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Gratuitous Exercise

“Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day.” – William James

“All weakness is a weakness of will.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

There’s no getting around it, I’ve been getting weaker – lacking the willpower to get on the erg or pick up the weights. This correlates exactly with work getting busier: more responsibility, more follow-up, and more sitting in front of a computer. That, friends, is no way to live a long and vibrant life. The science supports us: we must move to have a healthy mind and body.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m hiking and snowshoeing and generally trying to be active on the edges of the day. But you know when you’re working hard and when you’re hardly working. A walk in the woods does the mind and body good, but you’ve got to supplement it with threshold-testing workouts. Through focused effort and honoring commitments to ourselves through exercise.

I’ve been here before, of course. Burpees were kicking my ass until I started having serious shoulder pain. Rowing on an erg kicked my ass so much in college and CRASH-B’s that I have PTSD and have a hard time doing anything but steady-state on the thing. So what do you do when your worst enemy is yourself? You simplify and establish lifetime habits that brush aside the resistance with routine. It simply must be so.

And so I’m returning to a workout program that doesn’t require spotters and doesn’t tolerate excuses. I’m returning to the kettle bell and dynamic stretching, and rowing on the erg to round out the challenge. You can take a kettle bell with you when you travel, you can break away from your computer for a simple workout that kicks your ass in minutes. And you can eliminate the excuse of time: Those optimistic long steady-state workouts written on the calendar that fall aside in the crush of work days. Habits build on themselves over time. Simply showing up starts the ball rolling.

“No matter how strong you are, there will always be someone stronger than you. Using only a number as the litmus test of whether you are strong or not is self-defeating. You will get older. You will not be able to continue to set personal all-time bests forever. But you can continue to get stronger mentally. You can adjust to whatever the environment is and challenge yourself to push past wherever you are at the moment, in any way you can, and feel good knowing you just made yourself a better man or woman.” – Pavel Tsatsouline, Kettlebell Simple & Sinister

Fitness is the ultimate objective, of course, but the why is to get stronger mentally. To build up your brain and push through excuses. To thrive on the faculty of effort and make yourself a better person. And this translates into everything else you do. If you’re making excuses on something as essential as your fitness, what else are you making excuses about? Mastery doesn’t happen overnight. But it begins with showing up and doing the work.

“To master your mind is to master your life. There is no more worthwhile pursuit.” – Sir John Hargrave, Mind Hacking

Gratuitous exercise implies frivolous or unnecessary. But there’s another definition for gratuitous, and that’s doing something free of charge. To exercise free from the burden of feeling like you have to do something and instead to exercise simply because it’s a part of who you are. Something you want to do. To simply do for the love of where it takes you.

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