Don’t deprive yourself.
By our very nature we are pleasure seekers and pain avoiders. We prefer winning to losing, happy endings to sad, success to failure. To ignore the existence of this emotion in an attempt at pseudo-humility is to mislead ourselves. The truth is that satisfaction is vital to our morale and to our progress and we have to embrace it. In my experience there’s only three types of satisfaction people get from training: long-term personal investment, a sense of accomplishment, and the chemical high. These work in concert to create a perception of training that is either positive or negative depending on the relative levels of each.
Personal investment is the idea that by training strength, endurance, mobility, etc. we are building towards an improved existence in the future. We put in heaps of time and effort now, seeing only small gains, and we get big rewards in the end.
To simplify this, think of your body like a public company you can buy stock in. The relative cost of buying in (exercising regularly) at 30 years old is pretty low. Maybe you sacrifice a few beers here and there, or a few hours sleep occasionally, but for the most part it’s a manageable cost. The return you get on this investment, however, is staggering. Play out your next 40 years. The choices you made at 30 will manifest themselves into a different set of choices you may or not be able to make when you're 70. Nursing home or cruise line? Diabetes medication or Grandson’s birthday cake? The price per share on your health is going to go through the roof as you age and the more shares you purchase now the better. For those of us who train, this grants us a sort of peace of mind—reminding us that even on those days we don’t feel like training we are making a choice that will pay off in the long run.
Sometimes, though, the thought of an able-bodied retirement is too far off to get us to the gym. Not everyone is content to be a party planner; many of us need a few small victories here and there to harden our resolve. Think of the time you hit a 5 card 20 and the dealer flipped 19. How many losing hands was that one victory worth? Or when you channeled Michael Jordan on the inter-mural court and hit the game winning shot. How many fade-away airballs did that shot buy your conscience? It’s the same with training. The feeling you get after a PR lift or a record time is priceless. Mastering a new skill will keep you coming back for months. When you outperform your own expectations there’s nothing you want more than to do it again. And again. And again. It motivates you to train when you're sick, tired, and cranky. If you post the fastest time or the biggest lift it's an expression of physical dominance. In that moment you are the Alpha, the crème de la crème, the top dog. These moments may be few and far between but the memory of them endures through failure after failure. It’s why CrossFit forges communities of members that don’t quit. The slightest opportunity to feel this good is reason enough to keep coming back to the gym.
Finally, perhaps nothing is as intoxicating as the chemical response our body has to intensity. Everyone knows that anxiousness they feel before an intimidating workout… Your insides are up and down, slamming around in your stomach like a swarm of bees. Where else do credit card toting, tax-paying adults get to feel so much like skittish acne-ridden teenagers? This transformation in itself is a rare gift, and, in it’s own way, supremely satisfying. But it gets better.
Just the other night I found myself driving home from a session in something of a daze. There was a line of braking cars honking and blinking in front of me and a couple of emotionally stunted DJs cackling on the radio. None of it seemed bothersome. I was acutely aware of everything yet disturbed by nothing, a happy balance between tuned in and tuned out. My mind was relaxed and uncomplicated, free of the usual career, family, and personal burdens. I was only conscious of the breeze through my window, the fading light outside of it, and the humming soreness still clinging to my muscles. I was in a moment beyond commotion, having forged some sort of super-connection with my surroundings that I can only describe as surreal.
That feeling right there is it for me. The other stuff is great—investing in my future, accomplishing goals, etc.—but it pales in comparison with the raw, visceral satisfaction of that moment. I was undisturbable. Beyond distraction. Take all the rest of it away and I’d still train my ass off to create that scenario over and over and over again. If you’ve been there before, you know what I mean. To live in this state, even for just a few minutes, is worth a lot in a society obsessed with uproar.
Finding that kind of satisfaction in something as objectively good for you as training is like riding a wave during a perfect storm. We have to seek out and relish our opportunities to be this fulfilled. That means showing up and pushing limits. That means constantly re-evaluating why we spend the time and effort doing what we do. And it means enjoying our time on top of the heap when it comes.