The past couple of weeks have been ones of some big life realizations for me. The more I focus on figuring out my health, like my complete inside-out-and-around health, the more I tend to dive deeper and deeper into what it means to live a good life. And I’m sure the closer I get to becoming a father (4 months!) the more I think about this stuff as well!
A big “Aha” moment for me was when I was working through some issues I’ve seen with people in the gym so that I can better approach how I coach and cue them. I was thinking about what drives people, and then following that concept down as far as I could go because people are complex and it’s never just about one thing. What I came to was the idea that we are all driven by a need to overcome things, or achieve things, and then gain acceptance for those things. Simple really. Let me go into this a little further.
When we are very young we learn by both watching and being taught. Every time we do something we are told to do, we get some sort of positive reaction. That positive reaction confirms that we did something that must be good (because it feels good to make someone congratulate us or hug us) and we set to continue to do those things. As we grow and mature, the little things that we got approval for (like putting something away, or brushing your teeth, or finishing our food) become part of our lives and receiving praise for doing them stop. Our parents and teachers give us more challenges to overcome and we begin to seek out challenges on our own as well. And as we grow to adulthood, the same progressions take place. We are given challenges by our superiors and peers, and we create our own personal challenges, or, we SHOULD create our own.
And here in lies the complications of adulthood and the “good life”.
To be a happy person one must both constantly be overcoming new challenges, and do so purely for the process. What I mean by this is that as an adult, pursuing new challenges just to gain praise will leave you unsatisfied in the end because praise is fleeting and surface level. Sure, it will feel good in the moment, but that moment will pass quickly and you’ll be left desperately seeking out more and more praise and acceptance. The other part of this is the slow decline in pursuing challenges. I see this mostly in people who were not pushed as children and teenagers to overcome things. People who were sheltered growing up tend to avoid challenges on a more regular basis. This turns into complacency, and this in turn becomes pretty depressing. You ever meet someone who is always talking about things they did a long time ago? Or you ever meet someone who is constantly using typical every day stress as a reason to take some sort of “reward”? Yeah, those people tend to be pretty damn unhappy and it’s because they’ve avoided challenges for so long they have no idea how life changing and positive that process actually is. So then they turn to the need for only approval. And worse than the first type of person (the one who takes on challenges just for approval) these people demand approval for nothing. It’s sad.
Truly happy people take on challenges and create challenges because they know the process of overcoming them is where the growth and change happen. Yes the finish is great, and yes receiving praise is great, accept those with pride and enjoy every second of them. They are additional little kicks to keep you going. But the true reward for taking on challenges, the thing that allows you to grow as a human and continue to grow your whole life ultimately bringing you more and more happiness, is the challenge itself. It’s the struggle. It’s the working through things to figure it out, that’s where you learn and get to know more and more about yourself. Yeah, it sucks a lot of the time, because it’s HARD. You actually have to put in work, and there’s always the threat of failure. But growth will NEVER happen without it.
And in the end, whether you succeed or fail, you have tons of new information about yourself. Now you get to take all that new information and prepare yourself for another one. Because now you’ve taken a small step towards being a better person. And constant steps mean a healthier, happier, better life.
What’s one of the worst things in the world? This is going to be a smack in the face to a LOT of people, but sometimes the truth can be a bit “in your face”. It’s people who reward you and praise you even if you do not progress. Yup, if you come home from yet another “tough day” at work and plop yourself in front of the TV and your significant other/family member/friend says “here, have a beer/ice cream/slice of pizza/cupcake because you deserve it”. That’s a pretty crap significant other/family member/friend! If they tell you “hey, let’s go grab fast food and skip the gym because you seem tired from work and the typical stresses that LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WHOLE DAMN WORLD EXPERIENCES AS WELL. That’s a shitty person.
You don’t deserve praise and acceptance for doing the things you’ve done for years, the things you SHOULD be doing anyway. It’s like continuing to give an adult praise for putting their clothes away, or brushing their teeth, or finishing their meal. Yup, it’s treating an adult like a toddler, and that leads to depression and UN-health because adults and toddlers are very different people, and should NOT be treated the same way.
The challenge is not you going to a job you hate, or dealing with the children you chose to bring into this world. The challenge is eating healthy despite those stresses in life. It’s going to the gym despite feeling a little tired. It’s putting forth a goal to be a healthy person despite all those things around you trying to pull you into being a lazy, fat, depressed, loser of a person, and then pursuing it 100%, no excuses! That's the challenge. That’s where you get the true reward of being better, healthier, fitter, and happier, You get your praise and acceptance that means something too. Like I said, those genuine acknowledgments are little kicks that will help move you in the right direction. Being praised even when you do nothing that deserves praise does not move you in the right direction. It allows you to continue doing nothing and leads you further into a depressed, unhealthy state.
Do you work? Go to school? Have a family? Own, rent? Argue with co-workers/friends? Have bills? have any health issues, or personal issues?
Yeah, so do we all. You are not special in that sense, and expecting sympathy for being another human with typical human problems will do nothing but make you an even more depressed person. And believe me, there is ALWAYS someone with WAY worse problems than you who has chosen to not play the victim and overcome the challenges in their life.
Here’s what I’ll give you:
All the praise and acceptance you could ever want. A smile, a high five, a hug, a giddy excited jump for joy, and a serious look and word of deep acknowledgement.
I’ll give you all of that if you commit to CONSTANTLY pursuing new challenges to overcome DESPITE the universally shared shiftiness of the world. I'll also constantly offer up new challenges for you to pursue, I like doing that!
For some this means wiring down their food every day and making some small changes. For others it means going from completely sedentary to going for a walk every day. For others it’s consistently showing up to the gym, and others it’s choosing events to train and prepare for. You see, there’s no one thing that pushes everyone towards happiness. Just one concept. And that is to always be challenging yourself to something NEW. If it's a little scary, intimidating, something that gives you pause, good. You know you’re on the right track.
Don’t expect praise for showing up once. Don’t expect a high five for eating healthy a few times per week. You sure as hell won’t get any sympathy if you say you don't "have the time” to make healthy choices. And unfortunately enough people have done this over the years that I’ve moved from just not responding to putting you in your place.
Change your perspective. Decide you want to be healthy, fit, and happy. Its going to be a challenge every, single, day. And every step you make in that direction, the challenges will become harder. That’s the point! You’ll learn to love the process because the process is what makes you healthy, fit, and happy. You’ll get your praise and acceptance too. And you’ll know you earned every bit of it because it will be for something real, something you worked your ass off for. And that will make it that much easier to take on another challenge, and another, and another. And soon enough, you’ll be someone who seems out challenges, who welcomes the struggle because you’ve been able to change your mind and your perspective on how to be a happy person.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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