No rules or mandates, only choices.
It’s 6:00 am. You’re tired, cranky, and your eyes are crowded with sleep. You’re groping aimlessly around the kitchen for the pot of liquid adrenaline that you need to rouse yourself. “No such thing as a morning person,” you mutter while sipping it down gratefully. You shuffle towards your closet and let your gaze pass over the stacks of t-shirts, shorts, compression tights, and hoodies that’ve come to represent your workout gear over the years. You have to admit that they’ve been getting less and less “work” of late. Sip. Sigh. Last night while setting the alarm you swore today would be different, but the inevitable hesitation of the early morning anchors your feet to the carpet and your lips to the coffee mug. The only place you truly want to be is back in your bed, tucked happily away beneath your quilted comforter.
Interrupting your trance is your own reflection, shot back at you by the full-length mirror separating the his & her sides of the wardrobe. As usual, this intrusion is unwanted. The figure before you is slouching and hunched, has been prematurely aged and weighted by years of neglect and obsolescence, and, sadly, appears resigned to this state of being. You’re neither upset nor surprised at this sight, but a frown creeps across your face in spite of itself. That’s not the way you’re supposed to look. That’s not the “you” you wanted to be. You should look younger, stronger, and more vital. A sudden rush of energy rises and falls in your chest as you consider the possibility of remaking yourself in that image, like a match trying to catch in the breeze. But the warm aroma under your nose snuffs it out, reminding you there are routines to keep and habits to uphold this morning, just like every other morning. You console yourself—this is no time for unattainable goals or egotistical pipe dreams. The ideal you is too far off anyway—it’d take years to fit that form. So you turn around and head back towards the kitchen to top off your cup and peruse the sports page. Just another day in the life. Sip. Sigh.
Moments like this come and go a hundred times a day—moments where fitness is a choice to be made or ignored. Moments that may seem insignificant in isolation, but multiply them over the course of a week, a year, or a lifetime and they plot a course between extraordinary and extremely average. Looking at it en masse, the dangers subsumed in such moments are obvious. But in that instant we are blind, our sight limited by ignorance, habit, and frustration.
A couple reasons why this might be the case…
First, most people don’t know how hard it is to be truly committed. They talk a big game come swimsuit season because getting a six pack is supposed to be as easy as working out 1 hour a day, 3 days a week, and choosing whole wheat bread for their sandwiches. They’re not ready to learn that daily commitment and diligence, many times in the face of hot coffee and a warm blanket, are pre-requisites in this pursuit. That section of every training manual and every diet book gets lost in translation. So here it is again, in plain English: The one meal you cheat, the one WOD you tank, the one foam roll you bypass: it all counts. It’s what’s meant by the theory of accumulation—there’s no such thing as an insignificant choice.
Second, bad choices have a tendency to become habitual and, when confronted with 50/50 situations, we like to guide ourselves based on past decisions. Because of this, that workout you shirked last week makes the one tomorrow easier to blow off. Yesterday’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich eases the guilt of today’s chicken parmesan. Every one of our choices has a certain amount of inertia that makes bad ones easier and easier to rationalize the more frequently they are made.
Finally, we too often allow that which is outside our control to influence that which is within it. Imagine the woman driving home from work with her gym clothes in the back seat and the fullest intention of working out. She hits rush hour traffic a little earlier than expected and suddenly finds herself growing irritable and agitated. She realizes how exhausted she is from the long day’s work and remembers her kids are hosting a coloring party after dinner. Groaning in frustration, she decides her energy levels are too low for exercise today and heads home for some downtime. What’s the point, right? She probably wouldn’t get anything out of it anyways. Fitness will have to start Monday, when she’s fresh and ready.
This is crap. If you ever find yourself skipping scheduled training for anything less than an injury, illness, or a family emergency, take a minute, step into someone’s office, and head butt a coffee table. You are pathetic. No amount of frustration will change traffic patterns. No amount of self-sacrifice will better prepare you for a coloring party. And no amount of “downtime” will help recoup lost energy levels. It’s simple: Either stop allowing external forces to influence your decisions, or stop wasting your money on training. Pretending like you take your health seriously will only impress other pretenders. It will not fool age, injury, or gravity… this I promise you.
Remember this: Fitness doesn’t start Monday. Or any other day for that matter. It started the day you were born and will continue until the day you die. It’s an accumulation of moments and choices that require your constant vigilance and attention. Whether you live a life wrought with disease, discomfort, and immobility or one full of opportunity, strength, and vitality are direct products of these moments and choices. Don’t believe me? Keep eating sandwiches on wheat and hitting the snooze the next thirty years and tell me how you feel. Maybe you’ll re-consider your options and knock the dust off that stack of hoodies.
Or maybe you won't. Either way, I don't have time to waste... Only so many moments left, and 6 am comes early.