Tell me if this sounds familiar. You want to go to the gym to reap all of the benefits: improved mood, energy levels, appearance, clothes fitting better, etc. But despite those benefits, you aren’t motivated to actually go. Aside from the fact that motivation isn’t reliable because it’s an emotion (hint: it’s more about discipline and habit), it’s possible that the idea of simply “working out” doesn’t intrinsically appeal to you. And that’s OK. Doing things you hate isn’t a great use of your precious time.
The Cave You Fear To Enter Holds The Treasure You Seek
I ask you to consider that the missing element may be that you are competitive in nature and that you may thrive (rather than just survive) when given something to work toward. If that’s you (you may not know it yet), with the proper mindset and goals that match your competitive nature, your inner fire that drives you can go from a small ember to a raging inferno. Rather than getting better at exercising for its own sake, you are now filled with purpose, a mission.
But you’ll NEVER know what that’s like, or what exactly it is that ignites your inner fire unless you try.
If you’ve never been competitive before, it’s scary. I get that, it was scary for me too. But it’s worth it. If you do find something that ignites your inner fire, it can be life changing.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” – Joseph Campbell
The Search For Fight Club
So what do you compete in? Nothing comes to mind? There are lots of options out there, many more than you’d think, and some I’m willing to bet you’ve never even heard of! So to find the “thing” that appeals to your competitive nature, you’ll need to find your “Fight Club”.
“Fight club became the reason to cut your hair short and trim your fingernails.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club.
When you find something that you enjoy competing in, it becomes the reason that you want to eat healthy, to get stronger, to improve your conditioning, your flexibility, etc. You don’t need to rely on some external motivator keeping you going because your mission has become clear, and you are now filled with purpose.
Instead, we can go from “I have to do this in order to achieve my goals” to “I WANT TO and I am GOING to do this to achieve my goals with every fiber of my being, and nothing is going to get in my way.”
If you can find your fight club, habits no longer have to be slowly coaxed. Instead, you may begin to actively and positively make better choices that align with what you hope to achieve in competition. Seeing a positive feedback loop like this created simply by your love of what you do is absolutely freeing.
“Tell him. Tell him, The liberator who destroyed my property has realigned my perceptions.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club.
Perception and Emotion
I mentioned earlier that motivation isn’t reliable because it’s an emotion, and for most emotions, we cannot control when or how strongly we feel them. There’s an exception to this though, and that’s the emotion of gratitude. I was first made aware of this concept when reading about how an Olympic athlete used gratitude to deal with their performance anxiety. Being grateful for the opportunity to compete, to improve your fitness, and health may change your perception. I say this as I’ve talked to many people who feel that they “have to” do certain things in order to reach their goals, and I, in turn, ask them to rephrase that to that they don’t have to, but they get to. This was one of the biggest takeaways that I learned from my friend Bryan Krahn when working with him on some physique changes last year.
Anyways, practicing gratitude is something I too am working on. I can say that gratitude has helped me in my competitive endeavors (and to deal with competition/performance-based anxiety). I am practicing gratitude by thinking about how fortunate I am to be in a position where I have the opportunity to improve myself (physically and mentally) and compete with others in a community, it’s allowed me to enjoy the entirety of the journey rather than just finding joy in the accomplishment of my goals.
If you wanted to read more about gratitude, check out these articles:
Anyways, so what are some “fight clubs” that you could compete in?
Some options that you may have heard of (or maybe not!) or previously considered are things like races (running, Tough Mudder), powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, bodybuilding, or even adult recreational sports like Disc Golf, softball, racquetball, etc.
Heck, look at the sports that are in the Olympic games, there are hundreds of options!
If you can think of some options that I haven’t mentioned, please reply (or email: firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll add yours to the list and give you credit!
As you may know, I tend to use myself as an example. So, below is my example.
None of those options appealed to me. At all. I started lifting weights when I began my weight loss journey in order to reduce the amount of loose skin that I might end up with, and I didn’t hate it like I did with cardio exercise. I eventually came to like the idea of getting stronger, but the idea of competing in powerlifting didn’t appeal to me. I tried out Highland Games, and while I enjoy wearing a kilt, I just never got into it despite liking the people and community. After that, I tried focusing my exercise on building muscle size and working out specifically for appearance/aesthetics. But I had no intention of wearing a thong and posing on stage. I even tried things like running (not for me, I literally felt like I had to pee the entire run), or things involving heights (ziplining, rock climbing) in order to conquer my related fears.
In all of those things that I tried, something was missing, some spark. I knew that I had serious gaps in my overall fitness like mobility, agility, and balance. I always used the “I don’t have time to fix those” excuse but it was never true, I simply never cared about those things enough because they didn’t technically impact my life enough to do anything about them.
The next thing that I tried was martial arts. My wife and kids were taking kung fu, so I gave it a shot. It was fun, a good workout, and it was my first moment of awareness at just how bad my mobility, agility, flexibility and balance were. In fact, I enjoyed it more than the other things I tried, I just didn’t love it yet. But, it was the closest I’ve come to that “spark”.
And in these cases, I’m defining love by something that I’m thinking about…all day long. You might call it obsession, or as a friend said “putting my addictive personality to good use”. Something that rekindles that internal fire of desire rather than feeling like I must do something to get some tangible reward or goal. Something that gives purpose to habits and behaviors around fitness beyond “Do X to get Y”. E.g., track calories and lift weights to look good naked. Nothing wrong with that at all, either!
And recently, my 36th birthday gift allowed me to find something that fits those criteria. A Facebook friend of mine shared some pictures of an event from early in September, and I had no idea what I was looking at. Then it hit me. These were pictures of people sword fighting and it wasn’t like Olympic fencing. This was sword fighting with a two handed sword and it looked like an actual martial art rather than a sport. Why didn’t I know this existed? And that there was a well known and respected school/club for it right here in Pittsburgh? My family signed me up for the beginners class as my birthday present. (I have a history of having my birthday presents be experiences rather than things, doing things like going cave exploring/spelunking, taking an airplane piloting lesson, etc).
Immediately, I connected on a deep fundamental level with both the people/community, and the martial art itself. And it’s changed my life in ways that hard to describe, except that the experience of holding a sword in my hand with the intent to use it is something that I will never forget.
I’m now viewing my fitness through an entirely new perspective. All of the things that I never had time for before now matter to me, and I make time for them. I’m willing to cut back on my TV, to go to bed earlier, all because I have a fire inside of me that is driving me forward toward my goals: to be the best sword fighting martial artist that I can be, and have a hell of a good time along the way.
The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what you end up competing in. If you find yourself bored with the idea of forever just getting better at exercise for no particular reason, I’d ask that you consider competing in something. And even if you discover that what you tried isn’t for you, you’ve at least learned something about yourself, and grown as an individual. Keep trying though, and you’ll eventually find your Fight Club and can break the first rule…and tell everyone about it!
If you are interested in sword fighting, and western martial arts (HEMA), please check out my sword fighting specific blog where I’ve explained exactly what HEMA is and how you can become a part of a truly amazing community!
Of course, if you have any questions related to that, I’d be MORE than happy to talk your ear off about it. Trust me, it was hard to not ramble on about it while writing this.
Lastly, If you need some help on figuring out what to do to reach your fitness goals, and be the best version of you, I’d love to work with you! Check out the coaching application here: Coaching Application. I hope to hear from you soon and thanks for reading!