Most of us have had to do things we did not want to do as children. We were told to get out of bed to get ready for school, to eat vegetables we didn’t want to eat and do homework on subjects we didn’t like. We were told to take showers, brush our teeth, clean our room and throw out the trash. This stuff went on for years until we finally leaped into the world on our own, fully capable of doing it all ourselves.
Today, we continue to do all sorts of things we don’t want to do, because we know they’re good for us. We pay taxes, clean up after ourselves, mow the grass, finish not so interesting work projects and go to family gatherings we’d rather skip. So how is it that when it comes to taking care of ourselves physically or mentally, people can’t seem to kick themselves in the butt to do what’s necessary? – even when it almost always makes us feel better.
HONOR HUMAN POTENTIAL
The fitness industry uses a whole lot of words to describe various concepts of health, but the essence is pretty simple: don’t eat crap, move correctly, move a lot and get enough sleep. Yet, there is a mental chasm that separates those who bear the title “athlete” from those who watch them on TV.
Part of the problem is understandable. The athletes we see on TV are peak performers who have spent that last several years or better part of their life honing their skills. The distance between the average beer-swilling couch surfer and the Olympic sprinter he just watched isn’t far reaching – it’s inconceivable.
BUT… in what other areas of our life do we set ourselves against such standards? We don’t tell our first-graders they should stop writing because they’ll never be Shakespeare. We take our kiddos to soccer practice fully understanding that they won’t be the next Messi. Every day we go to our jobs not having an expectation of ever becoming the CEO.
When someone looks at an athlete and says “I could never do that,” what they’re really saying is “I don’t want to put in the work that person did to get where they are.” The difference is not ability or talent; but desire. Sure, you may not have the level of athletic talent, desire or determination to win a super bowl title or write your own symphony, but does that make it OK to neglect yourself physically or mentally? Not Really!!!
Your body was undeniably built to walk, run, climb, lift, jump and build or create wonders of amazement. We have specific physiological adaptations such as enormous lungs and the ability to sweat all controlled by a brain that can produce chemicals that give us super-sauce all at the right moments. AND, all these mechanisms are really only relevant for athletic organisms. The human body is, by design and construction, an athletic artistic collection of successes. To neglect the required maintenance of this vessel is to deny its nature.
CHOOSE YOUR PATH
The reality is that everyone wants to be an athlete. I really don’t think that anyone wants to sit around, decaying prematurely, suppressing their artistic birthright. People don’t want to be weak or stiff or tired. People don’t want to have to take 12 medications or end up with a nurse cleaning their bottoms every night. People want to eat food without gaining weight. We want to sleep without breathing devices. We want to go to the grocery store and walk without a mobility scooter. We want to climb stairs and not get out of breath because of it. People don’t want to be miserable.
So why, why do we avoid what we so desperately need to be doing every day to not be miserable? Because we perceive the chasm. The illusion of where we are now and where we want to be. Because these people are convinced of their own inability to undertake any sort of training at all. Or if they did train, it would be so painful, and the progress so infinitesimal, as to not be worth the effort. So rather than sweating in some dungeon of a gym or hitting a glorious trail trying to chase down the body we were meant to have, we go to great lengths to justify rotting away on the sofa.
Then there are people who stand on the other side of the chasm who know it isn’t impassable, because we had to cross it ourselves. We had to do it of our own will and for our own reasons even though the same basic principles applied. Many of us didn’t even consider ourselves to be athletes to begin with. We changed our diet, little by little. We found ways to move ourselves that challenged and stimulated us mentally as well as physically. We had to prioritize sleep to make sure we had ample time to repair. We didn’t give up when it was hard, or when results were slow to come. We sweated, sacrificed, and gritted our teeth through every manner of discomfort, inconvenience and even embarrassment. We fell off the wagon and then got back on. Even though we saw the chasm too, we trained anyway.
END THE EXCUSES
The chasm is wide and deep and made up entirely of your excuses. It is jam-packed with your busy schedules, your bad knees, the weight you’ve put on since high school and even your children are blamed. The chasm is thick with your distaste for sweating and breathing hard, it smells of your fear of looking stupid and the self-defeating thoughts that tower over you. The chasm is every rationalization you’ve ever made for not doing what needs to be done to properly care for the only body you’ll ever, ever, ever have. It is the misguided modern notion that anything uncomfortable isn’t worth doing.
Everybody has that chasm, and everybody should be training in spite of it or even because of it. Find something you can do, then do it. Then do it a little more. And then go do something else. Take up cycling, yoga, weightlifting or even qi gong. Take a spinning class. Go for a hike and try to scale a small rock. Adapt your chosen activity to the skills and weaknesses you have and then stretch yourself.
If you start tomorrow, will you become the next iron man champion? Probably not. But I’d be willing to bet that it’s not your goal anyway. What I do know is that you’ll be a better you and I’m also pretty sure that being a better you is a goal. Being better is always on the table but It will not be easy, it will not be fast and it will decidedly be uncomfortable. You won’t be immediately impressed; so just stop with the expectation. In fact, you might even be horrified and disgusted with yourself; at least for a while. Train anyway. Train everyday. Train in some way to be better.
CONQUER YOUR CHASM
I’m going to ask that you do some homework. Get out a blank sheet of notebook paper and your #2 pencil or a pen and draw 3 columns.
- In the first column, write down all the things you wish you could do, if you were more fit.
- In the second, write the obstacles that are keeping you from getting there.
- In the third, write down how you’re going to get around them.
Do this and send it to me. Give it to your partner or ask a co-worker to hold you accountable. Do this and start tomorrow. Even if its small – you’ll still be a better you. If you do it again the next day, despite failure and pain, you’ll be better still. And if you keep doing it, consistently and intelligently, no one can tell you what you may achieve.
Maybe you’ll lose 100 pounds. Maybe you’ll rediscover a joy of cycling through the city or a park. Maybe you’ll run a mile or 30 miles. Maybe you will regain the dignity and confidence of youth or at least something you haven’t felt in too many years. But if you wait a week, you’ll wish you had started sooner.
So just start.