The Captain America Guide to Leadership and Inspiration

Today you’re going to learn a lesson from the first avenger: Captain America.

In case you’re not familiar with the famous comic book, Steve Rogers is guy who wants to enlist in the US army during World War 2.  Unfortunately he’s incredibly scrawny and sickly and thus deemed unfit for action.  Eventually he’s given the opportunity to participate in a new government program that transforms him into an incredible super-soldier.  As this super soldier, Captain America kicks some major Nazi ass, rallies the troops, and helps win victories for the allied forces.

Here’s the trailer for the upcoming Captain America movie in case you haven’t seen it:

Captain America: The First Avenger Trailer

I don’t want to talk about Steve Rogers’s transformation into the First Avenger – we don’t really have the opportunity to inject ourselves with some crazy serum to become a superhero.  Instead, I want to talk about Captain America’s role in World War II.  Chris Evans, the actor who is playing Captain America in the movie, had this to say about his character:

“Steve has been dealt kind of a lousy hand in life,” Evans says. “He’s 5-foot-nothing. He’s 110 pounds. He’s got a lot of ailments, but it hasn’t made him bitter or jaded or anything. Even after he’s given this great gift, he still continues to do the right thing, not to prove anything to anyone other than himself. He just has this great moral code.”

How badass is that? A dude that transformed his body into something spectacular and continued to push himself to be better, which in turn inspired those around him to be better too.  He doesn’t force them to be better, he doesn’t ask them to be better, he simply makes himself better and leads by example.

You can’t force motivation

A few weeks ago, I saw a memorable tweet from productivity guru Leo Babauta: ” You can’t motivate others to do things. The best you can hope for is to inspire them with your actions.”

Once or twice a week, I get an email from a new Nerd Fitness reader who asks about the best way to get motivated to stay in shape.  Unfortunately, I never have a good answer for them, because it’s pretty damn hard to give somebody the desire to want to live better.

Because my reasons for exercising are different than yours, which are different from the reasons your friends exercise, and so on.

I can write inspirational posts all day long, and I do what I can to inspire others to act, but I can’t force anyone to enjoy exercise or want to eat better. I can tell you that the Paleo Diet is the best way to get lose weight and eat better, but I can’t shove veggies down your throat or see if you’re eating donuts in your office.  I can tell you that strength training is the key to living a long life full of activity and happiness, but I can’t carry you into a gym or force you to do proper push ups.

That drive to succeed and level up your life has to come from within you.

What I generally tell these people is to keep reading the site, hang out on the Nerd Fitness Message Boards, and keep trying different activities.  Eventually, something clicks –  from this point on it’s no longer a diet or a workout plan – it’s a way of life.

I freaking love when this happens.

Lead by example

Let’s say you’ve found your inner motivation, you’re now willing to do whatever it takes, and you’re well on your way towards becoming a super-version of yourself.   You’re stronger today than you were yesterday.  You weigh less today than you did a month ago.  You’ve heard “have you lost weight? you look great” twice this week. You go to a restaurant and already know what the healthy options are on the menu.  You are leveling up your life and you feel great.

You need to become Captain America: step up and take a leadership role amongst your friends and family.

Now, I’m not telling you to start explaining to your friends about why they shouldn’t drink that soda or that they need to exercise more – unless they’re asking for it, nobody likes to be preached to.  Instead, you need to do everything you can to lead by example.

My friends and family

One of the pleasant surprises I’ve had from starting Nerd Fitness is that some of my friends and family members are now in the best shape of their lives. I got an email from my folks the other day to let me know that my dad has given up every grain in his diet except beer (and I certainly won’t fault him for that).  I’ve covered the Paleo Diet extensively here on the site, but I’ve never once told my parents that they needed to follow it – everybody lives their own lives and has the freedom to chose what they want to eat and what they don’t want to eat.  I’m happy to say that D lost 12 pounds last year and is hellbent on dropping another 12 pounds this year.

Because these changes came from within, I know he’ll be able to stick with them and succeed.

Two years ago, one of my best friends was overweight and out of shape. I did my best to keep him motivated and inspired (while gently encouraging him to focus on strength training), but I knew things wouldn’t click until he was REALLY ready to transform.  Last month, it happened – after two years he started strength training. I now get daily emails from him saying things like “just deadlifted a new personal best – booyah” and “did power cleans for the first time today, wow those are awesome.”  He literally can’t wait to exercise after work; he is a machine that can’t be stopped.

Had I bought him a gym membership six months ago and forced him to work out, he wouldn’t be seeing the results he’s seeing now because his heart wouldn’t have been in it.  Now that it’s his decision, he’s going to get the results he’s always wanted.

Encourage, Share, Inspire…over and over.

Do you have friends and family who you want to help get in shape? If you want to help them change, do everything you can to help them help themselves.  When that motivation comes from within, it’s 18,000 times more powerful than when you try to force motivation upon them.

If you have friends who all eat unhealthy, go out of your way to eat healthy when you’re around them – don’t look down upon them for their food choices, but happily answer any of their questions about why you’re eating the way you are.  If you have friends that are lazy, overweight, and out of shape, invite them to your next run, Frisbee game, give them your buddy pass to the gym – don’t get mad when they decline, but happily continue to invite them over and over.

Last but not least, be patient and persistent. Unless your friends/family are severely overweight and on the verge of serious medical issues (where immediate intervention is required), do your best to inspire through action and inform when inquired.  It could take days, weeks, months, or years, but eventually they will come around.  And because the motivation came from themselves, they’re far more likely to make permanent life changes.

How about you?

Remember, we’re all in this together. You inspire me with your success stories, and hopefully I inspire you with my actions.  I’d love to hear some success stories about how you’ve inspired those around you to live better.  I’d also love to hear if you have close friends or loved ones who you’d want to help get in shape but are struggling to do so.  Maybe we can all help each other out.


Today’s Rebel Hero: My Dad! Pictured here on while on vacation cruising through the Caribbean.

I told you my dad gave up all grains but beer; here he is doing arm curls with two beer buckets while on Cayamo, a floating music festival produced by my friends at Sixthman.  He’s almost 60 and told me that he wants to be in better shape now than he was at 50.  Go get em, D!

Have you ordered your Nerd Fitness shirt yet? Pick one up and send me a photo – you could be the next Rebel Hero!



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    26 thoughts on “The Captain America Guide to Leadership and Inspiration

    1. Leading by example is probably the best advice that anyone can give, it just comes in a number of ways. Great post, SCUBA Steve. Now post a picture coming up out of the water with a knife in your mouth!

    2. Excellent advice! It’s very difficult to get people to do something that they’re not convinced they need to do. Once they’re convinced, then we’re here to help them.

    3. I agree. You can never push someone into changing their life – it needs to be their decision. However, we can all lead by example and show how fun it is to be healthy! Thanks for the post Steve and I am loving all the epic quest and travel updates!

    4. Actually, studies have shown that keeping fit company makes you more likely to be fit, and hanging around sick and overweight people makes you more likely to be sick and overweight.

    5. This is great. We can preach about living better lives all we want, but if we ourselves aren’t taking our advice, it weakens the power behind our words.

    6. I agree that it’s much better than to inspire rather than motivate. Like you said, most people don’t like being preached at. Once you start hearing comments such as “have you lost weight?” or “have you been working out?” that will do more for your motivation than anything else. Also, seeing yourself improve physically and being able to do things that you couldn’t before is another huge boost to motivation.

    7. I certainly know what it’s like to want to help people get in better shape – it’s why I decided to become a personal trainer. But along the way, I’ve also learned the hard lesson that friends/family, no matter how good your intentions are, do NOT want to be preached to. I didn’t do it consciously, but the more I would talk and talk and talk about all these great things I was discovering, the more reticent my parents/fiancee became towards making those changes themselves. I’m done talking about it, and focusing on leading by example. Hopefully, this will make the difference.

    8. I love this post.It’s so informative and I too agree that it’s not possible to force someone to get into a particular routine or workout.It should be entirely based on their willingness which motivates them to do so.Nice post to have a great time over here.

    9. This is an important reminder for those of us who teach and inspire. I can get caught up in my enthusiasm for the lifestyle that I lead and catch myself getting a bit “preachy”. I’ve made a conscious effort to inspire through my actions rather than my rantings.

      My seventeen-year-old niece recently ask for help with weight loss and workouts. I was more than happy to put something together for her. She’s never exercised or tried a weight loss program before. The point is, I waited for her to ask …

      I’m currently working on a post about the powerful effects of our actions — as opposed to our words — on children.

      You’re bang on, Steve! The best way to teach and inspire is through our own actions.

      Enjoy the reef! I’ll be there in a year!

    10. Greetings:

      This is an excellent post.  Has anyone been watching the Avengers cartoon.  There was this excellent scene in which Capt and Hulk were fighting Hydra Robots.   Capt told Hulk to watch for civilians.  Hulk, understandably was irritated thinking Capt was there to babysit him.  Capt told Hulk to watch for civilians to save them from the battle not from Hulk.  He told Hulk that he had watched him, and said that despite his reactions from others, that he always does the right thing.  Dale Carnegie would’ve been proud.  This was right out of “How to Win Friend and Influence People.”  It’s fiction and all, but he literally had Hulk WANTING to fight with him.  Everyone no matter who you are appreciates sincere praise.  People go through life literally starving for appreciation.  It was an awesome and inspirational scene.

      PS. This is from Season 2 Episode 2.

    11. Thank you for writing this article. It has really inspired me to start leading by example in terms of eating right and exercising. I am actually not overweight or looking to lose any weight. But my boyfriend is, he’s at 260. I’ve been nudging him to work out for about a year. I found your website because he told me he was going to start a workout from here and showed me the article with it. But then he changed his mind and is following one of those Beach Body programs. I realize from reading this that I should be leading by example and only say anything if he asks. Although I’m not overweight, I haven’t been eating the healthiest and I don’t exercise regularly. I want to tone my body and become more fit. I’m going to finally get started again and just let my life speak more to my boyfriend than what I say. Thanks again!

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