Site icon Jacob Robinson

Fitness, Suffering, Self

For years I tried to get myself motivated to exercise regularly and intensively, only to fail every time. It was only until recently that this changed. My solution, like most of the things on this blog, was roundabout – but just like the others, it’s worth discussing.

Let me start off by describing to you my troubles. Exercise and diet were always the hardest positive habits to keep in mind for me. They seemed, in a way, like suffering. Making yourself feel worse now to feel better later. Well, I certainly didn’t have the time for that! 

Eventually, during the big “incremental growth” personal revolution in 2019, I tried to cut a lot of habits I wanted to work on into smaller, more reasonably-sized chunks. Diet and exercise were naturally the number one targets on my crosshairs.

This is where things got complicated.

For dieting, the 1% task is easy. Just don’t buy junk food or go out to eat, and in a few weeks you’ll forget that food existed. But for fitness, I soon found out there was no shortcuts. Sure, I could just do a few pushups until I got tired, or try out some equipment at the gym, and as long as I did it consistently I was following the 1% guidelines. But fitness demands much more out of you, and I soon found out that – improvements from diet aside – I wasn’t really getting any stronger or fitter. 

You see, fitness demands intensity. Intensity, by definition, conflicts with the 1% philosophy, whose whole purpose is making things as simple and quick as possible. Not a whole lot conflicts with the 1% philosophy, but here I found myself matched with one of those rare exceptions.

So I couldn’t just make fitness easy, I needed to make intense fitness easy. This didn’t require a life hack – this required an entirely different mindset.

Fortunately this mindset change came to me in the form of a set of experiences sometime in 2021. The first was an interview (or a blog post, not sure on the exact form) with Jocko Willink, who alongside David Goggins is quickly becoming the messiah of fitness. I remember he gave something similar to this analogy:

“[The reason you work out is] somewhere, there’s a guy out there with a grenade in one hand and an AK in the other. Every day, he gets up at 5 am, and trains. He trains, and his only goal is to kill you. How do you react to that?”

To be fair, the literal interpretation of this probably works far better for an ex-Navy Seal than the average person sitting on their ass. However, we’ve learned from The Book of Job and Life as War that there is still some truth to be found in this statement. The metaphorical “man with a hand grenade” is a lost job, or a death in the family, or some other equivalent. If you’re not prepared for that – mentally or physically – then you’re much worse off.

This is what brings us to the title of this post. Fitness, in general, is an activity of suffering. It is you suffering for a given amount of time in exchange for some gains to your health. Usually that suffering isn’t worth it – but if you reframe that suffering as controlled training for suffering in the future, something changes. The suffering is no longer empty, but rather preparation for some far off event. Defense against the hand grenade.

Some people do just fine treating fitness as a way to get healthy. But if you have trouble with this, try thinking about it in a new mindset. See it as preparation – not just for your body, but for your mind as well. 

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