The Process of Living
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So what do I mean when I say, "fitness is a process"? Basically, it means that fitness should be an everyday thing, something you approach with diligence and patience. The key: having the understanding that growth in fitness comes as a result of the practice of fitness, but that the practice is what is most important. This applies to many things, not just fitness. The results stem from the practice, which is the most important part. There is no end result, only the day-to-day realization of your practice, discipline.
Here is an example from my own life. Every morning, I wake up and do a series of strength exercises. These mainly involve pushups, situps, squats, and back extensions, so it's very simple stuff. There is nothing mind-blowing about my morning routine. My program is simply to do them every day, adding one or two reps, until I can do 30-40 slowly. Then I make them a little harder by decreasing my leverage.
The reason this is more a process than a goal is because, even if I manage to meet the requirement to move on, I still stay at the same difficulty for the required amount of time. Following the program and maintaining consistency in practice is more important than the strength I gain from doing them.
An Unhealthy Obsession on the Ends
Just because fitness is an easy example, I will use it to demonstrate the opposite of process. A lot of guys will start a training program with a specific end goal, and rush towards that goal. They do not follow the nuances of the program, and the result is burnout or injury. Lifting more weight than you can handle safely is the most common example of this.
Of course, we all have goals when we do something. I exercise because I want to be healthy. I eat healthy because I want to have more energy. I write because I want to develop my ideas and share them. But these are all ongoing goals, and in reality, the goal is the practice itself, not the result of the practice.
This is important to keep in mind when you mess up. People who miss a day of exercise or slip on their diet think that they have failed, and there is no sense in continuing to try. In fact, failure is a choice, and backsliding is part of the process. An obsession with results convinces people that once they mess up, they are finished, since they did not get what they wanted. If instead, they focus on simply practicing, messing up is just a mistake. You mess up, so you try again. The goal is simply to do it each day. So if you don't yesterday, you still meet your goal by doing it tomorrow.
Last year, when I was lost in the midst of an unhealthy exercise obsession, I asked myself why I pursue fitness. My answer was that I wanted to be fit, but being fit was not a state that I could identify or pin down. It just meant that I wanted to pursue fitness. Similar problems arose in regards to nutrition, meditation, and love.
Love is a Process
Romantic relationships are a great example of something that must be approached as an ongoing process. Relationships that last do not operate on a principle of getting somewhere. If it's sex or appreciation you want, you'll get it eventually, and then you'll have it, and then there won't be anything left to work for. If you're goal is to move the relationship to a marriage, you'll put a lot of pressure on the other person, and even if you accomplish that goal, it leaves you questioning what the new purpose is. If instead you are happy simply appreciating time spent with the other person, and don't try to 'get anywhere' or 'be anything,' you find the balance between being and doing.
I recently got caught in that trap. I found myself getting antsy with my relationship, wanting to move it forward, to 'the next stage.' The problem was, I didn't know what that meant. The question that kept coming up in my head was, "now that we have this love, what do we do with it?" It took me a bit to realize that we don't have to do anything with it. We can simply enjoy it. Once I accepted that, the relationship grew on its own, naturally and intuitively.
So how can you apply these lessons?
- Ask yourself why you do what you do. Maybe you have to (working for money), but if you used to enjoy something for its own sake, make sure you're are not doing it for other reasons now.
- Let go of goals. Let yourself simply do your practice, with no expectation or need for accomplishing anything in particular. This can help you reset a faltering commitment to a practice or relationship.
- Learn to enjoy the process. Take joy in the little things, even if they don't seem to add up to anything. Bask in the smells and sensations of preparing a home-cooked meal, without worrying about whether its nutrition. Enjoy the presence of a friend without needing to make a point or get anything out of the interaction. Relish the burn of a hard workout without worrying about your weights going up or down.
- Share what you do. Sometimes the best way to appreciate the process is to teach it. I have so many clients who want instant results, and I have to remind them that results come with time, and for now to focus on just being consistent. As a result, I myself learn how to enjoy the practice itself.
- Watch kids (or teach kids). Children have this amazing ability to simply play for its own sake. Even when they are participating in sports, they do it for the love of the game or just moving. It is only as they grow older that they become obsessed with winning and getting results. By teaching children, you can see how to enjoy what you do.
- Be forgiving. If you mess up, do not quit. Don't even be very harsh on yourself. Mistakes and detours are part of the journey, and necessary for learning. You simply pick it up again tomorrow, or start over. If you take joy in the doing anyway, it doesn't matter where on the path you are at any given moment, only that you are on it.
This doesn't mean it is okay to just go through the motions. You should be fully invested in what you are practicing, and approach it with your full attention and focus. It simply means to work hard for the moment, rather than some indeterminate goal down the road. Why only seek the delayed gratification when you can simply enjoy what you're doing today, right now? It takes practice, but it makes life so much more rewarding.
Any other things in life you do that are a matter of process rather than end goals? Please share your thoughts in the comments.