Lessons from the Book of Our History
The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding. – Will Durant
In 2010, two bonehead kids leapt from a plane without much of a parachute or any real understanding of how to safely land. By a stroke of luck, they survived the fall. Some think that ‘fortune favors the bold’; others, that ‘diligence is the mother of good luck’, but not me. I’m not here to make argument for either. In fact, I stake no claim over undiscovered veins of truth. I’m simply thankful to be here.
And, here we are – 10 years into “J and G’s fitness experiment.” It is with our sincerest hearts and our deepest gratitude that we offer thanks to each of you, our fellow travelers. To our friends and family, the friends that became family, and all those who lent support from the pink dawn of our earliest days – cheers! Without you, we would still be a sputtering idea, a seed lying dormant, a ship with no sails. To this day 10 Experience is just an idea #10exlife. You animate that idea. You give it life and legs. You are its breath. You are its pulse. And you alone permit us to continue into the great unknown brimming with hopeful hearts.
I haven’t always been, but I’m a sucker for curious books and interesting thoughts. And I’m especially romantic for language that can sketch an idea into a neat picture. If a decade of our gym’s history were a book, that book would be filled with uncountable lessons. But, how would it read and what’s the premise? That line of thought – considering the gym as a book – swept me up and plopped me down, once more at the keyboard in an attempt to capture my thoughts like lightening in a bottle.
Here’s where I landed: my sense is that a proper gym is somewhat equivalent to the live version of a self-help book. A proper gym offers lessons of all brand in real time and in real terms. If we really pay attention, the gym teaches us principles of the scientific process, psychology in part and parcel, how to invest (in anything), and more than a little about morality. Lessons by the metaphorical handful. Each of these ‘rules’ might fill entire chapters or whole books. Billy Shakespeare once wrote that brevity is the soul of wit. So with what wit I might muster and little more adieu, here’s my best stab at paring down the most potent lessons from spending the past decade in the fitness trenches.
1. Make a single decision that makes a thousand others.
I’ll say it firmly. Decide to make your health a priority! It’s a simple 7-word declaration. That decision, once made, ‘pre-makes’ the thousand other daily decisions on your plate (entendre intended). What do I eat, should I join a gym, can I skip on sleep? Optimize. Streamline. Determine what is essential. Discover the meaning behind less but better. Invest your time, your energy, and your efforts working towards that end – health! It won’t be long before you notice the might of compounding interest.
2. Whatever you do, don’t pity the fool (hint: you are the fool).
Mr. T had it all wrong. The liar is a tyrant, because he cannot stand being a fool. Don’t be a tyrant. Freedom to be foolish IS one of the keys to success in the gym or elsewhere. In some form, exercise makes everyone feel foolish – weak, sluggish, and under prepared. All learning always involves certain indignities. But, that’s the rub! That’s humility – I am not yet what I could be but watch what I’ll become.
3. Understand what your ego IS (and can devolve into).
Pride blooms from our ego’s seed. It propels us towards virtuous ends today (back squat PRs and accomplishments galore). And tomorrow, it plays vice – striking us like a serpent when we least expect it (arrogance and hubris are it’s poison often leading to injury and failure). The sooner we acknowledge both sides of our ego’s coin, the sooner we might learn to better weld its spending power. Internalize this acronym, E.G.O. = embedded growth obligation. And take notice the next time your ego’s obligations serve you well…or run afoul.
4. Listen to fitness’ endless lessons on morality.
I don’t say this lightly. Each day exercisers are afforded an opportunity to meditate on subtle applications of the golden rule. Treat yourself like someone you’re responsible for helping. The pursuit of health/fitness isn’t a singular game. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum as a solitary lift, workout, or diet. It’s a set of behaviors that extend over the course of your life. We must all participate – winning some…losing some – so that we’re permitted to continue playing throughout the next 1000 games.
5. Examine your reasons for exercising.
In my best Socratic voice, I ask, “Why do you exercise?” Is it to qualify for the Boston Marathon? To compete on the Olympic Weightlifting stage? To pitch on opening night in the MLB? If no was the answer, perhaps it’s time to refine your attachment to specialized and often damaging training protocols. I repeat – why do you exercise? Particularly, what about exercise is fulfilling? Examine those thoughts and endeavor to train in ways that compliment that end. Then, embrace your inner Vulcan spirit – live long and prosper!
6. Defend moderation!
With my dying breath, I’ll cry, ‘moderation forever!’ Truly the habit of eating small, frequent meals is likely our culture’s way of ‘self-medicating’ to compensate for a broken metabolism. Instead, set your sights on nutritional moderation…metabolic flexibility. A metabolically flexible person possesses the ability to use both fat and carbs as sources of energy based on availability and need. They fast and they feast, and they live as vibrant models of nutritional efficiency.
7. Remember: it’s not your fault.
During your next diet foray, you’d do well to acknowledge the beautifully tragic design of human nature. You are literally hard-wired to eat professionally. We all crave tasty foods, we all gobble up that food, and, almost instantly, we all seek out the next interesting treat. That behavior is literally coded into our operating program. It’s in our software. What do we do? We recognize the fault. Then, become intentional about ‘rebooting’ the system. Eat proteins, veggies and fruits, herbs and spices, and some fat at every meal. Also, speaking of morality, you can’t ‘cheat’ on food or a diet – you simply eat food. Good or bad, learn to recognize the impact of your dietary decisions.
8. Conspire to greater things.
Find fellow conspirators. Then, together build a bright, shining lighthouse for others wandering through the darkness. Successful people find value in unexpected places. The best people in the world know this. Every great community is built around a secret that’s hidden from view. If these years have taught me anything, it’s that a group of gym-goers can be a conspiracy to change the world. Share your secret and the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.
9. Embrace the creative and constructive value of struggle.
Where is what you most want likely to be found? Where you are least likely to look. In the bottom of the well, deep within a cave…on the other side of that horrible sounding workout or undertaking an impossibly tough diet. I believe that we’re all better when employing practices of the ancient Stoics. Stuck in a rut? Find yourself wandering about aimlessly? Seek hardship. Take an extended fast. Be cold. Walk instead of drive. Deprive yourself of a daily luxury and notice the beautiful contrast of life. With a little luck, you’ll be surprised by your ability to turn suffering into achievement.
10. Carry the fire.
During any fitness pursuit, you’re sure to meet trial and tribulation. Temptation awaits at every turn. So too awaits an opportunity to play your particular part as hero or villain. To be sure, sometimes you will take the easy road. Sometimes you will be the bad guy. During those times, you’d do well to remember that it’s (your behavior) not permanent, nor is it definitive. It’s a simple action. Nothing more. You must endure a little burning if you are to give a worthy light. Then, find it much easier to resume living harmoniously, working on something greater. To choose good for goodness sake. Not just to live, but to live for something.
It’s my understanding that philosophers try to see the part in light of the whole. I’m no philosopher. But I’m quick to recognize the value in seeing this moment reflected in the light of the past decade. Boy, what a ride. Like a great book, you’ve taught us so much…and yet, there’s much more to learn. With each reread of our history, we might master ourselves at the margins. We observe flaws in judgement and notice faulty decision-making patterns. We treat ourselves respectfully. We gradually improve – slowly, inching our way to becoming less wrong. Ironic, isn’t it? That very process cuts right to the bone of self-improvement. Learning a touch more about our many different selves. I may be off here, but in its purest form, a genuine practice of self-improvement and personal growth has exceedingly little to do with superficial vanity. Jacques Maritain once wrote that a person achieves self-mastery for the purpose of self-giving. I tend to agree…and I used to bristle at the idea of self-help books.
An old tongue likes to wag.
11. Wear a helmet.
This was the eleventh rule and, while it was a finalist, it didn’t quite make the cut. I’ve not formally written since October’s crash. Without the helmet, there’s a good chance I’d not be here attempting to sketch my own ideas into neat, little pictures. More importantly, without support from you, there’s a zero percent chance my wandering words would land on interested eyes, ears, and minds. That fact is not lost with me. You humor this bumbling, bike-wrecking fool. Thanks for that too! I’m learning to love my life’s version of fate – amor fati. But I need no lesson in loving each of you.