This week’s podcast and the following post are both excerpts from my new book, Get Change. I hope you enjoy it.
A few days ago I went out into the garage for a little barbell practice. That’s really all it was, a quick, fun opportunity on an otherwise lazy day to practice my all-time favorite hobby and bring up a few parts of my flesh that might be lagging behind just a bit. Alright, maybe a lot.
I sat and stretched for a while, mostly my stiff ankles. They need the extra attention. The same is true for these bound-up shoulders, which are still plenty strong, sure, but they are about as tough and flexible as old bull leather. I have some twenty years of football and competitive powerlifting to thank for that.
I can’t wipe away all that wear and tear. The damage has been done. But I can stop it. I certainly still improve where I need the work most. I can strive to move a little bit better every time I practice. I can take back some of what I forfeited years ago. Fortunately for me all it takes is a chunk or two. Just a few minutes to stretch when I would otherwise just be sitting around. A little piece of time to do a few good snatch reps, to pick up something heavier than my body, to tune my nervous system, done whenever I have the opportunity. That’s all that’s required, all that’s necessary.
The whole secret here is the fast and fun part. I’m not alone in wanting to get better quickly and reconcile past blunders. But that’s just the problem. We are driven by the goals that we dream up and slap on our inspiration boards, whether they take the form of our bathroom mirror or refrigerator door. There’s no shortage of initial effort and initiative, but I think there is a natural tendency to assume that lost ground can be made up in double and triple time.
We all want to believe in a short-cut, a quick way around, especially when we’re more than willing to do the extra work. Isn’t that what’s important? Isn’t that what counts? No, that’s exactly the problem. It’s much easier to accumulate work than it is to adapt to it in an enduring, productive, satisfying way.
It could be that the problem is all in the name. Call it an extra workout and you set a tone that more is actually better. But as I was taught years ago by one of my coaching mentors, Louie Simmons, “More is not better, dude. Only better is better.” So why not just call it practice then? Why not make “better” the only goal?
Lifting and coaching is one way to demonstrate this point, but music may be a better example. Consider what it takes to get really good at playing. Someone who wants to master the guitar, for example, will pick up the instrument and play whenever they can. At least they should. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that mastery is the motive. This might just be a pastime, a way to impress chicks, a pathway to popularity, stardom if you’re very lucky. But as the record industry’s fortunes dim, so too should the old-fashioned notion of rock stardom. You may not be able to snort coke from the flat stomach of an aspiring actress at Keith Richards’ beach house, but what you can do is master an instrument purely for the love of music.
It might start with nailing that brand new chord, to get it to ring just right in your ear. Maybe you can then tie a few chords together in that same perfect way. You work out the riff. You have a fucking blast jamming with some friends. At each stage, it’s pretty easy to get lost in the moment. To flow, to be powerfully present. Time stretches out and flows forward at a relaxed pace. You can- not help but be satisfied with the effort. You only get more and more comfortable with your ability in time.
That’s the proper beginning.
There’s no rush to this journey, friend, don’t start with the end in mind. Precisely because there is no rush, the mastery will start to take hold all on its own. The result comes before you even notice, and the practice itself then becomes renewing and empowering, not a drain on your motivation.
If you want to make up lost ground and perhaps find a higher point of view, then take the opportunity to practice what you love and enjoy it. Don’t rush it. Don’t pile shit on top of it.
All that ground will cover itself, don’t worry.