Recently I have turned my attentions back to physical training. While I never really stopped training, I had lost focus for a number of months. This summer seemed a good time to step back, re-evaluate my efforts and then surge forward. In the process of all this I was forced to ponder the nature of change, of how it applies to my life in all is faucets. I have learned that any activity I engage in is interconnected. For instance when I have trouble craning ideas for a new novel or story it is usually because I lack in some physical aspect, am feeling physically poor or distracted. The mind and body cannot be superseded as I will discuss below. So whether your pursuits are physical, like climbing or mental like writing the next great novel I offer the general blueprint of the journey I stated in ernest six or so years ago.
Manifesto of Strength.
It began 5 years, 8 months, three days, 13 hours ago. But who’s counting? I am. I know the time. I wrote it down. I recall the place, my home, my living room in fact. The old, rapidly becoming ratty, red sofa under my ass. The Vermont Castings wood stove clicking faithfully, heating up. I had just loaded it full of a fresh load of dry, seasoned oak. Winter-yellowish late afternoon sunlight slanted through the large picture window. The silence (well as quite as it ever gets around here) of a house waiting for the rest of the family to come home, fill it’s space, turn this brick and lumber structure from house to home, surrounded me.
Tired, dirty and cold from a day at work, the habitual piece of my brain craved a beer, then another, then another. My stomach growled. My hands just began to regain that wonderful trait called feeling. All in all a typical post work winter day, an end, but also in retrospect a beginning
Voluntary change is funny. We resist it, yet crave it. We composite cliché and mysticism around it. The dumbest book I was ever wheedled into reading, Who Moved My Cheese ,centered around it and sold/was read by millions. No offense to Dr. Spencer Johnson, but if you have not learned the moral of his metaphorical tale by the end if first grade, your teachers failed you.
The humorous aspect of change for me is that no matter how we try, how we cajole what we demand of ourselves and our world, true change happens not when we will it, rather when we accept it, never before. The odd bit is we can’t force change, only set the circumstances for it to surface, dark and miasma-like from the depths of our subconscious and acceptance. The description light fluffy and halo like descendent from the heavens also works, which gives us further insight into the dichotomy and our disparate views of change.
Odder yet, the constant trying, the desire, the failed attempts are the process, stages we must progress through. Only through these do we come to the state of mind and body to accept change, internalize it, act or perhaps reject it thus, starting the process anew.
For me, the realization that change is not one static event, not a simple flip of a switch, but an ongoing process opened my eyes and mind. The opening of the curtain must happen before the show can begin, but it is just a part of the whole.
39 years old, I sat there. The past 3 months a wreck of failed attempts to begin a physical fitness plan, a regimen as I like to think of it. Attempts to force discipline on my diet, my activities, my schedule ended in a myriad of excuses and yes, guilt.
Now don’t misunderstand or read too much into my story. I cannot tell you an epic tale of going from hundreds of pounds over weight and near death to perfect health. You need to travel to other places for that. You see, I was not that bad off. Over weight by about 15-20 pounds, my body mass index a bit high, but all in all a reasonably healthy, active tree climber, retaining mobility better than average.
What spurned the desire for better health boiled down to the future. Where would I be in 10 years? How would I feel, What would I be doing? All these question afflicted me a bit, like a mid-life crisis case of mental Poison Ivy. The term midlife crisis perturbed me . To even think the term “mid-life” admitted to being half way to the end. At 39! Intellectually I knew it to be closer to the truth than further away. It seemed a surrender to say half way. Surrender is a term more perturbing to me than mid-life.
So I tried and failed, then tried again, and again, and again. . . My attempts to establish a protocol for physical training became like my drinking, habitual and never really getting me anywhere. This particular afternoon I simply stood up, sawdusty work clothes and all, walked into the kitchen, down the stairs to the basement, to a clear space on the hard concrete floor and began the only exercises I really knew, the push up, the sit up and the squat.
Process: Work for work’s sake
What was different? I did not prepare, I did not tell myself that this was IT. I did not engage in analysis to paralysis. I did not spend 10 minutes flipping through iTunes playlists, looking for the perfect music. I did not even fill a water bottle. I went down stairs, and started to move.
Unintentionally I did most of the key things I would discover are the best for mental and physical health, fitness and change. No, unintentionally is the wrong word. I did them subconsciously. That is the process of change. All the prior weeks, the backfired attempts, the analysis, the reading of articles, blogs, anything. Looking up exercises and plans and Guru’s with all the answers. The constant search for the Silver Bullet, the one thing, the apocalyptic moment of change led me to the point of complete confusion, yet total absorption. In this state my mind boiled it down, returned to what it knew and added only new information as necessary.
What new information was added? Just go. Just do. Start or not the choice was mine and simple. Anything was better than nothing.
So I started. I sucked. My form terrible, endurance bad, my strength esoteric and mostly illusory. I told my self to suck it up, to change slowly, to accept the poor and work to the good. The sounds of labored breath became my mantra and I fell into the rhythm. In time, my training sessions became a tonic, a form of meditation, sacred space and time for me personally.
To this day I prefer to train alone. I like to fall into the simultaneous mindlessness/mindfulness of shear physical activity. It clears my head, it clears my body. I have learned that mind and body are not/cannot be separated. What affects the one, must affect the other. Operate separately, yes. Independently, never
What Cannot Be Separated
Eventually about a year into this process, at the ripe age of 40+, introspection let me refine the cause for my desire for change. While my physical health remained decent, it would continue to degrade on the path I traveled pre 40 years of age. I think most of us accept this, the aging process. Unavoidably, the body ages, we degrade a bit day by day. The curse/blessing of mortality we all bare.
This is not to say we must suffer, that we cannot live full, active lives as we age. Quite the contrary, like the ancient Romans, I have come to believe that 40 years of age is a significant turning point in physical health as well as mental acuity. In our 40’s we can recognize more deeply our experiences for what they are and perhaps more importantly what they are not. We posses a lens of life experience to view them through. We can appreciate the value of health, physical and mental, because we have seen a lot of good, a lot of bad and get an honest glimpse of what may come. A snatch of future we can honestly feel in our bones.
Our friendships at this time of our lives are the best friendships we will ever have. They have either stood the test of time or we establish new ones under strict filters developed over our decades. This leads to strong support networks. Beliefs embedded, but not engrained.
No, I felt good physically. I knew I could do better sure, but what drove me was the mental side. A truly strong body means a strong mind. However, all the research I conducted, all the mainstream media put forth was fluffy stuff to be bigger, stronger, faster, but not better by my definition. I needed to sort through and discover my goals and the path to take. I did this by trying and failing, again and again and again. . .
Te lessons I learned can be applied to all aspects of our lives. They apply to mental and physical pursuits. By no means do I have al the answers, but I see the path I need to see. I share this with you.
So now, 5 years, 8 months, three days, 13 hours later (well 14.3 hours ago, I write slow) where am I? The following is my Manifesto of Strength. I am not a doctor, medical or psychological. I offer no advice on the what or how. I give you only the map of my journey, of how I choose to progress and the ideas discovered along the way. The only credit I can take is the amassing of these ideas at this time and this place. The ideas themselves are others’ to many to name and mostly forgotten. The organization of them mine and mine alone. As always take what you can use, leave the rest.
It is the capacity to act mentally and physically as you desire. It is the resiliency to recover from set back and tribulation. The tendency to advance continually, to gain slowly, but with purpose, that which you do not already possess. The act of meaningful growth.
Put constraints on your actions. You cannot do it all nor should you try. One thing done well and consistently is better than 10 things done half-assed. Avoid confusion, inspire creativity and execute concisely by choosing small to accomplish large
Not all things work for you. Try many things. Read and attempt wide, then when something peaks your interest read and try deep. Delve into it and run it to it’s end of your curiosity, then move on. Through this process, take what you can use, leave the rest.
Well for the fist 6 weeks or so. Then you’re going to have to change; again. The human body and mind is excellent at assimilation and adaptation. Use this to your advantage. Work in 6 week cycles, whether macro or micro you decide. Remember I said 6 weeks OR SO. Figure it out for yourself. Establish humble, measurable goals Go into anything with out a target and you will miss it every time! Can’t hit what is not there.
Write it down, in any format. If you only ever read through it 50 years from now then it will be worth it, trust me. I hate journaling. I know this, won’t do it. However, putting results, goals in a reviewable format is a must and tolerable. Again figure it out for yourself, but develop a system, change it, make it work, keep it simple like me if you are not fond of the process
How you train physically, mentally and eating habit wise should reflect how you live (or want to live) your life. In the Army, our physical Training (PT) was always mission specific. I like to model that. Never once in all my years have I ever been pinned under a heavy weight that I needed to lift straight up up the center of my chest over and over again. Hence, the reason you will rarely see me bench pressing anything!
Prepare to fail
Never fail, never progress. I could go on. Accept failure for what it is, a chance to evaluate. Celebrate successes with abandon.
Make your circles smaller
Master the basics then instead of adding new and different practices or techniques, refine and master the basics. There is a wealth of effort in every simple exercise, mental puzzle or any task worth doing. The best programs nest the mastered basics together.
There is no silver bullet save work and consistent effort. Anything worth achieving will take time, effort and include set backs. Do not fear the plateau, look to it as a challenge, a time to reflect, then a signal to push harder, in new directions.
Simple does not equal easy
Get only as complex as you need and not one bit more with your plans. Just because something is simple does not mean it is easy. Making a training, eating or any plan plan overly complex is a way of stalling! It also set you up for complications and more excuses down the line. Another old Army maxim: Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. If you think I am telling you to poo-poo planning, STOP, go back, reread.
Muscles do not know repetitions
Muscles know only time. Stop counting and work with a timer. Maintain perfect form. If you cannot, then stop. If you do not know how learn. Do anything correctly or don’t do it at all. Your brain also does not know when the project is over, only when it is done creating. Having trouble getting things done? Stop counting tasks and set time limits for valuable action.
Compare yourself to yourself
Forget the magazines, the blogs, all the input that tells you where or what you should be. Accomplish your goals in your time. The inner light is the strongest.
Old questions, old answers
When your questions are old, look to the old sources. New age self help texts either repeat what the masters said centuries or epochs ago or are worthless. When it comes to age old struggles, age old answers are the best.
Choose your teachers wisely
When picking role models, teachers, sources to glean info from choose from sources that are like you or how you would like to be. The caveat is be reasonable and filter your goals with humility and reality. The old adage that those who can do, do. Those who cannot teach sometimes holds true. The way to protect yourself and your valuable time and effort? Choose teachers who walk the walk, say what they mean and mean what they say. words are fine, actions often the proof.
There you have it. I could go on, but only to amuse myself! I have a rather comprehensive personal list of books and resources on the subject discussed above. Let me know if I can be of any help.