I’m not the type of coach who likes to pressure people or tell them they need to do anything. I feel like my job is to facilitate action in others by providing a positive example and showing them that there are other avenues to change.
There comes a time, though, when we all need to face some harsh realities.
Your life is your responsibility. Your successes are byproducts of your work. Your failures are your fault.
Not to sound like some grumpy old man but it sure seems like we are facing a historic lack of accountability in our culture today. We have more reasons, excuses, and roadblocks than ever to explain away our mediocrity at whatever it is we have chosen to pursue.
I don’t care if you are “successful” or not. Traditional markers of success don’t impress or inspire me as I believe that we all have our own parameters of success that we must define. My happiness is dictated by very different things than someone else.
In fact, a big issue that many of us have is that we base our idea of success and what is achievable on fantasy. The reality is that the most of the uber successful people in this country who seem like they never had to work for anything probably didn’t. Sure they put in some long hours or studied late in college but they never have known real struggle. They have never gone to school hungry or worried about going bankrupt if they or their kids get sick or had to decide whether to pay the heat or buy groceries. Most ‘entrepreneurs” borrowed their seed capital from their parents or trust. They aren’t you. Get over it.
Don’t let someone else’s Instagram story tell you how to be happy. Figure out what it is you want and go after it. If it’s a certain income; cool, earn it. If it’s a car or house; awesome, buy it. If it’s travel; shut the fuck up and buy a plane ticket.
Define your success and what it means for you. Once you have defined it, though, it is your responsibility to achieve it. It is no one else’s. It is yours alone.
Life is hard. When I hear people complain about their lack of progress in diet or training or career or relationships I am always willing to listen. I am deeply empathetic as I have seen more failure in my life than most. I have succeeded at many things as well, but not nearly as many as those pursuits in which I have come up short.
Am I a multimillionaire? Are my relationships with friends and family and my wife perfect? Am I the biggest, most ripped guy I know?
Of course not. But I live comfortably. I have an amazing marriage going on its 12th year. And at close to 40 years old I am the most athletically muscular and lean that I have ever been.
Progress is never linear. You will see great periods of growth followed by long bouts of stagnation. Sometimes you may even regress. I know I have. It’s how you react when things don’t go your way that determines where you end up.
I have felt sorry for myself, blamed my upbringing for my deficiencies in character, and at times retreated from life under the cover of drugs and alcohol. But when I really dug in and looked at my life I realized that everything that happened in my past was just that, past. Everything that happens from this point forward and how I deal with it is up to me. As the cliche goes, “past is prologue”.
Now, I’m not saying I have complete control over my life. In fact, I am of the belief that I have very little control over any aspect of my life (but that is a whole other article). What I do have control over is how I react to it.
If I choose to blame outside influence, whether it be politicians or my status in the world or how I was raised I have relinquished responsibility towards my own success or failure. I have relinquished accountability for my actions. I'm sorry to say, that is a fucking cop out.
I had an internet conversation with a colleague of mine, Kyle Dobbs. Kyle is a world class strength and conditioning coach who has worked with everyone from celebrities and elite athletes to stay at home moms. He has seen what drives the best in athletics and has seen what drives those who are just trying to eek out a couple more years with their kids between 70 hour work weeks and the hazards of a modern life. A point he made was that accountability has taken on a negative connotation amongst his clients (now mostly gen pop). That they look at it as relinquishing control to some other person or entity and that its a word that intimidates them. He suggested that we work towards “ownership” in their fitness, body composition, and mindset. My preference would be that people pick up a fucking dictionary and learn what the word accountability actually means but Kyle’s approach is probably a bit more nuanced. Maybe that’s what makes him so good at what he does. Sometimes, we need to meet people where they are.
Which leads to this:
Talk To Yourself
As stated earlier, the words we use matter. In our interactions with loved ones, in situations of coaching/ being coached, in professional environments, and most importantly how we talk to ourselves. Self talk can go quite a long way in developing your mindset. You can easily become defeated and complacent or feel unstoppable and driven by the words you speak to yourself.
The most visible examples of self talk influencing life is in elite athletes. Both positive self talk and visualization are tactics that athletes have used for millennia that have only begun to be studied in the last 50-60 years.
Michael Jordan would visualize the last shot of the game before it began. And just think how many times the ball came to him in those moments.
Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer in history (and homegrown Baltimore boy), would visualize everything from the stars to the faults to have a complete mental picture of his impending victories.
Muhammed Ali famously said, “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
Whether it's the genetic code of elite athletes or just years of training I don’t know, but there is a commonality in all great athletes; the best in the world use positive self talk to overpower the negative thoughts that fear and doubt can cast in the mind.
Fear Is A Bitch
Fear and doubt are common and tend to run especially rampant among those who pursue creative endeavors, whether it be artists or musicians or writers. The genesis of much of the creative spirit and drive to succeed is this feeling that you are never good enough and that you will someday be discovered as a fraud. I have fallen victim to this for years. As my success had grown in my previous careers the voice would get louder. While early on it was a driving force for improvement but it soon became a detriment. The competing voice that was telling me I was the best anywhere at what I did was slowly getting drowned out. Eventually, fear and doubt won.
So what can we learn from the greatest athletes in the world? What if we don’t want to sacrifice everything in our lives just to be a better basketball player? Visualization and positive self talk are just tools to better our daily lives. The way you speak to yourself matters.
I work with hundreds of clients every year to help them to realize their goals. While my expertise is in strength training and nutrition, we inevitably wade into deep waters in order to affect real change. I hear about the ins and outs of relationships, career challenges, social difficulties. I learn about people's innermost hopes, fears, aspirations and doubts. A commonality that many of them share is how they talk to themselves.
When people struggle, when they feel like the world is stacked against them, it is easy for them to blame others. But, more often than not, the ones I see who struggle the most blame themselves. This is where my thoughts on brutal accountability diverge. As I said before, I think there are many aspects of life that are beyond our control. While I encourage everyone to take responsibility for their actions, it is at that point the internal dialogue must end. Blame is a useless practice, either applied to others or on oneself. It causes resentment, anger, and does nothing to work towards a positive outcome.
When I work with someone who has severe self esteem issues, no diet guideline or workout on Earth is going to make a difference. Their adherence will not last, they will feel defeated by any little hiccup, and further spiral into self doubt and shame. In order to see success in the realm of fitness we must first find some commonality. We have to find a way to visualize success. This is where something as simple as positive self talk can help.
It sounds ridiculous. Cheesy. Like new age hippie bullshit. But it works.
It can be as simple as a note on your bathroom mirror telling you that you are proud of what you have achieved. It can be as small as giving yourself a gold star on the calendar for adherence to your diet or training program. It can be as crunchy as a spiritual mantra you repeat when doubt creeps in.
For me, moments of doubt rarely arise like they once did. I don’t really compete in sport, I work for myself, and any professional challenges I face in life are of my own making. I still get freaked out about random stuff now and again but I have a pretty healthy self image. When I do have those moments, those times I fell like a fraud and am about to be exposed for all of the world to see, I step back. I take a minute to review my past accomplishments. I remind myself of where I have been and what I have seen. I take note of the network I have and the respect I command. I have worked hard to get to where I am and I belong here.
I stop just short of Stuart Smalley-style Daily Affirmations into a full length mirror. But if that works for someone else I am all for it. Nothing is dumb if it helps you to shed just a little bit of fear. Fear is a bitch. Kill it.
So instead of beating yourself up for some tiny failure like having a few too many beers on Paddy’s or eating a piece of cake at the a birthday party when you were supposed to be dieting, look at what happened without judgement. Evaluate the moments leading up to your supposed failure, understand how they might be contributing factors, and avoid making the same mistakes twice. But for Christ’s sake let it go.
As I have grown older, my desire to be the best in the world at what I do is still present. My belief that I am among that group is also present. My need for balance and contentment, however, has become the tempering force that has replaced fear and doubt. I am no longer afraid of utter failure but I am also unwilling to sacrifice my happiness to feed my ego.
I may never be able to ‘gram pics of poppin bottles on private jets or have that sweet Lambo in the driveway but at least I can go to bed knowing that no matter how much money or influence I have I will never be that big of a douchebag. After all, I don’t even drink champagne.