Every action. Every statement. Every thought. They’re all inputs.
Think of your body as a super computer. Every waking moment it is gathering data, deciphering meaning, and formulating responses. It’s constantly evaluating potential threats to its existence like hunger, injuries, enemies, and environment. It’s measuring temperature, calculating distances, and adjusting for balance. But for all the external stimuli your body is asked to process on a daily basis, what it’s registering from the inside can be ten times as important. You see, your body also keeps careful track of your subconscious. Your emotions, attitude, and inadvertent thoughts provide the backdrop on which every other input is analyzed. If you’re in a bad mood, it will feel like the world is stacked against you. You hit every red light, your boss is 3 feet up your ass, and your kids don’t appreciate anything you do. If you’re in a good mood, you might notice the Lamborghini across the intersection, the quirky tie your boss is wearing, and how your kids have their mother’s eyes. The same reality exists in both scenarios, but the interpretation of it is drastically different. Multiply that experiment by a lifetime and you can imagine the divergence. We’re all just a million hits of a hammer; you better believe the attitude of the artist makes a difference.
How does this affect fitness? If you keep telling yourself you’re old, tired, and sick, that’s what you’re going to be. What you think, you’ll soon say out loud. And what you say out loud, you'll eventually carry out in practice. Because your brain is largely influenced by habit and repetition, the thoughts you replicate most will wind up ingrained in your subconscious. Your body will sense them even when you don’t—like the high electric whine of a TV on mute or the color of the walls in your bedroom. Your self-image essentially becomes the product of background noise.
The tricky part is you don't get to keep it to yourself. Remember, everyone else is a super computer too—the signals you send out are being constantly gathered, deciphered, and responded to. If you’re sending out hurt, they’re going to see hurt. If you’re sending out old, they’re going to see old. They're going to see old, process that information, and act accordingly. Wait, it gets worse. The feedback you get from your peers is an input in itself. The way they treat you is an indicator to your brain of who and what you are. So if everyones looking at you like you've got one foot in the grave, your body processes that data and responds, “See, I knew I was old.” This is the formation of your identity in a nutshell. Thought begetting action, action begetting thought. A cycle of computation and response that begins and ends with your own subconscious opinion of yourself.
Exhibit A: The guy who tells you how sore you’re going to feel once you hit 30. He’s the same guy that’s going to tell you how sore you’ll feel when you hit 40. And how you’ll probably die from knee pain at 50.
“If you think 25 is rough, wait til you’re my age… I’d kill to be 25 again.”
“Enjoy your 30’s while they last, it’s all downhill from there.”
“I’m too old for that shit. When I was your age, though…”
This guy pisses me off. What possible benefit does he gain from repeatedly pointing out how horrible it is to be old? I get why he’s doing it—by explaining the difficulties of age to someone younger, he makes it impossible for them to pass judgment on his current physical condition—what I don’t get is why he thinks by doing so he absolves himself from the universal need to not be a lazy piece of shit. (And yes, it is a universal need) Because, despite what his cupboard full of Captain Crunch and Pepsi Cola are indicating, his body doesn’t like being fat. In fact, it dislikes being fat a lot more than it dislikes being old. Problem is, he’s been telling himself and everybody else how old he is since before he can remember and he can't find his way back. That’s how they know him. That’s how he knows himself. Tell yourself you’re young and you’ll start feeling younger. Feel like you’re young and you’ll start acting younger. Act like you’re young, and who’s to say you’re not?
Exhibit B: The guy whose life is busier and more tiring than yours.
“Enjoy being a student, Blair. Once you’re out in the real world, it’s a whole different ballgame.”
“Ahh, the single life. I remember having all that free time.”
“Wait til you have kids, bro. You’ll never sleep. Kiss your body goodbye.”
This guy is a lot like Exihibit A, only instead of obsessing over his age he believes that life has left him no time or energy to take care of his body. Please. You’re telling me that no one in your office has time to work out? Or that wives prefer a pudgier, weaker version of the man they fell in love with? Pretty sure that’s false. Pretty sure I watch parents with kids of all ages find time to crush it in my gym everyday. It must be that your particular situation is more difficult than theirs. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s not the job, the wife, or the kids that are holding you back. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’ve just been telling yourself the same, tired story so long it’s infected your hard drive. Maybe if you’d told yourself a million times that health and wellness was non-negotiable, that it would only enhance your ability to do your job, be in a healthy relationship, and provide for your children and grandchildren, then you’d be finding ways to stay active instead of finding excuses not to. Burpees by the crib, lunges up the stairwell, 15 minutes of pushups and pullups in the garage after work. A million hits of the hammer. It all adds up.
Again, I know why Exhibit B is doing it. I just want him to realize that life is never going to get easier, and overweight is never going to feel invigorating.
Exhibit C: The guy who’s always sick or hurt.
“I must be coming down with a cold. I woke up a bit congested and can’t seem to shake it.”
“I have a bad back and bum knees. Been that way since I was a kid.”
This guy’s a little different. His issue isn’t with physically getting to the gym like Exhibits A and B, it’s with his expectations while he’s there. Regardless of the day, the workout, or the situation, he will find some way to let you know he isn’t at full strength. He’s jet lagged from a business trip. Or has caught a bug that’s “going around.” It’s always something. Just so we’re clear: I’m not advocating that sick people and invalids should come into the gym and hurt themselves trying to break records. But if every knick, scratch, or stuffy nose becomes a reason to underperform, you’ve got a problem. You’re deliberately setting low expectations and reinforcing the message that it’s okay to suck at your training. Just so we’re clear: It’s not okay to suck at your training. Part of fitness is the ability to perform in less than perfect conditions, to rise to the challenge of an off day or a bad night’s sleep. But, more than that, it’s about establishing a consistent set of expectations. Sending the message over and over that it’s okay to be terrible will only ensure that you’re terrible. Sending the message over and over that you’re capable of success in spite of negative circumstances will make you a warrior. This is where the truly fit separate themselves: their expectations don’t allow for petty excuses. They know they won’t be at their best every day—that’s just a part of life—but they never blame away that down cycle. They wear it and move on. Every performance is progress.
All of these guys essentially suffer from the same mental fragility. Rather than acknowledge they're choosing to put their health and wellness at risk, they find external reasons to excuse this behavior, thus absolving themselves of the responsibility. This is cowardly. Also, it sets a dangerous precedent of non-accountability that doesn't exactly come in handy when you find yourself battling colon cancer and obesity later in life. At that moment, blaming McDonald's for being too convenient and inexpensive isn't going to help you stay alive. Better to check yourself now and start reforming your subconscious identity.
The best part about building a mentality like this is that you’ll find yourself feeling sick, tired, and hurt less often. Because your subconscious forms the backdrop on which your body processes all sensory data, reducing focus on illness, fatigue, and injury is going to decrease likelihood of your feeling that way. You’re not sick, you just have a runny nose. You’re not hurt, you just have a sore ankle. These maladies no longer hinder your performance any more than a bad song on your iPod. You can go from invalid to indestructible in one thought-generation.
At the end of the day, nobody wants to feel tired and sickly. Nobody wants to be treated like they’re past their prime. But obsessing over the limitations inherent in those qualities will only propagate them. Thought begets action, action begets thought. Your mental approach to fitness has to be positive and forward reaching. It has to learn to ignore everything except that which helps you improve. Call it selective computation. Or the rehabilitation of your warrior self-image. The beauty part is, when you start to believe it, everyone else will too.