Why did you get started with your “fitness journey” in the first place?
Easily one of my favorite questions to ask—to pro bodybuilders on the GEAR’D Up radio podcast; to prep clients who are deep in the trenches, starving and miserable on the daily; and to my everyday clients who, for whatever reason, come in and put up with my torture creations on a weekly basis.
I love to hear the varying responses to the question. I truly feel one’s answer helps to expose their soul, their deepest value system, what drives them and motivates them, from youth through old age. Why are we willing to put our bodies, minds, digestive tracks, through so much self-imposed pain and torture?
And while the responses obviously vary from person to person, at the end of the day, they don’t really vary all that much. The bottom line answer, for most: “I wasn’t happy with the person I saw in the mirror. So I set out to change him”.
All of my deep philosophical ramblings aside, I must come clean and admit that the answer is the same for me as well. Yes, over time, I have come to associate my bodybuilding endeavors with an almost spiritual calling—the discipline, the adherence to a code and work ethic, all that good shit that I spit out at my readers weekly. BUT, if we’re going to come back to our origin story and get down to brass tacks, why did I really start this? Point blank, because I was a fat kid, and I didn’t like how I looked. So, I set out to change it, like so many others.
But there’s an interesting paradox in the fitness world, for those who delve into the deeper trenches and plumb the depths. For many, the further we take our fitness journey—the more muscle we pack on, the more symmetrical our bodies become, the more ripped we get, whatever the specific parameters you are chasing—the more we start to hate our bodies, and return to the “I don’t like what I see in the mirror” mentality.
When training clients and speaking with competitors, I often draw the analogy of remodeling a room in your house. Say you come across enough money to make some improvements and upgrades to your home. You drop fifteen grand remodeling your kitchen, with all new hardwood flooring, marble countertops, new stainless steel appliances, all the bells and whistles to make for the perfect kitchen.
Only problem? The rest of the house now looks like shit. The “perfection” of your new kitchen, makes abundantly clear the eyesore status of every other room. It’s more apparent than ever, filling your thoughts to the point of obsession and perhaps dragging you down emotionally.
And so it goes with physique remodeling. For most of us, the further we push, the more dissatisfied we grow. Our genetic shortcomings become progressively more and more apparent. We now surround ourselves with others who are deeply entrenched in the fitness world, and see nothing but the assets they have that we are missing—better quad sweep, tighter glutes, a better taper, rounder delts, a more streamlined waistline… and the list goes on.
So I am posing a challenge to my readers this week.
I want you to look in the mirror, and tell me if you are happy with what you see. And if not, why not?
I want you to go back to your origin story, why you started all of this nonsense in the first place. I want you to find your best “before” pictures. I want you to find your best current pictures. And I want you to stare at them long and hard, and see how you feel.
I want you to try to remember how excited you were when you saw your biceps vein for the first time, or perhaps your first glimmer of abs poking out from underneath the years of fluff accumulation.
I want you to do something that few in the fitness industry do: take a breath, stop being neurotic and emotionally crippled, try for a fleeting moment to be semi-objective, and accurately assess how far you have really come. And I want you to ask yourself a simple question: does this make you happy, or upset?
If you answer the latter, then I’m going to assign the next homework for the week. If all of this work and energy is just making you dissatisfied, then I want you to try to figure out why they hell you’re doing it in the first place. Why are you putting this energy forth, if the end product stings? Why not just be fat and happy, and at least enjoy the deliciousness of doughnuts and pizza on the daily?
Yes, I’m serious—this is homework, and you should do it. Regularly. Lest you become one of the seemingly endless list of bozos who bemoan their current state, despite having rebuilt themselves from the ground up.
Close friends of mine know that I’m a tad obsessed with pulling up my own picture comparisons and progress shots over the years. Why? Because it makes me fucking happy as hell! I am so proud of how far I have come and all that I have accomplished, and I never forget it for a single moment!!! I accepted very early that I was never going to be a pro, was never going to have ideal proportions, and was never going to have an easy time staying lean like many others do.
SO, instead, I chose to enjoy all of this for what it was worth—having one of the most oversized donks on the planet, having some awesome monster calves, having stupidly disproportionate traps, and just looking better than 90% of the human population, even if that meant I was never going to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronnie Coleman.
I make sure to regularly cherish what I have accomplished with all of my training, and couldn’t for a second imagine being “down in the dumps” about my physique. Don’t get me wrong, I have those moments, too. And they last about two seconds, before I remember reality—I look fucking awesome, for the most part!
So are you happy in the mirror? And if not, why not? What would it take to get there? And why the hell haven’t you done it yet?
Maybe the problem isn’t the mirror. Maybe the problem is your mindset.
Even in the worst of times, learn to embrace the mirror. At the end of the day, that person staring back at you, is all that you got. Perhaps not physical perfection, and perhaps never will be. But still pretty amazing.
Otherwise, why are you doing this?
-David A. Johnston