In my last post, I went over some of the most common excuses for why people find it difficult to obtain optimal levels of mental and physical health and performance. Let’s debunk these excuses one by one:
1. I don’t have the time or knowledge
This one is simple: you don’t need more time. If you can’t fit 30-45 minutes of physical activity into your schedule 3-5 times per week, then you’ve got serious time management problems. I have a cure for that, too… as you’ll see, time management problems are really commitment problems. And a lack of commitment comes from not being clear on your why, which is a mental training problem. Fix the why, train the mind, and all else falls into place.
2. I don’t have the money
You also don’t need money to get in shape. In 2018, I did 130,000 burpees and got in crazy shape. It didn’t cost me a dime, just some mental focus. To train like that, you simply need more discipline, which is backed by that “why.” Don’t worry about the externalities, like looking as good as Arnold or being able to compete in the CrossFit Games. Those are weak, comparison-based motivators that won’t serve your mind over the long term. Also, you don’t need to turn your garage into a pricey Gold’s Gym or aerial yoga studio. You don’t even need to sacrifice a nice dinner out on the weekends to afford a gym membership, because you don’t actually need one. Most of the best exercise and movement practices don’t require expensive memberships or complicated equipment. My philosophy is that wherever you go, so goes your gym. Your best tools are your body and a floor, or better yet, the great outdoors. There are also thousands of programs and virtual coaches online if training in the cozy comfort of the indoors is your thing.
3. My kids consume my life
I admit that being a parent can definitely suck a lot of your time and energy. I’m a parent, and I can tell you it is a lot more fun if you can run, do yoga, and play outdoors with your kids. I added my son to my workout routine and got pretty adept at doing pushups with him on my back. He benefited immensely by observing me taking care of myself, as well as from my presence and playfulness. This is a huge win in the parenting department that will pay big dividends in later years. If you have absolutely no way of separating yourself from your kids (or from someone else in your care), then include them on the journey. Your loved one can also help keep you accountable to your workouts.
4. I’m not able to stick to diets or train consistently
Just because you’ve tried 12 diet plans in the last 5 years, it doesn’t mean the next program you try will fail. The problem might be that you’re expecting the change to come from something outside yourself. Again, what is your “why”?
Also, negative self-talk and negative body image will inhibit success every time. And this kind of self-inflicted mental and emotional abuse fosters inactivity, isolation, and depletes energy. The research is clear that the physiological and mental benefits of exercise and healthy nutrition are a big factor in accelerating recovery from emotional and psychological imbalances. So there are simply no adverse side effects to healthy living, no matter how off track you may be right now.
The evil twin of negative self-talk is fear. Fear of failure and fear of discomfort are the main culprits in exercise program adherence. In an effort to appear perfect to others, we hold ourselves to impossible standards, and then quit when we realize we’ve set the bar too high. The problem is that we care too much about how others perceive us, thus we target the unobtainable to try to impress them. To succeed at attaining optimal health and performance, you must stop worrying about others. Start by focusing on developing your “why” and setting realistic goals. Perfectionism is a serious problem that I, too, suffered from as a young adult. I had to learn to stop living in fantasyland and living for others. My “why” became to master myself to become a Navy SEAL, and with that “North Star,” I established appropriate goals to move toward it. I was challenged and motivated because it was a worthy goal.
Day by day, in every way, stronger and better, hooyah-he!
5. I’m too burned out from my job to focus on bettering myself
Task saturation is another big challenge. Our culture has trained us that it’s good to overcommit. Just look at your own life for proof of this. It pains me to see overcommitted parents torturing their kids to build (or buy!) the perfect resume for college applications. Perfectionism and keeping up with expectations of others can only lead to anxiety and disappointment. Hyper-arousal is the fancy name for burnout, and most of the country is hyper-aroused. This is a fast track to failure, and I recommend you make a brutally honest assessment of your commitments (and stress level). Then begin to de-clutter your life and start to de-stress with a practice like box breathing. Take a hard look at where you’ve over-committed. Learn to simplify your life to only take on what’s REALLY important and urgent. You’ll find that much of what you’ve committed to is to impress someone else, or to fulfill an expected cultural role (such as being on the dreaded HOA board). But those are stories that aren’t helping you to be uncommon, so you can deconstruct them. Overcommitting is almost always done because you haven’t learned to say “no.” This inability to say “no” stems from a fear of letting someone down, or not living up to a flawed image of what you are supposed to look like to others. Trust me, those “others” don’t really care what you’re doing – and if they do, then they need therapy.
6. I always get injured, or I get bored when things get repetitive
Starting a new fitness regimen at a sprint is another sure way to fail. “Crawl, walk, and then run” is the training mantra in the SEAL Teams. Over-training and racing toward an imagined future are recipes for disaster. If you haven’t worked out in 3 years, and suddenly you’re cranking out SEALFIT workouts 5 days a week, then stand by for injuries or burnout. It sounds obvious, but I see this mistake all the time because folks want to see results fast. Be patient and learn to crawl before you run! Another problem I see is that one must “get in better shape” in order to start a serious functional fitness program, such as CrossFit or SEALFIT. The fastest path to success is to just start training (ideally with a coach), and then don’t quit.
Once the newness wears off, exercise is mind numbingly boring… right? Well, no, it doesn’t have to be. I rarely do the same workout more than once. Constant variety and playfulness are the keys. But if your interest is an endurance sport like swimming or cross-country, then it can be boring until you develop the mental fortitude to quickly get into a flow state. Then you start to really enjoy the time spent in those formerly mind-numbing workouts.
I was a competitive swimmer and can tell you that staring at the bottom of a pool for hours was a bit dull, but the mental strength I gained proved to be invaluable. My view now is that mono-structural exercise regimens, such as running or biking, are best as companions to a good functional fitness regimen. But if you love to compete and have trained your mind to enjoy the type of slog required for triathlons and ultra-endurance races, then this doesn’t apply.
Training oneself to enjoy hard physical work is a long-term outcome of becoming uncommon. I don’t recommend starting with a 50-mile race like my nephew Dylan, now a Navy SEAL, did. That would be skipping right to the “run” phase of crawl, walk and run. If an exercise is boring, you can try “stacked training,” which is a fancy term that means to learn something while you exercise. Listen to the latest episode of The Mark Divine Show while you work out, or check out any of the other great podcasts or audiobooks available these days. Stacked training can lead to deeper learning and more enjoyable training time if done with mindfulness. Make sure you take time to recover both the body and the brain after these sessions. This is important for healing the body and integrating the information for deeper learning.
My main point of debunking these excuses is this: to achieve uncommon health and fitness, you simply need to get started, keep it simple, and stick with it. All excuses stem from an untrained mind. The results will come with adherence to a plan and a lot of patience. Getting the body and brain fit is the foundation for all further growth. This baseline of optimal health should be non-negotiable… no excuses.