The Little Big Things About Building a Better You
Yes, it’s bulky and uncomfortable, and yes, it demands toil and sweat, but it also promises a return on your efforts. You may not always get the prize you want, but you never leave empty-handed. This makes the gym a lot more than a place to move, grunt, and sweat.
It’s a microcosm where we can make contact with the deeper parts of ourselves—our convictions, fears, habits, and anxieties. It’s an arena where we can confront these opponents head-on and prove that we have what it takes to vanquish them. It’s a setting where we can test the stories we tell ourselves. It calls on us to demonstrate how we respond to the greater struggles of life—adversity, pain, insecurity, stress, weakness, and disadvantage—and, in some ways, who we really are. In this way, the gym is a training and testing ground for the body, mind, and soul.
The conflicts we learn to endure in the gym empower us in our daily lives as well. The concentration, discipline, and resilience carry over. The way to do anything is, at bottom, the way to do everything. The gym is also a source of learning, because it calls on us to constantly attempt new things. It’s a forum where questions are at least as important as answers, and it cultivates what scientists call a “growth mindset” by teaching us that our abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—a worldview that’s essential for great accomplishment.
The gym is practical, too, not idealistic. It’s a laboratory open to any and all ideas and methodologies, and it gives clear, unqualified feedback: they either work or they don’t. In short, the gym can be so much more than merely a place to work out. It can be a refuge from the chaos around us, a world of our own that we create to satisfy dreams and desires.
The Trouble with Waiting for Perfect
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Sometimes death only comes from a lack of energy.” Well, the surest way to suffer from a lack of energy is having a lack of ideas and challenges, from shouldering less burden than we can carry. In this way, waiting for perfect is a perfect way to die a little every day.
The only choice, then, is to stop telling ourselves that we need things to be “just right” before we can start doing the thing. It’ll never happen. Start now, and figure it out as you go. You can sit around and wait for the inspiration to run a marathon, or you can get up right now and go for a ten-minute jog. You can wait for the stars to align before starting that side hustle, or you can skip Netflix tonight and start reading on where to begin.
If you do this—if you can cast aside your fears, doubts, and anxieties and just get into action instead—you’ll begin a process far more profound than you probably realize. You’ll find that the more you do, the more your attitudes and feelings will shift. Limiting opinions and rationalizations that were once dear to you will crumble and fade away. Behaviors that first felt alien and formidable will become familiar and routine. In time, you’ll become the rare type of person who is actually doing the thing.
The Greatest Common Denominator of Greatness
Goals fuel action, because goals give us purpose, and purpose is what inspires us, lights us up, and floats our boats. We can only become fully engaged in life when we feel that we are doing something that really matters. Only in purpose can we find the strength and march toward a better future. This is why the search for purpose and meaning is one of the most powerful and lasting themes in every culture since the dawn of time.
You’ll find it in Homer’s Odyssey, and it has inspired some of the greatest spiritual figures in history: Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, and countless other venerated saints and prophets. You’ll even find this search in modern culture, in movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which retells the story of Perceval’s search for the Holy Grail through the daring character of Indiana Jones, and the famous Star Wars trilogy, in which Luke Skywalker confronts his deepest fears by overcoming Darth Vader and the Empire. It’s no coincidence that these movies, telling the legendary tale of the search for significance and the struggle of good versus evil, are among the most successful of all time.
Goals are the milestones you create for your journey. They determine how far you will go, and how you will know when you’ve accomplished something worthwhile. They are vessels into which you pour your curiosity, imagination, passion, and sweat, and they fill you with drive, enthusiasm, and joy.
You Can Fight Resistance Now or Hate Yourself Later
Resistance is insidious and impersonal. It can’t be seen, but it’s swirling in you right now, and it can be felt. It will tell you anything to keep you from doing the work. It will lie, argue, bluster, seduce, and bully you to get its way. It will say anything to strike a deal, and then stab you in the back. It doesn’t care who you are or what you want to do. It has no conscience.
What kinds of things does Resistance hate most? Any creative artistic action. Any type of entrepreneurial venture. Any new diet or fitness regimen. Any method of spiritual advancement. Any type of education. Anything courageous. In short, Resistance hates anything that requires you to forgo immediate gratification in search of long-term growth or fulfillment.
Resistance dares you to meet it in pitched battle. When you do anything but the work, it sneers. It’s playing you like a marionette. When you do the work, though, it shrieks in horror. “Anything but the work!” it cries. It counterattacks by invading your mind and shouting catcalls. Television! Video games! Social media! ANYTHING BUT THE WORK!
Make no mistake. The fight against Resistance is a war to the death. It will tell you you’re too weak to win. Too stupid. Too lazy. But you’re not. Ironically, it depends on your obedience for its strength. It can only overpower you and win if you let it. Defiantly do the work instead, though, and Resistance withers. Every bit done strikes at it. Do enough work, and eventually its armor crumbles, its power fades, and all that’s left is a whispering ghost. Do even more work, and it even stops whispering.
So, You’re Having a Shitty Workout . . .
The hard things, the uncomfortable things, the complicated things, the unexciting things, the exhausting things. All the things that never get easier or even enjoyable but must be done regardless.
Building the body of your dreams isn’t hard in the same way other work is hard, though. You’re not slapping wolverines or wrestling porcupines. When you look at it that way, it’s actually pretty easy. But it’s also hard, and that’s okay. We shouldn’t discount what it takes and what it means. It takes resilience. It takes sacrifice. It takes the courage to stop caring so much about things that aren’t careworthy.
Remember this when you’re having a bad day in the gym, a harder-than-hell workout. Remember too that sometimes the hardest work moves the needle the most. Sometimes it’s on these days that you break through. You never know.
So don’t let that stop you. Just put your head down, and charge again into the breach. And remember that no obstacles in your journey are too towering or thorny unless you say they are. There’s nothing that can’t be overcome with enough perseverance.
Beware the “Self-Made” Myth
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he couldn’t have made it as a bodybuilder, actor, businessman, and politician without all the help he received from many people at every point in his journey. “You can call me Arnold. You can call me Schwarzenegger. You can call me the Austrian Oak. You can call me Schwarzy. You can call me Arnie. But don’t ever, ever call me the self-made man,” he said in his 2017 commencement address at the University of Houston. “The whole concept of the self-made man or woman is a myth.”
Arnold’s mother tutored him through school, his father taught him how to play sports and develop discipline, a lifeguard taught him how to do his first chin-up, coaches taught him weightlifting and powerlifting, fitness magnate Joe Weider brought him to America and gave him a place to live, men and women patiently gave him acting, voice, English, speech, and accent removal lessons, studio executives, producers, and directors found roles for him, teams of specialists worked tirelessly to make him look and sound great on the silver screen, and Jay Leno helped him announce his candidacy for the governorship on his late-night show.
“So, this is why it is important for all of us to recognize, and this is why I tell you, on every step of the way I had help,” Arnold said. “And the reason why I want you to understand that is because as soon as you understand that you are here because of a lot of help, then you also understand that now is time to help others. That’s what this is all about. You’ve got to help others.”
Use this insight to your advantage. Every aspiration of yours is going to require help from others, which means you will always have opportunities to give back. If you can find joy in that reciprocation and strive to give more than you take, you will become what Adam Grant refers to as a “giver,” and your chances of personal success and satisfaction will increase markedly.
An easy way to incorporate this into your daily routine is to recruit a friend or friends to work out with you. You will all benefit from this in several ways: You’ll be there to spot each and other and help improve each other’s technique. You’ll provide each other with accountability and external motivation. You’ll help each other stick to your diet and exercise programs better. You’ll help each other push harder in your workouts. You’ll help each other have more fun in your workouts.