Since finishing the CrossFit sectionals, I’ve been taking a break from fitness for the last two weeks. Basically I have tried to relax about fitness and just do what I feel like in terms of exercise and nutrition. I expected to lose some ground with my training, but I felt that I was due for a break.
The funny thing is I have actually gotten stronger and faster. I recently ran a few quarter-mile intervals and put up some of my fastest times ever. My front lever has become so solid I can do bicycle crunches while holding myself horizontal. Clearly, I just needed some rest to develop the latent strength. Leading up to sectionals, I was so uptight about workouts and diet, and I did pretty well, but now that I’ve stopped worrying so much, I seem to be doing just as well anyway.
It seems that I do just as well (or better) not worrying about stuff and I do when I worry.
So why worry?
Whenever I used to undertake a big project, I felt like I had to worry. It almost seemed that if I wasn’t freaking out about doing things just right, then I was doing something wrong. It took me a long time to realize that the worrying is something extra, and is totally extraneous to the task itself.
Unfortunately, our society puts a lot of emphasis on appearances, and what better way to appear busy and important than to be constantly worrying about what you’re doing? It helps us convince ourselves, as well as others, that we take our jobs and projects seriously, but that impression isn’t really an important part of actually doing a good job.
Like Father, Like Son
My dad gets really stressed out about his Spanish tests. It’s his way of motivating himself to work hard. I get really worked up about my fitness program, which is my way of guilting myself into exercising when I may not want to. But really, in both cases, the worrying is unnecessary. If I exercised without worrying about it, it would still get done. If my dad did exactly what he does to study, without tearing his hair out, he’d have the same results. In fact, experience (and scientific studies) suggest that we’d both do better.
We started both projects because they interested us. Somewhere along the way, however, we starting thinking that mere interest wasn’t enough to get good. I started thinking that I’d better add some weight training to my fitness program, otherwise I might get left behind. My dad maybe started thinking that if he didn’t get really serious about his studying, he might never become fluent.
Both of us are trying to do something that takes a lot of time. The changes are small and subtle, so it is difficult to see progress. If things are taking a long time, we think that perhaps we aren’t doing things right, that we need to be more strict with ourselves, or that we need to do more and more and more.
The end result: worry, anxiety, and insecurity.
Subtract the Worry, Leave the Joy
What would you have without the worry?
I would exercise when I wanted to and in the way that I most enjoyed. My dad would study Spanish for the love of learning a new language. We would both work until we were satisfied, and then move on, giving our bodies and minds the ability to consolidate new skills without overloading them.
In my case, it was the interest in gymnastics and martial arts that got me interested in hard core fitness in the first place. My dad wanted to learn Spanish so that he could explore Costa Rica. Both of us would be working hard out of love for what we are doing. Because we’d have nothing but joy in our work, we would probably work just as hard or harder than we do now.
But we’d save the mental energy of being anxious.
Shunryu Suzuki, a famous Zen master, says in his book that pride in doing a task well is extra. That is, being proud of your accomplishment is extraneous to the task itself. In the same way, worrying about a task is extra. You don’t have to worry about something to do it well.
Just smile, remember the joy that brought you to the task in the first place, and let it flow.
Now that I’ve seen the results that can come from a relaxed, joy-inspired approach to fitness, I’ve decided to make a commitment to only exercising as long as it is fun. After that, I’m just putting myself through unnecessary suffering. As far as performance goes, it doesn’t seem to make a difference, and I’ll be less stressed as a result which makes it worthwhile in my mind.
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Fight on, Brave Warriors!