“Nothing like getting up at 5 a.m., running 10 miles and doing 200 push-ups, then taking a cold shower before breakfast.”
—“Wow – that’s quite a routine! How long you been doing it?”
“Well…I start tomorrow.”
This may be a slightly humorous joke (I got tons of ‘em). But the human tendency it highlights isn’t funny at all.
So many guys know they need to lose weight, improve cardio health, and/or battle the decline of strength and flexibility. They know all the reasons why and they know reasonably well what to do. But still…time passes. Periods of resolve (especially around New Year’s) are followed by longer periods of less discipline. The body-and-soul health gap grows larger. And the long-term game plan to address it recedes into the fuzzy future.
In truth, do you recognize yourself here? This was me circa 2004 by the way, so please don’t hear this question as criticism or judgment. I’m describing, at least, a sizable minority of 45+ guys. Maybe even a majority.
If you’re one of them, I respectfully believe you need a different kind of 2018 New Year’s resolution, man. Not just to “work out more” or “join a new gym.” These kinds of resolution are easy to make but so hard to keep over time. (So is “eat better,” but nutrition is its own major topic and here I’m sticking to the exercise component of fitness).
Here’s a resolution that may sound harder to start acting on, but which is much more likely to really matter in your life. “In 2018, I’m going to discover and attack the root cause – cognitive or emotional – of my persistent under-attention to fitness and health.”
POSSIBLE ROOT CAUSES
“Cognitive or emotional root causes.” I know, this may sound like psycho-babble. But here’s a list of concrete mind-and-heart causes I believe are often reflected by “symptoms” of not working out enough. You may see others I haven’t listed. If so, I’d love to hear about them!
Please read this, then take some quiet time to think about whether any of these resonate with you, and how they impact you. We’ll proceed to “what to do about it,” but let’s first identify the central issue(s) that’s holding you back.
1. You feel guilty or selfish taking time to exercise
This afflicts guys with otherwise-great character traits like sense-of-duty, loving their family, community involvement, and a strong work ethic. But as a by-product, these traits can cause you to self-victimize. Not only are you hurting yourself…over time you’re hurting people or institutions who depend on you. For more on this, see this article on guilt.
2. Your self-esteem or sense-of-worth has become depressed
In our world, there are so many possible causes of a subtle, creeping “I’m not worthy of self-care” belief.
Especially, media/social-media paint a narrow and often-unattainable caricature of what a man being “good enough” looks like.
If a loved one had this harmful belief, wouldn’t we (a) reject the premise…OF COURSE they’re worthy, and (b) energetically help them see past this and get onto a healthier road? But when this doubt exists in our own mind or heart, it can be very hard to see and act on.
3. You’re an “all-or-nothing” guy
The problem here is, with time and other pressures often making it impossible to be “all-in, all-the-time” on fitness, you may default to little or no activity at all.
Why might we act this way? The powerful, harmful emotions of pride and shame seem like part of it. Am I out-of-shape but too proud (or ashamed) to be seen at the gym, pool or road? Or forget the question of other people seeing me…am I just not up for dealing with the reality of my low current fitness level?
Also, especially for ambitious and quality-oriented people, it just doesn’t feel good to do something part-way (“half-assed” if you want). But in the fitness realm as in mathematics, half is infinitely more than zero.
4. The fitness gap seems just too big – it’s overwhelming
As a student back-when, did you ever tune out of a class, fall behind on reading, procrastinate papers to write…and then face a gargantuan mountain of work (and stress) clawing your way back? In that instance, there was an external judgment and short-term consequence – grades and possible class failure – that usually forced us to deal with it.
But with fitness, if you’ve gotten way “behind,” there’s no external judgment or pressure to catch up (until maybe a “scary” doctor’s visit, that is). So the path of least resistance is often to just stay, and fall further, behind.
5. You perpetually feel in short-term crisis mode
You may think, “If I can just get through the day, week, month, then _____.” But you wind up thinking that tomorrow, next week and next month, too. We tend to think of current circumstances as being unique and warranting exceptional behaviors. And then we have trouble declaring that period over and “normal” conditions in play.
True, sometimes you’re truly in “survival mode,” but even then, I believe you can and should have some emergency-baseline level of fitness and nutrition. More often, though, we’ve just let patterns develop in our life where crisis mode becomes the normal way-of-being. To our detriment.
6. You’ve suffered injuries or conditions that prevent your traditional fitness activities
What do you do if for years you’ve thought of yourself as “a runner,” and then you have a chronic injury that prevents running? Or if you’re a weightlifter or swimmer with a bad shoulder? Or almost any type of athlete with a bad back?
In a theme related to all-or-nothing, we might slip into a form of denial when this happens. We hesitate to “get on with it” and figure out what fitness activities, though less-preferred, we CAN do. And then, if we fall out of shape due to this hesitancy, the gap-too-big or all-or-nothing issues might also kick in, as described above.
*NOT* A ROOT CAUSE: “I’M TOO BUSY”
You may read the list above and think, “You #$%@$ idiot, it’s not any of those reasons. It’s just that I’m too busy!”
I didn’t overlook this, man. I chose to not include it, because I don’t really see it as a true root cause of inattention to fitness. CEO’s, U.S. Presidents and so many other prolific, high-impact people find the time to stay fit, so the great majority of us should be able to do so, too.
But I very much understand and respect the “I’m too busy” sensation we often feel, especially with younger kids in the house, which early-stage OlderBeasts may have. Respectfully, though, instead of declaring “just too busy,” I invite you to think about these questions:
- Can I really say I don’t have ~30 minutes of unproductive time, three-plus days per week? News media, social media and other modern digital distractions have so overtaken our lives, I think it’s a rare person that can’t view “digital time” as a pool of time to reduce in order to exercise more. This true for you?
- Honestly, what would happen if I worked three-to-five hours less per week? That’s all it would take to have at least a minimal exercise regime. Or to increase a minimal regime to something even more beneficial. The culture of late-night email, being plugged-in during weekends, and serving the Smartphone Master is pervasive, but people do successfully resist. Actually, a lot of the healthiest, most-successful and happiest people are resisters. Their work often improves, in fact, by creating a healthier physical platform for their mind and emotions to live in. (“A sound mind in a sound body” is ancient and powerful wisdom).
- Do I need to “renegotiate” expectations that colleagues or family have for how I spend my time, so I can carve out a survival level of physical exercise? This one isn’t easy, but in many cases it’s vital. If we’ve been in “selfless” or “workaholic” mode for long enough, other people may have come to expect and depend on what that pattern allows them to do (or not do). Powerfully recognizing and dealing with this can bring life-altering changes to your body-and-soul health.
HOW TO START DOING SOMETHING ABOUT ROOT CAUSES YOU’VE RECOGNIZED
This is already a long-ish article, and it would become really long if it tried to lay out a detailed plan for each of the root causes discussed here. Besides, we’re all unique and these were just high-level patterns I’ve described – not really any of our exact situations.
So what is there to say here about moving forward once you’ve recognized one or more root causes? Well, for starters, this very act of recognition is huge, man. Don’t underestimate it. Now, you can proceed on a few steps that are common across whatever type of root-cause issue you’re facing.
Take time to think more about what’s going on, and describe how it makes you feel, and specifically how it impacts you. You can write down your thoughts – that’s a good way to bring them forth and cement them more-clearly to be remembered. Or tell them to a friend, a family member, a coach or mentor.
It’s amazing how often long-powerful inhibiting feelings lose a lot of their power via the simple act of saying them out loud to someone else!
You can also now be watchful for the inner appearance of these thoughts and feelings, and nip in the bud the behavior they (until now) subconsciously created.
- I’m finding myself starting to justify all the reasons why I won’t work out this evening – I’m too busy, I just don’t feel like I have energy today (maybe I will tomorrow)…
- …Or I’m getting tempted into “distraction” behaviors that, deep down, I know will burn up time until suddenly it’s too late! (email, social media, the news).
- But NOW, when these things start to happen, I can self-observe and declare, “Wait! This is really me reflecting one of these root causes…and I’m determined to not be held hostage by that anymore.”
For a lot of these causes, once recognized, there are also useful things you can read. And specific workout types or environments you can seek out that are helpful. Become a “student” and search for these things, now that you’re empowered with some more self-knowledge.
When to start doing all this stuff? How about right now, man? Happy New Year.
“And I had so much time to sit and think about myself…then there she was.” (Marcy Playground, Sex and Candy — click to listen)