10 Habits of Highly Effective Fitness Freaks

Freedom Scares You – Because it means responsibilityJello Biafra


We often busy ourselves with so much erroneous shuffling-about that we forget about the true responsibility of self. ‘Freedom’ is a very large banner being waved right now, but it starts from within. Instead of a giant blanket between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ let’s focus on the individual, and the freedom we sometimes need for and from ourselves. Socio-political ideals be damned, let’s talk about fitness.

What happens in the gym isn’t our concern right now. Let’s assume there’s PLENTY of information about the training itself, but what happens between workouts? You eat well and get some rest, right? What separates gym success from gym redundancy has as much to do with the rituals we perform away from the gym as in the squat cage, spin class or weightroom. The gym, although an important part of the fitness lifestyle, should not be the sole totem of that fitness lifestyle. We should take the gym wherever we go but not like the proverbial albatross around our necks.

The inner Hulk that we channel for the toil and sweat within gym walls can come with us when we return to our ‘normal’ lives and help conquer the obstacles that block progress in any area of life.

Rituals are focused actions and thoughts designed for obtaining a desired outcome of actualization, transcendence, or improvement of some sort. Spiritual, yes, but not as a separation of mind and body. In fact, the two need each other for optimum performance. Some would say that Ritual is the difference between ‘being’ and ‘just existing.’ Unfortunately, it’s much easier to act busy than to truly Be, because that’s real responsibility (which, as we discussed, scares us).

In Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, prophet/poet Bokonon calls beliefs and actions that suck up a great deal of our energy, but actually accomplish nothing, as Granfalloons. Granfalloons content us because they satisfy our need to seem really busy, but for all the work we look like we’re doing, they’re tasks or thoughts that actually require little effort. False rituals.

As Bokonon invites us to sing with him:
”If you wish to study a granfalloon,
just remove the skin of a toy balloon.”

That’s the difference of Obligatory Fitness and adopting a Fitness Lifestyle. By striving for a fitness lifestyle, we accept a greater appreciation, and responsibility, for increasing the quality of life. We’re not real busy trying to skin a balloon.

Getting to the gym is an overwhelming task for many. On the other hand, missing a workout is enough reason for many to drop a guilt bomb on themselves.

Perhaps beating up on yourself isn’t the best idea. It may be time to review why the rest of your day isn’t providing the increase in the quality of life that your workout does. The missed-workout-worry means that the gym has become an obligation, not a ritual.

Rumi wrote:
“Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground”

What we DO, not what we can’t do, or what workouts we miss. There are hundreds of ways to incorporate ritual into our lives, and if we’re obsessed with only one, say going to the gym as our only expression of fitness, then it lacks ritual and has become a burden. Fitness as an obligation never works. Rumi’s quatran could be written for the fitness fanatic as “there are hundreds of ways to appreciate the movement and function of the body.”

Ten Habits Outside the Gym

The repeated mantra among websites, magazines and gym science is:

  • Train Hard
  • Rest Hard
  • Eat Well

So this gym stuff is supposed to be good for me, huh? Like a magic drug, all this sweating and moving will eliminate a lifetime of image woes and internal scripts, right? Exercise is a celebration and appreciation of movement, not a dreaded but required key to happiness. Exercise is the love of the body, the intended purpose of the body, not an obligation to it. How we fuel our bodies is also an appreciation for it’s abilities, not just a reward for the taste buds, or worse yet, an emotional outburst of guilty pleasures. So…

One: Eat Like You Mean It

Two: Questions as below:

  • Can your health/performance/workouts benefit from increasing the quality of your eating habits?
  • Are you willing to take the steps necessary to eat better?

Working on nutrition is an obvious way to prove to your body that you’re serious, but the lack of proper nutrition and body fueling is also the most obvious symptom of a weaker mental game. Diet has become a bad word, thanks to infomercial overload and snake-oil propaganda, but the real reason we fear it is because it means two things that scare the swoosh off our Nikes: Organization and Will Power. It’s that scary responsibility again.

Most folks are pretty well versed in the basics: junk food=bad, veggies=good, don’t forget the protein. But how we apply our information is the oft forgotten step. The main website I write for, Dolfzine.com, and many others like it, have a bounty of information regarding what our machines require for optimum performance, fat loss or other aspects of increased fitness (just read Rosemary Vernon’s excellent series on nutrition).

The next step would be to believe in the importance of cultivating a productive eating lifestyle, and then apply the changes necessary. These changes, any Ritual of Change, should not be like defeating a frightening Habit Ogre in one mighty blow. Once again organization is the key to success. Every journey starts with a single step. Bronwyn Schweigerdt speaks of change in her book, The UnDiet.

Everyone who has ever attempted to change bad habits knows that “baby steps” are essential. Little by little, those incremental changes add up, and the goal is finally reached. In contrast, going “cold turkey” is not only traumatic and painful, but often downright impossible. Common knowledge, right? Wrong. At least that is when we’re talking about eating. Although we’ve made progress in changing many harmful behaviors, when it comes to diet, Americans are still in “cold turkey” mode.

The initial vigor, and subsequent failure, of the cold truly route substantiates the common granfalloon of “at least I tried.” How easy is it to duck a lifetime of responsibility by “at least trying” in such a way as to be doomed from the start? Two dangerous outcomes from the “at least I tried,” full-throttle attempts are

  1. The (often inevitable) failure also affirms (and in a twisted way, comforts) a self-esteem already plagued with doubt and unhealthy internal dialogue.
  2. The failure becomes unconsciously accepted, expected and anticipated as another excuse to give up future attempts, or worse yet, gives license to continue the bad behavior as a comfort for the failure.

Now ask yourself those two questions above. If #2 meant slow, easy steps that only required a little patience, organization and responsibility rather than a doom-ladened jump into the fire, would it be a bit more appealing?

Two: Rest and Reconnect

Another subject that seems ubiquitous in training articles and books is the dire need for proper restoration. While the muscles, tendons, joints and central nervous system enjoy a well deserved break, our brains need this time to learn to relax again. Allow yourself to enjoy your body in a state of rest as much as you hopefully enjoy the art of movement and challenge. Living life between workouts with the metaphorical stick you-know-where does not constitute rest. Anger, aggression, spite or any sort of emotional venom is the antithesis to rest. The gym can be a fine place to release these demons, but use the exorcism wisely. Leave the gym a calmer person. Resting often implies sleep. Excellent. Sleep perchance to dream. This isn’t a vindication for a late night in front of a TV, though. Rest refers to quality, and many studies have been done on the discontentment that TV can create in someone.

One tool that an athlete taught me many years ago was to take the process of visualization out of the gym and delve into the mind during times of rest. He meditated on the muscles and tissues themselves. He ‘saw’ the muscles busy with repair and growth, becoming stronger. He pictured himself within the muscles, watching the process happen. He knew the importance of giving them time to repair and he enjoyed becoming an actual observer of the process. This technique works like a charm when combined with the good ol’ classic relaxation technique of massage. Nothing like quality tissue manipulation the let go of stress.

Three: Be Active

Active? What about that whole ‘relaxation’ thing? That was by no means an invitation to avoid the rest of your life. Nor does relaxation have to mean a complete lack of motion, movement, thought or action. Since fitness is a perpetual celebration and appreciation of movement, continue the parade when away from the gym by dancing, hiking, playing music, even writing. Do you always feel in a rush? That’s not relaxing, is it? Organize your time wisely to not only feel relaxed but to include stairs instead of elevators, walking a couple blocks instead of parking as close as you can, maybe even eschewing the car entirely for a nice skate or ride to work. Later in the day, walk to the park, write a couple paragraphs, and then walk home.

Why do we keep talking about writing? Writing is fitness for the brain. Writing can have the intensity of the workout and the accomplishment of completion similar to the last rep of your last set. The cathartic properties are similar with the brutal challenges of exercise and the outcome of the increase of the quality of life can be the same.

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, wrote:

“Push yourself beyond when you think you are done with what you have to say. Go a little further. Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of the beginning, probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.”

Sounds like an intense workout, doesn’t it? This same approach applied to exercise can yield amazing results. In a previous article titled Routine vs. Ritual, I wrote:

“Fitness, then, is beyond physical. When our bodies, which house the ethereal essentials as well as the solid vitals, transcend the menial task of just holding everything together, in other words, when your body is fully alive, only then does the wall between flesh and spirit lower. Intensity, the quasi-tangible prerequisite for accomplishment, helps bridge the gap between body and soul. When we are pushed to the limits – intense pain, intense pleasure, intense terror, intense joy – concrete “goods” and “bads” fall on their foundations. Inner strength, sense of being, the obvious times when the spirit steps in to run the show, usually can be traced to a sensational intensity. We push our limits – physical, sexual, artistic, sensational – with a primal, subconscious desire to accomplish the incorporation of the spirit.”

Writing, therefore can be an essential component to fitness. It works along the same principles of challenges and rewards.

If there is any place where you should use stairs and not an escalator – it’s here!

Four: Productive Inner Dialog

Words effect change. Constant reminders of ‘I’m too fat’ or ‘why can’t I _______” reinforce the body’s belief, or disbelief, in itself. A body will manifest itself according to how it is perceived internally. This is a vicious circle. Many external and internal factors affect our own inner perception of ourselves, which will eventually manifest itself externally.
What words do you use to describe yourself? Is your inner dialog often a negative critique of yourself? Do you find words like ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’ in your communications with yourself?

To create a noncritical, nonjudgmental self-talk, list all the self-negative comments you have with regard to your level of play. Then proceed to change them to their opposite. For example, change

  • “I don’t have enough talent” to “I have an abundance of talent.”
  • “I don’t deserve to be here.” to ” I deserve to be here.”
  • “I’m not good enough” to “I’m more than good enough.”

Thinking Body, Dancing Mind – by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch

Affirm within yourself the worth you have and your ability to create and succeed. Every word you say in contrary to your worth will perpetuate itself into a negative belief. State want you want as an affirmation, as an event that has already happened. “I want to lose 10 pounds” will be heard better by the universe and yourself stated as “I’m 10 pounds lighter” or if you want to incorporate the spirit further, “my weight is optimum for my performance, ability and happiness!”

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Speak your latent conviction and it shall be universal sense.”

Five: Productive External Support

Simply put, do you have positive feedback from those close to you? One common trait found among many people is that we surround ourselves with similar kin. We always feel more vindicated sharing ideas with like minded folks. It makes perfect sense. Some would say we even attract those people into our circles, maybe unconsciously. The caveat is if your clan happens to all share negative self images, or if hidden insecurity brings out sarcasm instead of support, or ridicule instead of praise, or, sometimes worse, complete apathy, progress through that quagmire maybe brutally slow.

Many fitness fanatics sing the praises of a workout partner. A good workout partner is someone who is fully supportive outside the gym as well as during your workout. Funny enough, that could be the definition of a good friend, family member or loved one as well.

Six: Workout Memories

The Tao Te Ching reminds us:
“Those who cultivate Power
Identify with Power.
Those who cultivate failure
Identify with failure.

Did you kick butt on your deadlift today? Was your cardio-kickboxing class particularly refreshing and inspiring? Well then reflect on them. Enjoy your workouts all day long. Why should the intensity and fulfillment of overcoming challenges be limited to your workout? Be proud of your workout.

Seven: Look and Touch

What’s the king of all reasons why people workout? What attribute does every infomercial, print ad and ‘fitness’ magazine cater too? The desire to look better. Despite that not being a true ‘fitness’ goal (see Ritual vs. Routine), at least it gets folks to the gym.

So if we can celebrate movement in the gym, then our non-exercising time should reflect and rejoice in what we are capable of and increase our self image through a sense of pride. Look in the mirror and see how the body moves. Remember the accomplishments that body achieves every time you exercise. Your body – you – is alive with possibilities. See that when looking in the mirror, when obsessing on the size and shape of body parts, when the potential to not love yourself is greatest. Go ahead, flex in the mirror. Enjoy it.

Too bad we instantly revert to kindergarten giggles when the subject of touch is brought up. Any recommendations for self-touch would be read as a license for something less than innocent, but there are plenty of other websites and books willing to deal with those issues. Meanwhile, get to know what your muscles feel like. Feel movement. Touch a muscle while it moves. Understand more about how movement occurs.

Eight: Read and Learn

Remember the thrill of reading about the dinosaurs, learning the names and actions of all the cool species, and then going to the museum and seeing them in person (sort of)? What about the impassioned banter amongst sports fans about stats, players, odds and last night’s game? Education creates passion and feeds the intimacy between knowledge and action. This works well with the body and all of it’s amazing possibilities.

Nine: Play Nice With Others

The previously quoted Jello Biafra, lead singer of the highly politically/socially satirical band, The Dead Kennedy’s, went on to answer the question “but what can just one of us do?”

We can start by not lying so much
And treating other people like dirt.
It’s so easy not to base our lives on how much we can scam,
And you know it feels good to get that monkey off your back.(1)

This Habit description was originally a long and tedious diatribe on the importance of being non-judgmental, kinder to others, and not letting the psychological mess that competition can promote take away our deeper reasons for the challenges we attack, blah, blah, blah. Thanks to Jello again for keeping things simple. Treat people well.

Ten: Be Nice to Yourself

This Habit could also be titled “Laugh.” Finding a truly fit person usually finds someone who can see the silliness in it, who can appreciate the humor in fitness and in life. Let’s face it, a room full of sweating, bouncing people jumping over a little step is pretty funny. What about the humor in lifting something really heavy, only to put it back down, and then do it again? Or the irony of Spinning. Aggressive stationary biking? C’mon, that’s funny.

Laughter is a direct result of happiness, and there’s no way to be nicer to yourself then being happy.

Don’t you owe it to yourself to treat yourself with love and respect? It’s not that hard, just don’t busy yourself with granfallons that don’t serve your true needs. Self judgment is as dangerous as judgment of others. Set realistic goals and give yourself a lifetime to achieve them. In fitness, the journey should be the fun part, so let’s not make it such an obligation. Laugh a little. Enjoy the ride. Grumpy people aren’t healthy, it’s that simple (and grumpy people in the gym are real killjoys).

I take my silliness far too seriously
To be bothered by your silly seriousness.

Written By Chip Conrad

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