I’m not a “fitness” guy, but I exercise regularly at a bouldering gym. It was the first form of exercise I took a strong liking to, and it’s been nearly two years since I started.
The first time I climbed, I learned two big lessons:
- Don’t overdo it.
- If you overdo it, wash the Tiger Balm off your hands before you use the bathroom.
I’ll admit, I’ve overdone it since then, but I’ve never forgotten to wash off Tiger Balm again. That’s not an experience you’re keen to relive.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are the most popular trend in fitness right now, and that highlights a larger fundamental problem with how we value things. It’s a symptom of “hustle culture.” I don’t want to disparage HIIT workouts — they can be effective if done right — but everyone seems to obsess over the intensity of it.
We crave intensity. French philosopher Tristan Garcia calls it “the ethos of our age.” We must do intensely everything we do: sex, drugs, sports, travel. It doesn’t matter what it is, so long as we’re doing it to the fullest in the most intense way we can.
Garcia continues, “Any strong intensity, up to and including suffering, is better than a mediocre truth, a mediocre beauty, or a mediocre life.” But normalcy, averageness, and mediocrity aren’t things to be fearful of — to be afraid of these things would be to be afraid of ourselves. Most of us are average, and that’s perfectly fine. We’ve seen the cost of fame time and time again.
In our desperation to be more than average, a lot of us are overdoing it. Worse, because of how hard we’re pushing ourselves, we’re forgetting to wash off the Tiger Balm.
What Happens When You Push Yourself Too Hard?
“Burnout” is one of the hot-button words we’re all throwing around nowadays: How to Avoid Burnout, You Might be Experiencing Burnout, My Dad Was a Total Burnout and Now I’m Afraid I’m Following in his Footsteps.
Okay, that last one might be more of a personal problem.
Regardless, there’s a good reason we’re spending so much time talking about it: Over three-fourths of workers say they’ve experienced workplace burnout. It isn’t just that work is stressful, it’s that our cultural obsession with productivity has created a system that shames workers who take time to prioritize themselves over their work. More than that, society no longer functions by the rise of the sun and moon — our world is a constant, 24/7 feed of information, from social media to the news cycle to entertainment bingeing.
We aren’t giving ourselves enough time to recharge.
It’s the same thing that happens to us at the gym. Whether it’s weight-lifting or rock climbing, we need to understand the importance of pacing ourselves.
I could go non-stop at the bouldering gym — not taking breaks between climbs, climbing above my level, and ignoring the pain shooting through my body — and feel like I had a good workout only to find myself unable to function the next day because my body is too sore.
Suddenly, one good workout has become several days of nothing.
Our brains need just as much recovery time, training, and care as our bodies, if not more. It’s easy for me, as a writer, to say, “I’m going to get up at seven, write for five hours, eat lunch, and then work until eight o'clock to build my following and be successful.” And sure, maybe I’d pull it off for a day or two or, if I’m lucky, three, but the following days I’ll likely be too tired to focus or get anything important done, especially if I’m stressing myself out in order to meet deadlines.
Intensity is not a long-term strategy for success.
Show Up Every Day and Do It
It would be great if we could wake up every day well-rested with sunlight shining through our blinds, stretch our arms overhead, and feel perfectly motivated to do something.
But that’s simply not going to happen every day.
You’re going to wake up with a sore back, a hangover, a cold, a headache. It’s going to be raining, snowing, or just gray. You might feel depressed or lackadaisical. You still have to do the things you have to do.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.” — Stephen King
Motivation is a great way to inspire change, but to actually make the change happen you need discipline.
Self-discipline is what we use to form habits, and forming the right habits lets us make long-lasting changes in our lives. They don’t have to be anything crazy, either. Some of the most effective habits require the smallest change. These are things like:
- Staying hydrated
- Getting up earlier
- Making your bed each morning
- Taking a daily walk
The important thing is to convert motivation into discipline and then discipline into habits. Small things, compounded over time and performed consistently, yield big results.
It’s nice to think that one intense workout could make you lose twenty pounds or that you could write an entire novel in 24 hours if you don’t sleep, eat, or use the bathroom at all. If one burst of intensity could fix all of your problems, that would be dope.
But that’s not what’s going to happen. That mindset is how you burn out and make yourself miserable. It’s how you remain stuck.
If you want to change your life — whatever your version of changing your life is — start small. Incorporate small, simple changes and do them every day until you don’t have to think about them anymore. Let them become automatic. Do them so often that you don’t feel complete without doing them.
That’s how you change your life.
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