I am addicted. Not to vodka or Hold ‘em or Walter White’s blue stuff. I am addicted to nothing—doing nothing, thinking nothing, feeling nothing.
Peter Gibbons of “Office Space” preached the virtues of this mindset, but he did so out of laziness. My outlook stems from the recesses of my amygdala, a place racked with fear, anxiety and inadequacy. The thought process is simple: Doing something—anything—carries with it a potentially negative outcome, be it failure, embarrassment or some other result I’ve yet to irrationally dream up. So when given the chance, I abstain. Avoiding the task guarantees the avoidance of fallout.
Here would be a good place to address the “Why would anyone admit this in a public forum” elephant before us. I know this makes me look bad. But worrying about what others think is, in part, what drove me to this way of thinking, so maybe doing the opposite will get me out of it. Also, my life is not as miserable or pathetic as the previous paragraphs would indicate. I have a beautiful wife, a key to my own house and a good job at which I do a good job. Everything is…fine.
I’d just prefer more than fine, and conquering this is key to attaining that. People who have achieved have no problem admitting to struggles that preceded their success, no matter how dark or deep, because, at that point, most view those people through the prism of accomplishment. I’m inverting the process. I’m confessing to my issues now, with the hope that triumph will follow.
Until recently, I’d never thought of my affinity for nothing as an addiction. I always told myself that I was easygoing and low-maintenance, that I was content with just a couch and a cable connection. And while that was true, it also was a rationalization.
A few weeks ago, the voice in my head began urging me to be productive in my free time, to do something creative. The words made logical sense, but their message was waylaid by an internal force that rendered me motionless. I couldn’t move. As I stared at the TV, I knew I was doing what I shouldn’t be doing, yet I couldn’t stop—or, in this case, start. It’s what I imagine gamblers experience when they can’t walk away from the blackjack table. It felt so wrong and so right, all at the same time.
This self-imposed stagnation is unfortunately too common. It doesn’t prevent me from meeting my responsibilities, but often, it thwarts me from reaching beyond. That is, except when it comes to one unlikely activity: Exercise.
My entire life, I never had to work out. I was blessed with good genes and a better metabolism, which allowed me to eat with impunity. The bathroom mirror reflected sparing motivation to get to the gym.
Still, I knew this wouldn’t always be the case. I knew one day my doctor would tell me my triglycerides were out of whack, or I’d have to go up a size in jeans, and my weekly Chick-Fil-A runs would be relegated to memory.
That day came a few years ago. The salad days never last forever—or more accurately, they take on a whole new meaning. In addition to de-carbing my diet, I also decided to get serious about exercise. The timing was perfect because every other break on every sports talk show I listened to featured a commercial for P90X, the diabolical home workout program from guru Tony Horton. With three easy payments, the DVDs were mine. The stars had aligned.
There was just one issue: I hate working out. I always have. Exercise, by its nature, is designed to be unpleasant. You do this or that until it hurts so much you have to stop. Who wants to do that? Is there another voluntary activity that can be described that way?
I had to submit, though because this wasn’t as much about the present as it was the future. It was about doing what’s necessary for the long term. I’m 37, and if my wife and I are lucky enough to have children, I’m going to be an older father. Casual observation tells me that parenting is like running an Ironman while sleep-deprived and covered in vomit, so that’s going to require some conditioning. I also just watched the final years of my grandfather’s life derailed by dementia, and if exercise can maybe, possibly slow that by even a second, any amount of burn is worth it.
It’s been anything but delightful, but I’ve been keeping my date six days a week with Tony Horton. Ask me at 5:27 a.m. what the last thing is I want to do three minutes from now when my alarm goes off, and the short answer is: anything that exists on the other side of these bed covers. The longer answer addresses more specific activities, including anything that increases heart rate or jacks up my squat count.
But once the blood starts moving, and my shirt becomes shaded with sweat, I’m able to tap into my energy reserve. Don’t be confused, misery still rules the day. But there’s also satisfaction. Physically, it arises from an increased rep count. Emotionally, though, it comes from knowing that I’m doing something. I’m pushing forward. And chances are I’m pushing a little harder and further than I was the day before. Progress.
And that begs the question(s): How did I achieve that? What worked? What allowed me to take something with which I struggled and turn it into a strength? Most importantly, are there lessons here that can be applied to the larger context of my life?
I believe there are. After all, at their core, aren’t the processes of attaining physical and emotional growth identical? Both feel impossible at the start. Both are rife with failure. Both necessitate grit, requiring you to push yourself and put yourself—metaphorically, literally and sometimes both—into unnatural positions. Both demand consistency, patience, and perseverance. And both take time.
When I look at my exercise success, I see a few critical ingredients at play. First, there’s motivation. That motivation was outlined above, but over time, it was fed by results. I became addicted to them, but in a good way. I was getting stronger, and I wanted to keep getting stronger.
The only way to do that was to be disciplined, and that’s the second thing. Tim Riggins once said you’ll never regret a training session once it’s over. He’s right. If I skip a workout, my body might feel more rested, but it also feels weaker. Not to mention that the voice in my head won’t stop berating me until I can rectify my laziness. Regret now outweighs respite.
Lastly, there’s structure. Tony Horton (and now, as I work my way through Insanity, Shaun T, who’s even more sadistic) has laid out specifically what to do and how to do it; all I have to do is hit “Play.” The importance of this cannot be overstated, because not only does it inspire consistency and accountability, it outlines a map to success. As long as I show up and try, I’ll get to where I want to go.
It’s not like that in the real world. We understand that these abstract concepts pay off, but how to apply each of them and what to apply them toward is more muddied. There is no universal goal, and there are no 90-day cycles to complete. There’s just life, open-ended and open for interpretation. The path is different for everyone.
Lord knows mine has zigzagged. But the one other time I affected wholesale changes, the same principles—motivation, discipline, structure—were present. In 2013, I quit my job to caddie at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. It was a continent away from my family and my comfort zone, but it was something I was drawn to, something that I felt compelled to pursue.
Determined to maximize the experience, I instituted just one goal: Do something productive every day. That could be caddying, writing or working on my golf game. This approach cut against my grain, but it was the only way to chip away at my inferior habits. Slowly, I developed new ones. Beyond my countless loops on some of America’s greatest courses, I wrote more and practiced more and grew more than I ever have, all in one high season.
Helping matters was the fact that I lived alone in a rented basement, with a low-flow shower and taxidermy as the primary décor. I had internet, but my cable channel lineup was limited. This was frustrating, but in hindsight, it’s obvious it saved me from the influence of one of my real-world staples: syndicated episodes of my favorite show, “Seinfeld”—the ultimate tribute to nothing.
Photo: Flickr/ Ed Yourdon