I’ve had this conversation a couple times over the past few days and I thought maybe it was time I had it with you. The gist of it is as follows:
The primary motivation for most people coming into the gym is — make me pretty. Both men and women approach exercise with the primary goal, spoken or unspoken, of making themselves more attractive. Young people want to be sexually viable and to attract a mate. Older people if they have mates, want to maintain what they have and, if they’ve lost one, want to maximize their chances of getting another one.
On the surface this doesn’t seem a problem. I mean, after all, who doesn’t want more sex? And it’s not just about sex, of course, we want all the perks that come with being more attractive. We’re social animals and social acceptance is a crucial component of our base programming.
The problem, as I see it, is that all of this motivation is extrinsic. It comes from the outside and is based on what others say you should look like or be. That means this motivation is fear based, in that we fear the repercussions if we don’t conform.
Certain segments within the industry actually thrive on this. They promote a sense of tribe and belonging, but only if you can achieve a base standard. Those who excel are celebrated for being above the rest, held aloft as examples to achieve. Anything less than a certain standard is marginalized and eventually run out of the group. What remains then is a false sense of success based on a practice of weeding out those who don’t make the cut. This is then touted as proof of the success of their programs when in reality all they’re really good at is attracting people with similar skill sets.
It’s easy to fall into. Our society as a whole tends to run on a similar style of programming. True achievement is rare not because it’s impossible but because we’re not set up to encourage it.
What’s necessary is a culture based on intrinsic value. Where motivation comes from an internal desire. “I want to do [whatever] because it has a value for me, not because it’s what I think other people will like me better for if I can do.” Where people are celebrated for who they are, not for what they can do.
Getting here, however, is not easy. On the individual level it requires a sturdy constitution, one capable of taking a hard look at itself. You have to look honestly at why you do the things you do. Sometimes the conclusions you come to are not pretty. You not only have to face that un-prettiness, but accept it so that you can then do something about it. Few of us are good at facing bad conclusions about ourselves, let alone accepting them as valid.
As a group, we need to recognize the intrinsic value of others. We all carry pieces of the Divine within us. Part of our work here is to reveal not only our own divinity, but that of of those we come in contact with as well.
Everyone has value, regardless of how many muscle ups they can do or how much weight they can clean and press. Excelling in one or more of these areas does not automatically make you a better person, either. While it is true that the gym holds many lessons in personal development, it is not a foregone conclusion that success with a barbell or on the mat equals having assimilated those lessons.
I encourage each and everyone of you to take some time. Ask yourself, “Why do I gym?” “What is it I’m really trying to achieve here?” You may discover that it really is nothing more than the acceptance of others you seek. In that case, maybe the next best question is, “Is this the best way for me to go about getting that?” Of course, you’re the only one who can answer that definitively, but at least you’ll have been honest with yourself. You’ll go in with your eyes open and your efforts will more likely match with your goals.
Anything less and you’re just fooling yourself.
To our perfect imperfection,