Why do we need to be epic and amazing at everything? Why can’t we just enjoy and explore movement?
Seriously though – we have a problem with amazing. I want to speak about this through the lens of my chosen field of study/practice – active play. You don’t know what that is? Well, some crazy people call it “exercise”, because we are supposed to hate it so it’s more effective…or something. I’m also a psychology professor and neuroscientist by trade, so as you can imagine I am quite interested in what drives behavior.
Listen, you may agree or disagree with this article. What I care about most is that you really, truly consider what I am about to say. Give it some thought. Look at your life, at our lives, and tell me if you “see it”.
Almost daily someone shares with me a video that’s gone viral of someone doing spectacular, truly spectacular things with their bodies. “See this is what we need” they often say. I always look at the videos and I always get super stoked, because I love movement. “That’s amazing” my brain says. I also see tons of pictures come across my social media timeline of this person or that person’s abs. I say “wow, nice abs”.
Then I pause. See, the thought is that this will get people off the couch. This is what will get people moving. Watching this video of someone doing backflips while rotating a hula-hoop around their left nostril will make most people grab a hula-hoop. The guy who flips over cars, shoots lasers out of his butt, kisses a kitten and sticks to a wall will inspire someone to take up Parkour. And to be fair, that happens sometimes. This stuff does really inspire some people. But is that the norm? Do these spectacular images and videos really inspire most people?
“But it has 5 million hits! People are into it!” Except that they aren’t “into it”. These things have been floating around You Tube and social media for years. Have we moved the needle on physical activity levels? Because what is happening is this: With a very few exceptions, people who already move well, and love moving are the only ones who are being inspired to move by these videos. Those 5 million views are mostly voyeuristic. People click, like and share, but they are still sitting. Some fad blows up, and thousands or even millions talk about it. Then we still have millions sitting and not moving.
Movement is one thing that for so many has been transferred to surrogate voyeurism. Movement is something those other, amazing people do.
If you are amazing and your video of spider man back flips has 5 million hits, please continue to be fully amazing. For real, I don’t knock your hustle.
The problem is that there is a disconnection between what we do every day, most of us – and the “epic”, the amazing. Most of us aren’t going to be amazing at every single thing we do. What if you are an amazing parent, and teacher, and family member? Why do we need to be epic and amazing at everything? Why can’t we just enjoy and explore movement? This may lead to you becoming amazing, or just to you living a nice life and being pretty good at moving. Sometimes, the ego can be a major barrier to joy.
Thirty of you right now are saying “But…but…but I was inspired by this one video and I do Parkour now and we are inspired and I have abs and back flip skillz.” I acknowledge that, as a person who used to seek (and accomplish) the amazing with his body. But I want to talk about how to get most people just moving consistently, and wanting to. Ask yourself – do most people spend more time these days watching other people move or moving themselves?
When these viral videos float around, I fully appreciate the artistry but don’t see a solution to our ills. I see, unfortunately and weirdly, a continuation and a perpetuation of them. I see people becoming more and more separated from moving in our environments, and more and more obsessed with the movements of others. Maybe I’m wrong or crazy. As an official human, I am allowed to be both of those things.
I just can’t help but wonder what would happen if we could get videos of everyday people playing outside and loving it to go viral? What would happen then? Or, what if we showed people actually progressing in their movement ability over time? What if we got people playing in neighborhoods again? What if we made our lives about moving? You see, people don’t end up moving en masse sustainably just from what they see on a screen. We sustain it because of what is going on around us.
You want more evidence? Athletic performance has gotten more and more spectacular over the years, yet people have become less and less active. Think there might be a relationship there? No I am not saying that because athletes are getting more amazing they are by extension causing inactivity. I am saying our increased focus on “them” has meant that we have stopped moving “us”. So they continue to progress, and we continue to decline. My point is that there should be no “us” and “them”. There should simply be an “us” and maybe also a faster, bigger, stronger “us”.
Let me stress: If our airways and fiber optic lines were full of viral videos of insane acrobats, people brutalizing each other, extreme drama, and our families/communities were not eroding before our eyes – I would have no problem at all. None. Zero. But that isn’t the case. The everyday fabric of joyful, communal, active life is ebbing away, being obscured by a façade of “you could be this but you aren’t so just watch this”. It is not gone yet. And I see some signs of resurgence. But this fabric is something that we must protect.
What should we do about it? Seek out good things that you can learn and then do. Start there. Do you want to move? Play. Go out and move some kind of way. Create a new movement out of the blue. Climb on something. Climb over something. Duck under something. Throw something. Catch something. Lift something. Film it. Let’s create a hashtag called #justplay.
That’s all we really need to do. Please continue to appreciate amazingness. It deserves our appreciation. But let’s also revel in our own joyful movement, whether it is epic or not. Let’s provide for and celebrate our daily, unspectacular happiness. Go get a neighbor (an actual, physical neighbor) and play a game. Do it right now.
This could be soooo amazing…
Photo: Vinoth Chandar/Flickr