Thursday, July 9, 2009

If It Sucks, It Probably Instructs: How And Why To Keep Promises To Yourself

Here is another great piece from a fellow RKC. I'm excited to include Josh as a guest at Charm City Kettlebells blog. He a wonderful wordsmith with great information. I hope to feature him regularly.

If It Sucks, It Probably Instructs: How And Why To Keep Promises To Yourself

By Josh Hanagarne, World’s Strongest Librarian

When my grandfather was 13 years old, his father drove him to a large field in the middle of Utah, let him out, and said: “Build us a barn. I’ll see you at the end of the summer.” It was the first week in June. That gangly teenager built the barn, slept on the ground, and had enough time left over to shoot enough deer to feed his seven brothers and sisters that winter.

The plight of the modern day human

How often does your job require you to reach over your head, get down on the floor, breathe heavily, or expend enough energy to burn the calories from your lunch? If you’re at all like me, not often. I manage a library and spend about six hours a day on a computer. My whole world, if I didn’t make it otherwise, has shrunken to a three-foot box about the size of a baseball strike zone.

Inside that box is where I reach for my keyboard. It’s where my hands go when they need to answer the phone. My shoulders try to slump forward and my spine tries to curve in ways that it was never intended to.

But I’ve shattered that box and nothing feels better. My tiny office is full of sledgehammers, kettlebells, grippers, decks of cards, and a pull-up bar I rigged up. I had to throw my chair away to fit all the stuff in. Best decision I ever made. Modern man allows terms and spaces to be dictated to him.

Reject this and evolve. It just takes a decision. Not wishful thinking, a decision. When the pain of not being strong and fit gets so great that you can’t bear it, you will change it or you will pay the price.

A brief background to my training

For over 20 years I’ve battled the stupid and occasionally very entertaining disorder called Tourette’s Syndrome. If you’d like to learn more about this you can check out my series How To Have Tourette’s. TS can manifest in different ways, but here’s what it’s like for me: it forces me to make noises and movements involuntarily. This can range from rapid eye blinking to screaming so hard without warning that I once got a hernia from it. It was a big fat wrench in all of my goals and plans. I was smart, capable, able-bodied (for a while), but I had a hellish time even going out in public.

When I was in my early twenties, my dad suggested I started hitting the weights. “You need some small victories,” he said. I was willing to try anything, so we bought some weights and got after it. How can I describe the change? I’m very good with words—I have the irrelevant English degree and smart-guy glasses to prove it. But I can’t describe how much I loved to whip myself with that iron.

For so long my body had done whatever it wanted. Now, for a brief time each day, my body belonged to me. I could look at myself in the mirror and glare and say “All right you, for the next hour you’re going to do exactly what I tell you. Now shut up and get after it.” And when I was done with that hour, my tics flooded back in like clockwork. But I no longer cared as much. I was strong. After enough voluntary, productive, hurts-so-good-beg-for-mercy pain and sweat, nothing else during that day scared me. Not for a second. To hell with the dislocated thumbs, the hernia, the weird looks from strangers, or the fact that I was still trapped in my house.
I even gave up my voice for three years so doctor’s could experiment with a treatment they hoped would help: botox injections in my vocal cords. I gave up talking, but I didn’t give up working out my rage, pain, and the frustrations that are the cost of living.

When my symptoms grew more manageable, I needed the weights for different reasons. I needed them to be my mirror. To teach me.

Give yourself a gift

Perhaps you want to look good or your focus is on brute strength. The good news is that you don’t have to choose one or the other. Fitness is just a word. Strength is an idea that will creep into every part of your life. And the type of strength that lets you move bigger and bigger weights, that makes you collapse on the floor with exhaustion and exhilaration—it’s going to make you look better. Better yet, it’s going to teach you things about yourself.

As Jack Reape said, intensity is not a grimace. It’s a number. It’s work.
Training Hard changes you. I’m not talking about obsessive training or marathon sessions of curls and kickbacks. Zealotry doesn’t ever lead to anything healthy. I’m talking about hard, voluntary, work. Work that your grandfather and the generation from The Depression could respect. You choose to test yourself. You choose to take the trip, the road less traveled. You elect to suffer a bit so that you can be a better human being. The pain gives you perspective. The results give you confidence. Confidence opens doors that you’ll never even see if you’re hiding in your comfort zone—like my office.
Brutally hard work isn’t that fun while you’re doing it. In fact, sometimes it just sucks. But if it sucks, it probably instructs. You can’t know too much about yourself, and there are things you’ll never learn about yourself until you’ve walked this road for a while.

Personally, I’m into kettlebells, deadlifting, and feats of strength. I recently got certified as an RKC (Russian kettlebell instructor), but I’m equally at home tearing a deck of cards in half or pulling heavy deads. The point is not to say Wheeee! I’m strong! Everyone look at me! The point is that I fear nothing more than boredom, stagnation, and the lack of progress. I’m learning character and commitment every day.
Anyone can, but it’s easier not to.

Keeping promises

One of the hardest things about being human is that it is so easy to let ourselves off the hook. You probably made some New Year’s resolutions a few months ago. How’s that going? If you’re on track, bravo! Most of us have deviated a bit. Why? Because even the most honest person in the world finds it too easy to break promises to themselves. How can this be true? Aren’t we worth more than that? We are, but nobody holds us accountable for the lies we tell ourselves—only we know. Or worse, maybe we don’t even view broken promises to ourselves as lies. We must fix this. Only when we can say, “I am better than this,” can we start heading towards our potential.

Make a decision. Draw a map. Grind your teeth and take a step and never look back. Whatever your tools, whatever your goals, whoever you are and wherever you’re reading this from: you are so much more than you think and you owe it to yourself to love yourself enough to be honest. Your own mind is a classroom you can’t escape from. Fill it with good things and progress reports. (Or lack of progress reports).
My grandfather could work me into the ground in an hour. But he respects my commitment to improvement and progress. If you no longer have a goal, you’re no longer making a journey—you’re on a treadmill, and I don’t care what anyone tells you…that’s not hard, cleansing work that’s going to show you what you’re made of.

Let’s go.



I don’t care if you take the lead or you need to follow me. I’m going either way because I know I’m better today than I was yesterday. I can’t wait to see who I’ll be tomorrow.

But once you make the promise, whatever it is, pretend that everyone in the world will know about it and broadcast it on the jumbotron during the Super Bowl.

That would suck, but it would teach you something.

Josh Hanagarne is the World's Strongest Librarian and a big fan of Charm City Kettlebells. If you're looking for more information on kettlebells, coping with Tourette's, buying pants when you're 6'8", you need a shoulder to cry on, or you're wondering how to write a successful but unfocused blog, he's your man.

Please subscribe to Josh's Stronger, Smarter, Better newsletter and RSS updates to stay in touch.

Sandy Sommer, RKC

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At July 9, 2009 at 2:17 PM , Blogger Smoketheblowfish said...

Josh definitely has some mad writing skills! Excellent post with a great message.




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