Have the right one.
Everybody has a vision of himself. From successful businessman to roadside beggar, we all see ourselves in a certain light, on a path towards something greater. It fuels our preparation, motivates our effort, and sustains our will to succeed. Whether or not we manifest success depends on 2 things. First, we must craft a vision that is in keeping with the laws of the real world and the instincts we were born with. Envisioning yourself as something you are fundamentally not will get you nowhere. Second, we have to act according to our vision and deliver when necessary. The guy you see peddling change at the corner probably didn’t envision himself begging for food when he was in high school, but a series of events led him to his new reality because he was unable to act against them.
There is no difference when it comes to fitness: the first step in achieving anything of value is having a realistic vision of what you want to become. Now, ordinarily I am pretty open-minded when it comes to goals and aspirations—what an individual deems valuable is his/her business—but not in this instance. I truly believe there is a right and a wrong vision to have when it comes to fitness. You are not a photograph, therefore your fitness cannot be measured by color, shading, or relative beauty. You are not a checkbook, therefore your fitness cannot be valued by how much money you spend or save. And you are not a facebook account, so your fitness cannot be measured by how many friends you have. The only thing that matters when it comes to fitness is your ability to physically thrive. If your vision is rooted in anything other than this you are missing out on the better you, if not completely wasting your time. Regardless of your age, gender, or current level of capacity, you must see yourself running, jumping, lifting, climbing, swimming, throwing, flipping, riding, and crushing your way through any obstacle nature dares offer. Imagine smelling the air at 10,000 feet, tasting the waters of the Meditteranean, and feeling your feet carry you where no automobile ever could. It feels good because, deep down, there is a bond between every living creature and his environment that must be kept strong. To ignore this urge is to deny the real you.
But look around the world and you’ll see plenty of denial. People have grown so obsessed with looking fit that most have forgotten what it’s like to actually be fit. This is what I mean by an unrealistic vision. For hundreds of thousands of years humans have been hunting, gathering, running, climbing, and fighting their way to survival. It’s only in the last 10,000 years that we’ve grown our own food, and only in the last 300 that we’ve lazily passed that burden on to machines. The simple fact is that your body was designed to be truly fit… it wants to be out there fighting to survive, not posing in the mirror and measuring carbs.
Think about this: our most basic instincts are that of survival and procreation, both of which used to be contested in nature through physical means. While we may not recognize it, these instincts are still the bedrock of our every conscious action. Our jobs, our schools, our family dynamics, they’re all social evolutions of the human need to survive and procreate. The only difference now is that we’ve effectively removed the physical requirement from the equation. Imagine 10,000 years ago instead of hunters fighting over a carcass, they sat down and divided the meat based on their investment portfolios. Or when competing over a female they laid down their clubs and compared six packs. Ridiculous, right? But that is the vision civilization is cramming down your throat and your body doesn’t know what to make of it.
The point is, just because we’ve evolved as a society does not mean we’ve evolved as a species. Take away the technology and the higher learning and we are the same hunting/gathering humans we used to be. We need food, shelter, and sleep. We need companionship. That is all. The question we must ask is why our vision of fitness doesn’t reflect this. Rather than defining ourselves as physical beings with physical needs in an increasingly non-physical world, we allow the non-physical world to dictate to us a new and superficial normal. Our visions for ourselves become that of slender mother, tanned entrepreneur, or yoked policeman. It’s pathetic. Worse, it’s unnatural.
True fitness only comes when you satisfy your body’s physical need to meet its instinctual demands. Anything short of this will ring hollow. You aren’t a mother trying to lose baby weight, you’re an adventure seeker who can’t wait to share the world with her child. Your job doesn’t provide safety and security for your family, you do—by being physically capable of performing it day after day after day. You don’t train at 6am so you can look good in your uniform, you do it so that when a criminal decides to turn on you it’s the worst decision he’s ever made. These are visions crafted in keeping with the instincts we were born with, so they sync well with our psyche and are easy to sustain if followed through.
Which brings me to the second point: A vision without action is worthless. This should go without saying, but it probably accounts for 90% of the failed fitness experiments out there. Tell me if this sounds familiar…
You’ve recognized the futility of trying to look like a magazine cover and are ready to reclaim your place on the fitness map. You read an article about CrossFit and decide you like the idea of training for capacity rather than looks, for survival rather than for show. You walk into your local box and go through their onramp sequence and you love it. Straight up LOVE IT. You feel challenged, supported, and, better yet, alive. Something sings inside of you so deep and so loud that you know it’s right. This is the feeling you’ve been searching for.
Fast forward 2 months and your body is starting to change. You’re stronger than you’ve ever been, more conditioned than you’ve ever been, and your friends start to notice you getting leaner. You see a new member struggling through onramp and assure him it gets better. You feel fulfilled.
Fast forward 4 months and your progress is slowing. You’re being asked to cover more hours at work and your schedule is filling up with kids’ soccer practices and birthday parties. You make it to the gym a couple times a week at best. You feel annoyed.
Fast forward 6 months and you’re back where you started. Your strength is gone, your stamina is gone, and you step in the gym for the first time in months to discover the new member you gave advice to is running circles around your tired ass. You feel depressed.
Now comes the important part. How do you react? Do you look back on that year and sigh, “What a waste,” or do you look at it and say, “I missed so many opportunities to get better… that won’t happen again.” The main difference between beggar and CEO isn’t that one was given all the breaks, it’s that one took advantage of all the breaks he was given. No matter how tough your schedule is at work or how demanding your home life gets, there is always a way to keep training. Do burpees on the soccer field, handstands in your office, and sprints up the stairs. If you sprain your ankle, become an expert at pullups. If you tweak your shoulder, it’s time to squat and deadlift. Manifesting your fitness vision does not require ideal conditions, it requires regularity. Make it a mandatory part of your life and you will never be weak, you will never be overwrought, and you will never feel disconnected.
But we’re not all there yet, and I recognize that. Distilling desires and dreams down to a simple, elemental vision takes time and practice. You’re going to oscillate, get it wrong, and reform from time to time. You’re going to get confused. That’s all well and good so long as you’re not straying too far from the foundation. Remember that you’re hard wired for a physical existence and that you have to seek it daily. I cringe when I ask people about their ideal vision and they say, “I can’t wait to retire.” Or, “I want to just kick back and relax.” You might as well be saying, “I’m ready to die,” because that’s what your body is going to hear.
Try this instead: wake up eager, push your limits, and be a beast.