Photo Credit: Brent Stoller
A body at rest remains at rest. The imprints on my couch prove true Newton’s first law of motion. Sitting still isn’t just more comfortable, it’s safer. I want to engage, but too often I’m met with a wall of resistance, a “Danger Ahead” warning constructed by my neuroses to keep me out of harm’s way.
But this wall is doing more harm than good. It’s stifled me since high school, and while I’ve consistently chipped away, I’ve struggled to find foundational methods that can help me break through.
Which is frustrating, because recently I realized that one such method resides inside a ninth-grade physics lesson. Turns out there’s a second part to Newton’s first law:
A body in motion remains in motion.
I’ve always hated exercise. It’s doing something repeatedly until it hurts so much you have to stop. What other voluntary activity can be described like that?
Thankfully, because I was blessed with good genes and a better metabolism, I never had to work out. But that changed a few years ago, when a check-up revealed that my cholesterol level resembled a professional bowler’s scoring average. My salad days were over. Or, more accurately, they were transitioning in meaning.
In addition to shoring up my diet, I struck a begrudging accord with exercise, investing in several home DVD programs. If I had to endure such displeasure, I was going to do so with my La-Z-Boy within my field of vision.
While you won’t spot me in any infomercial “After” shots, there has been progress. I’m stronger and fitter, and my face has deflated like a helium-starved balloon.
But this progress hasn’t been restricted to emerging jawlines and de-virginized belt loops; it’s crossed over into my overall well-being. Fear, doubt, motivation, failure — these are concepts that’ve always kept me sedentary, yet here I am, in motion, wrestling with them through every move, every rep.
If I can confront these issues in this controlled environment, can I then conquer them in the real world?
Ask me at 5:26 a.m., four minutes before my alarm sounds, what the last thing I want to do is, and the answer is simple: Anything that’s not done beneath this comforter.
To start, or to abstain? This is the fork in the road. It’s a fork I’ve stood at countless times, especially in regards to writing. No matter how clear an idea is to me, it never gets easier to open my laptop, knowing that a blank screen awaits. What if I can’t do it?
Standing in the darkness, my gym shorts on but my shoes untied, these same insecurities surface. My body doesn’t feel like moving, and my pillow’s siren song makes a compelling case for getting back in bed.
But just as I force myself to do when it’s time to write, I swallow my nausea, crack my knuckles and shake out my neck and shoulders. Then I turn on my computer.
Structure is the procrastinator’s kryptonite. It sets boundaries and provides clarity, transforming a threatening space into something familiar. It closes off escape routes and makes the overwhelming feel manageable.
Structure is what I’ve gotten from my DVDs, programs that roadmap success on a glossy, fold-out calendar. Do this, and you’ll look and feel like this. That initial commitment requires nerve, but once you’re in it, you’re in it. The routines, the schedule, it becomes almost second nature. I do Plyometrics on Tuesday, because Tony Horton says so.
That sounds cultish, but there’s a freedom that comes with it. I don’t have to decide what to do and when to do it; instead, all energy is channeled toward showing up. No wiggle room equals no lazy-ass-itis. Keep up or get left behind.
Growing up, for everything I did, my parents’ message was the same: Do your best.
Sadly, I haven’t always upheld their directive. When tasked with something important, I tend to hedge my bet by holding something back. I do this not out of negligence but as protection from potential failure. If I never try my best, I never have to know if my best isn’t good enough.
It’s pathetic and it’s cowardly, and it’s on some level why I was drawn to my current workout program. Insanity Max:30, from the diabolical Shaun T, aims at shattering this mindset, demanding that you go as hard as you can for as long as you can; when you take your first unscheduled break, you write down how long you lasted. That’s your “max-out” time. The goal is to continually increase this time throughout the 60-day schedule.
Attaining this goal, however, is easier in principle than practice. The intensity, the speed, the single-arm burpee punches, it’s the hardest physical activity I’ve ever done.
And arguably, it’s even tougher mentally. Whether it’s exercise or everyday life, there’s always the temptation to pace yourself, partly because you want to complete the assigned task, but mainly because the burn can become unbearable.
That’s not an option in Max:30. From minute one, you have to sell out and let it all go and any other 110-percent cliche you can think of, and you have to keep doing so until you can’t go anymore.
In other words, you have to fail. Because in these failures is where you find success.
Growth, physical or emotional, isn’t achieved in the middle or all at once. It’s achieved incrementally and on the extremes, around the edges, where you’re forced to push against your outer limits, over and over, until you push through to a new reality.
It’s not even about the amount of pain or anxiety or embarrassment you’re feeling, it’s about your capacity for tolerating it. And increasing that capacity comes from enduring for one second longer than you think is possible.
A body at rest remains at rest. A body in motion remains in motion. In those moments, when your determination is dwindling and your spirit is aching, when you’re face to face with your absolute best, how do you want Sir Isaac Newton to describe you?
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