t like but is good for you.
I loved Poland, but I had to learn to love practical realities of the U.S.
I hated veggies but I learned to love them.
I cared little for writing, but I studied to earn MFA and became a poet.
I disliked training non-athletes, but now I love it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It would be developing knowledge and skill around Hard Choices, Easy Life. Easy Choices, Hard Life, to override immediate impulses, to create delayed gratification, and become ethical.
This would help people to reach three levels of love:
Love of a Person
Love of Humanity
Love of the Planet
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!