_It’s a big question, and what needs to be addressed first is the assumption that hard work is necessary or important. We take it as given that it is, and it’s certainly glorified, but this desire for excellence and the iron will to achieve often comes from destructive or negative places, such as the need to compensate for perceived inadequacies, or the desire to dominate and control oneself or others. In short, indulging in destructive behaviours might not serve you in the long term. Masochism, ideas of purification and bargaining, self-loathing and then the obvious need for personal betterment – these themes come up again and again when you spend enough time at a gym.
Why can you picture nothing worse than being just like everyone else? What is it you despise about your own humanity? And does it simply come down to – as it seems to for me, time and time again – a naive attempt to deny one’s own mortality? We are weak, and vulnerable, and flawed, and no amount of training will change that.
So – why the hell not just spend your time doing something you enjoy? Seriously?
_ But there are good reasons to enjoy hard work too – it is satisfying, and a feeling of personal achievement and development, a sense of overcoming obstacles and success in the face of adversity, all of this can bolster your confidence – even as buying into gender stereotypes and pandering to the beauty standard can erode it. We value form over function, but what will actually serve us, and help us to grow from a positive foundation – one of love, not fear?
The feeling that you’re supposed to be working hard, the feeling that you need to be made better, to be purified, to be made thin – it’s absolute crap. All of it. Once you start to accept that you’re mortal (and that it’s okay), and you start to let go of the lie that you can be bullet-proofed against sickness and the threat of death, this frees you to train intuitively, and work for your own sense of development, joy, and satisfaction. It frees you from propaganda and dogma, because you start to realise even though we jog, we still get heart attacks, and doing what you’re told doesn’t protect you when you’re told lies.
Hopefully, we’ll realise the irrelevance of jogging five kilometres if we don’t enjoy it, if we have to force it, we’ll realise that strength training is a waste of time if your heart’s not in it, and we’ll realise the true and long-term benefit to be found in discovering just how we like to move.
I’ve seen people express their frustration at having to walk by throwing physical tantrums and stamping their feet. I’ve seen people kick and punch the air because all they wanted to do was rest. Who says movement’s no fun? And who says you have to exercise, you have to train? Bruce Lee was all about the pure expression of human emotion through movement. He was a fighter and an actor, and he knew what he gravitated towards, and he was aware of the value of training, but the pure expression of emotion does not exist within the solid walls of systematised fitness propaganda. How can it?
It’s not about hard work. You will only throw yourself in with commitment and enthusiasm if you’re getting something out of it. And I don’t mean some vague future reward like health, the threat of sickness, the promise of toned muscles or the glory of competitive success. I mean that with a real sense of immediacy. Today, right now. Train. What do you learn? What are you getting out of it now, when the glamour’s stripped away? And what is it simply not possible to work hard at? Tai Chi is all about removing tension, while developing a physical and intuitive understanding of power and leverage. You can dedicate yourself to training, but hard training? And flexibility - sometimes you need to relax, and sometimes you don’t. It’s like they say - train smart, train appropriately.
If you’re not progressing athletically, you might not be training hard enough. Or you might be training too hard. Or too frequently, or not often enough, or you might not be eating enough, or you might not be sleeping enough, or you might be experiencing one of those plateaus that you cannot do anything to overcome – except to wait patiently.
And what’s with this idea that intensity is anything other than relative? Why would our intensity need to be consistent, when our strength, endurance and recovery are anything but? Why should someone else work harder or easier than you? And can you really judge by facial expressions and grunting? These things can be put-on. People fake pain as an excuse to discontinue a set, because they don’t want to be seen stopping. But what’s wrong with deciding when you’ve done enough, for yourself? Why is ending your set seen as weakness? It’s inevitable, after all. Why is working harder supposed to be the answer? Probably because of calories. Those damn calories.
And there’s this issue with motivation – as if people who are more motivated will automatically train harder. But there are too many assumptions at work here, and isn’t it better to overcome fear than to be motivated by it? Won’t we secretly rebel against our fears and so - appear to be working against our own goals? Someone says a goal is important, and then you see them not taking steps towards it – this is a question that often comes up in relation to diets. “If you want to be thinner, why aren’t you dieting?” (best asked in ditsy-Barbie voice) Here’s an answer – because your physiology does not conform to some bullshit idea of thinness, and cravings are not the enemy. Dieting isn’t just a choice you can make and then stick with – but we seem to believe discipline trumps physiology. Maybe we’re just a pack of idiots? A calorie does not possess morality. It’s not about being good, and needing to eat is not a sign of weakness.
Here’s an obvious truth that nobody says any more - losing weight is a sign that you’re not eating enough. But it’s fashionable, and it’s funny, because trying and failing to lose weight is also a sign you’re not eating enough. Everyone’s always trying to eat less. What do you think will happen to your health, if you maintain a state of eating inadequate quantities of food indefinitely? That's supposed to be good for your health? That’s why weight-loss starts to plateau - because it’s not good for you to be not eating enough. Your body is trying to stop you from being an idiot. And it happens every damn time, but each time we think it’ll be different. And so we try to bully our bodies into submission by training harder and eating even less than we were before. And we think that’s helping?
Anyway. Not eating enough will cripple your ability to work hard, just in case there’s any doubt remaining. It will bring any athletic progress to a sudden, grinding halt, and you’ll wonder why you feel so bad when you’re being so good.