“I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work,—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know.”
Marlow—Heart of Darkness
I’ve heard it argued many times that the reason for the UK’s fitness failures is some combination of ignorance and inaccessibility. Sounds plausible: If people don’t know what they should be eating or how much they should be exercising, how can we expect them to stay healthy? So we go about increasing awareness and try to infuse our culture with fitness. The topic makes a home on the talk show circuit and carves out a daily niche on the local news. The marketplace explodes with informational videos, online tutorials, and $5 per month gym memberships. The number of gyms in America rises to an all-time high. Additionally, restaurants are required by law to disclose the nutritional content of their food. All the pieces are falling into place. Yet all reliable statistics indicate that we are more sickly, more injured, and more overweight than we’ve ever been. I’ll say it again: with more resources and more knowledge than ever before, we are the least healthy we’ve ever been. This unequivocally tells me that information and accessibility are not the issue.
So, how is it possible that with so many tools at our disposal we still find a way to fail so miserably? The easy answer is that we just don’t care. I’ll admit, the simplicity of this is tempting. But there has always been a section of society that could give two shits, and I don’t believe that those apathetic few are the only thing contributing to a problem this big. I believe that for the larger “caring” subsection, the issue is something closer to mental crowding. We live in a world more immediate and barraging than any our ancestors had to navigate. We have more resources, authorities, and research than they ever did. I believe that as the flow of information has grown, so too has our inability to process it. Where they went days or weeks between news cycles, giving them ample time to think and formulate opinions, we are refreshed within minutes. How do we form coherent thoughts on fitness when Google pulls up 100,000 returns to our search? How do we digest the value of health and wellness while scrolling through infomercial after infomercial on premium cable? The answer is, we don’t. We observe, briefly acknowledge, and change the channel.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t cut it. Whether the subject is politics, religion, family, or fitness, skimming the headlines will never be enough to make an informed decision. You have to dig deeper, discover facts from multiple sources, then take your time digesting that information. This is the critical element. Rarely is your first thought your finest—in fact, it’s usually somebody else’s. Yet the overwhelming trend in our society is to make up our minds quicker and quicker. In our effort to be decisive and efficient (read: laziness) we bypass the reflective stage of problem solving and cut straight to the chase. Every diet book is a bible, every fat busting tool is a magic bean. We buy them without understanding their cause or purpose and hope they’ll solve our problems. Looking at health through the eyes of its advertisers, we’re no longer fitness practitioners—we’re fitness consumers. And as long as we see fitness as something that must be done “to us” rather than “for us,” we will never internalize the message.
The solution to this problem is threefold.
First, we need to appreciate the gravity of what we’re facing:
-We live in a world of highly processed, if not completely contaminated food sources. Choosing to ignore this fact increases our risk of practically every disease known to man.
-Our typical daily routine demands hours of sitting, a position that directly opposes the healthy, pain free evolution of our species. Choosing to ignore this fact increases our risk of practically every injury known to man.
-If you ask the average person on the street what it means to be fit, they’ll point to a picture of Kate Moss. Choosing to ignore this fact might actually save your life.
Needless to say, the deck is stacked against you.
Second, we have to examine our limitations carefully, locate their origins, and go find tools that can push us past them. This requires research, patience, and the permission to make mistakes. No blanket diagnosis fits everyone, so stop repeating affirmations and tracks of Tony Robbins. Fixing a postural distortion will take years, so don’t get discouraged when you can’t fix it with 2 weeks of Mobility WODs. Your fitness journey will last the rest of your life—you have to accept that there are no shortcuts.
Finally, we have to deafen our ears to the musings of our friends. Their reasons are not your reasons, their problems are not your problems. We have to discover for ourselves how and why fitness will benefit our lives, take the time to seek out the best method of achieving it, then take ownership of the process of doing so. Emerson wrote that we “must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” As it pertains to fitness, this means training for your own reasons, not somebody else’s. Take what others say and do, learn from it, and continue on.
Underpinning all of this is solitude. If we don’t give ourselves the space to ask real questions, we will never be capable of finding real answers. Comfort food, alcohol, Facebook, and YouTube are all just elaborate distractions. You won’t find yourself there. As humans, we need isolation to sift through the vocal chorus in our heads and determine which voice is ours. And that doesn’t mean going off on a cliff somewhere and staring into the sunset (although that is a totally awesome way to do it). It can be as simple as a workout alone in your garage or a ten minute session on the yoga mat. Whatever it takes to quiet your mind and focus your energy to a single point. Like Marlow said, no man likes work, but what’s in the work has real and lasting value. Spend some time determining what that is.