A simple cure to your first world health problems

Other 23 Dec 2013

People who are in really good shape for long periods baffle me a bit. I’ve never been athletic and always gravitated more toward books than balls. They shouldn’t really though. I’ve been training a martial art that has me at the gym and working out upwards of three times a week for the past four years. Still, the idea of loving exercise and eating right feels alien and distant most of the time. It’s beyond ironic, considering that I’ve even spent a good period of my life compulsively working out three hours a day, happily limiting my food intake in pursuit of a smaller, healthier body.  Looking back, I’ve lived the last 10 years with a fitness life pocked by swings of success and failure, and I’m only just starting to genuinely understand what’s been going on.

Health, at least as much as you can contribute to it, I think is pretty simple. Eat better, move more. If you have proper access to resources, there are a million solutions to get people to those two goals (goals I believe should stay non-specific, but that’s a topic for another day)…they’re inescapable–lists of “super foods” and quick exercise routines that can be done before bed or on the subway or while brushing your teeth…“easy diets” and punishing workout DVDs. I don’t like them though. I can do them in bursts, but I don’t know if I will ever care very deeply or very long about looking physically perfect, and they are not reflexive for me or inherent in my culture. They both require a lot of “want” and my want is busy elsewhere learning languages and studying business and food.

Recently I’ve been going through a period where that “want” has been extra sparse. Sure, I’d like to lose the 40lbs I’ve promised myself to, but do I really have that nagging, driving desire that will get me up an hour earlier to workout? Nope. I’ve had it before, I know what it looks like, and I know it’s not there. Lazy you say? Possibly—but I think it’s something different.  I know I have pretty strong will power. It’s why I was able to push through those first six grueling months training Brazilian jiu jitsu. I promised myself I’d keep showing up at the front door of that academy, gym bag in hand, no matter how hard the last class was…even if it was only once a week. It’s why I’m able to make an entire wedding cake without taking one taste of icing or batter. Lately though, I’ve been feeling like I have almost no will to drag myself into the gym to train…and it makes sense. A lot of my drive lately has been depleted by my (unstable and stressful) job. I had the same issue about two years back, in the form of grieving the death of a family member. I felt lazy at the time, and I kinda do now, but it’s nice to know that science has my back and now recognizes will power as a resource that can be depleted.

I can look at those “set backs” as temporary, but there’s always something…always some crisis or distraction to suck your drive and will. One of the rails on the tracks of life is always crooked. I realized yesterday though, running laps at a seminar, hearing a friend pushing me past the burning in my chest, that there’s an alternative to will power…something that’s available to everyone that will kick in even when you’ve got close to zero drive left. Most diet and exercise plans completely gloss over this very simple answer, because it’s hard to replicate.

It’s community.

Real community. Community is what had me drinking a cucumber, kale, parsley, apple and ginger smoothie (surprisingly spicy) after training instead of getting an Italian sub (which I love). Community is the reason I drag myself on Saturday mornings to an agility class that makes me want to scream curses at the sun for coming up that day. Peer pressure, friends, support, culture, it’s honestly a mixture of all of those. That community is the reason I know that, even though I’m not where I want to be right now, far from it actually, I could be MUCH worse if I were walking this line alone.

I’m biased toward my personal community. It’s awesome and diverse and close-knit and real and I’m proud of it. I think Brazilian jiu jitsu has more to offer the world of physical awareness and health than any martial art or diet before it…yes, even more than cross fit. Once you’re in it, you’re changed forever, but it’s hard. That first six months I talked about? The biggest test of will I’ve ever experienced. (I started it immediately after completing an MBA and I promise, jumping into that line of running men was harder.) I think though, that most people can do it. I especially think you can do it if you’re reading this. So I’d like to talk to you…a one on one conversation if you’d like—email or Skype…or you can just read more about “BJJ” as we call it and poke around the site. I’d love to talk with you though, even if you never decide to set foot on a mat and end up finding a community of your own. Thanks for reading!




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