Mantra Monday: Mind Over Everything

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If you didn’t read last week’s inaugural Brandonia-Fit post, then you may be unaware that we’re doing this thing. If that be the case, then here’s the skinny, dippers: I’m doing a lot of working out these days and my Instagram feed is filled with gym-related posts. I’m not a fitness expert, and these posts won’t help you achieve perfect form for your chin-ups. What these posts are for is inspiration to keep going. They’re going to be here each Monday to remind you that you need to be active this week.

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Why “Manta?” Why not “Motivation?”

I mentioned last week that one of the best things I learned from being a member of the NerdFitness Rebellion, and from reading Steve Kamb’s book, Level Up Your Life, is a mantra that goes like this: “F&%# motivation. Cultivate discipline.” Before I moved back to Spokane, I had that posted on my refrigerator. Like I wrote last week, motivation will fail you. And when it does, it’s all too easy to just keep slowing down. These posts are billed as inspiration, not motivation. Think of them of “Gumption Builders,” in a way.

Robert M. Pirsig, in one of my all-time favorite books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has some things to say about gumption that underscore the problem of relying on motivation, and highlight the importance of cultivating a mindset of discipline. First, let’s look at what his idea of gumption is. He said, “A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.” You can see, then why it’s tempting to view it as synonymous with motivation, but I think gumption leans a little more toward the discipline end of the spectrum.

Gumption… Motivation… What’s the Difference?

Pirsig’s definition of gumption implies an internal drive, that could be described as motivation, but it’s a particular kind of motivation. It’s intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation. And really, that intrinsic motivation is at the heart of all discipline. It’s the voice inside that says, I will do this, even when I don’t want to, because I know that if I do, I’ll get better.” It’s what keeps a kid in the park shooting free-throws until 3am.

The way most people think of the word motivation brings up connotations of extrinsic rewards. Anyone whose ever watched The Biggest Loser or similar shows knows sayings like these all to well: “I’m doing this for my [wife, cousin, brother, nephew, dog, etc] They’re my inspiration!” I especially love the ones with the expectant parents who want to lose 150lbs because they want to walk their daughter down the aisle. What if your daughter doesn’t want to go down the aisle? Or what if she ends up becoming estranged from you later on? Or what if you just have a fight with her on workout day? Are you going to skip because your motivation went away?

No, it’s the same thing with people who try to quit smoking for a loved one. I did that one a few times. Guess what happened? As soon as that loved-one and I parted ways, the first thing I did was go buy a pack of smokes. I finally got the gumption to quit for myself nearly two and a half years ago. My significant other smokes, and if we split up tomorrow (God forbid), I would not touch a pack of Camels. It’s also why I never tell her to quit. She’s got to decide to do it on her own.

That’s the difference between extrinsic motivation (doing it for someone else, or because you might get some external reward for it), and intrinsic motivation (gumption – both the desire and drive to do it for your own self edification). Pirsig sums it up much better than I ever could, “If you’re going to repair a motorcycle [or your body], an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool. If you haven’t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won’t do you any good.”

But I don’t have the… But it’s so far… But I’m too… I just don’t have…

Shut up. None of whatever it is you were about to say matters. You’re either in this, or your not. You either want to make changes to your fitness, or you don’t. That’s the only part of this that’s all-or-nothing. Everything else is incremental and can be adjusted to work with whatever your situation is. So shut up. Put down the excuses, because I’m going to show you right now why they’re all bullshit.

  • But I just don’t have the (money)…
    • Me either. But you know what? When I lived in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t have gone to a gym no matter what, I still found ways to workout at home. There are a TON of workout videos on YouTube for you to follow along with, and if that doesn’t do it for you, here are some at-home exercises anyone can do that require $0 worth of purchased equipment or gym time:
    • Push ups. Modify if you have to.
    • Dips.
    • Squats. No weight required, but you can grab anything heavy that you have lying around to make these even more difficult.
    • Lunges. Same rules as squats. Add heavy things to make more difficult.
    • Planks. Front, and both side. I can do a minute each. Come at me.
    • Farmer’s Walk. This works your core and can be done with a bag of heavy books, or even rocks.
    • Step exercises. You can find myriad variations on these online. All you need is a step. Just one. Somewhere. Surely you can find one.
  • But I just don’t have the (time)…
    • Wrong. We all have the same amount of time per day, and I’d be willing to bet you spend a lot more of it doing wasteful things than you think. Take a look at how much time you spend playing games on your phone, surfing social media sites, or even watching TV at night. It only takes 25 minutes of quality cardio three times a week to make a difference. Think about it, that’s one less TV show three nights a week, or maybe do that half-hour of surfing Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and the others while you’re on a treadmill. You’re not skipping workouts because you don’t have time. You’re skipping them because they aren’t a priority for you.
  • It’s so far away…
    • See excuse #1. Don’t wanna drive to the gym? Fine. Work out at home.
  • But I’m too (fat)
    • Shut up. Yep. Working out is going to be more difficult for you… at first. Those extra pounds are just like adding extra weight to the barbell, or turning the intensity up to eleven. Wear a heart-rate monitor and only do exercises that get you into your target heart-rate for weight loss. Once the pounds come off, the movement will get easier. I promise.
  • But I’m too (old)
    • Shut up. Septuagenarians are doing American Ninja Warrior for cryin’ out loud. I’m nearly 41 and I’m in the best shape of my life. I see people older than me all the time at the gym. You’re not fooling anyone. Get moving. It’ll make the rest of your years a lot better.
  • I just don’t have…
    • You just don’t have a desire to change. You’re not ready yet. Come back when you are.

Make the Decision.

You have to decide to do this for you. You can’t do it because you want to save a marriage, or because you think it’ll make someone else happy. If you rely on that kind of extrinsic motivation, you’ll fail in the long term, because other people will fail you. Constantly.

On the other hand, if you cultivate that gumption, that discipline, then you can do anything. The verb, there, cultivate, is very important, too, because it implies growth. If you want to see the most perfect explanation of a growth mindset I’ve ever seen, check out this video. We’re all born with different sets of gifts, but even Eric Clapton couldn’t play Layla as a four-year old. We have to develop and nurture and grow those gifts, just like little bonsai trees.

Small Changes Can Have Big Impacts

Sometimes growth requires pruning, so it may mean you make a decision to drink one less espresso or beer per week. Sometimes growth means adding fertilization, so it may mean you decide to take the stairs every day, or park a little farther away from every building you go to. It all starts with a mindset of growth, though. A mindset that says, “I’m not there yet,” no matter where you are, and follows it up with “but I’m working on it.” If you can cultivate that mindset, you can accomplish the impossible*.

*Unless you try to fly by jumping off of things. Then you will fall every time. Don’t jump off of high things trying to fly. Use some common sense, for god’s sake, and talk to your doctor before you start working out so that you can get some real advice on how to proceed. I can only try to persuade you to get off your ass and get moving. You have to decide for yourself what that looks like.