Why are you competing?
No really, why?
Now, if you're not competing in a contest any time soon, this question may not seem to apply to you. Unless, of course, you're instead trying to get a better job. Or a good grade. Or jockey for attention of a mate.
Yeah, most of us are kind of competing. We're not all bodybuilders and strongmen – by a long shot. But we're mostly competing. It's a set-up; society encourages this from the time we start out. And it's not a bad thing. In fact for many it can be a downright useful thing.
The strength and physique sports involve a lot of time. And some expense. And a truckload of discomforts. And these things add up to a rather unappealing expenditure for most people. Yet there are those of us – self included – who keep returning to this practice.
So, what the what the?
It boils down to expenditure versus investment. We all know the difference between the two terms: expenditure is just what you spend on something, but an investment is what you pay in to get more out. And any competitive format – whether flexing on stage or gunning for a promotion – can go either way. it is up to you whether you are just spending time in the contest, or actually investing time.
Which is why I come back.
So, my father Philip passed away almost a year and a half ago. It is still fresh for me (I choke up even still when I recall it). He battled pancreatic cancer for over two years – a VERY long fight for that type of cancer. And obviously during that time my priorities needed to shift tremendously, both during his illness and during the mourning period after. While as a coach I am always near these sports, I was a far cry from disciplined. The whole practice, in fact, broke down. Over the course of two and a half years I was inconsistent, irregular, a bit chubby at points, and profoundly weaker than I had been since I had started.
I actually didn't mind too greatly about these comparative deficits. See, I "liked" what my priorities were. Morbid as they were, I was "okay" in my soul shifting the "investments of time" from my muscles to my father. Many have this experience throughout life; where their life priorities shift and they are happy to let previously important ones drift away. We suddenly have a clear picture of what we want and we momentarily check out of whatever competition we were in.
So why did I come back? Well, the original reasons I became involved with strength and bodybuilding in the first place were not egotistical, nor were they greedy. They were curative; the disciplines, practices and simplification these sports encouraged helped me literally sort out my life as a younger man. And they sometimes still do. I often say: "Bodybuilding is not my life – by a long shot – but I still certainly owe having a life in some part to bodybuilding."
This is why I came back: to recreate the bedrock of discipline and the lucidity of practice. I did not come back to win. I did not come to get some title or accolade. I came simply to reconnect with myself. And, in the process, reconnect with practices that fell away during those undisciplined years.
One thing I can tell you: it is nothing like riding a bike. You know how I mean? That you can not ride a bike for years, then get on one and recapture the skill in minutes. Not so here. This is like starting over.
And it's glorious.
I am captivated by how I am called to evaluate my motives, checking myself regularly. ("Is this something that is wise, or am I just getting greedy?") And I am relearning the wonderful art of inventorying. Bodybuilders and strength competitors do better when they track and monitor aspects of their work. And they do even better still if they extend that monitoring tot heir life. The impact? Order. Structure. Calmness.
In a word: serenity.
And I am not getting it perfect. (See: the bike analogy above.) It has been a bitch, and I screw up frequently, and I still blow myself off frequently. I am not just recapturing old practice, I am literally practicing the practice; just trying to get into a rhythm so I can get better at that rhythm.
Yet, mostly it is remarkable. Gradually, things are clearer. I know how much money I have (and don't have). I know what hours I have left in a day (or don't have left). I know what comes next. I even remember to tell my friends that they are awesome. (Which they are.) In other words: my brain is already more decluttered, just by immersing in a practice that includes discipline.
Remember: discipline is not the same as strictness – not in the slightest! Strictness is about confinement of focus. Discipline is about consistency of focus, but not necessarily restrictive. Strictness is about obedience, while discipline is about learning. Strictness is about following rules, while discipline is about observing limits. Strictness is about winning competitions, while discipline is about improving how one competes, regardless of anticipated outcomes.
I am a far way from any great satori, and my competitive outcomes have been the worst of my long competitive career. But as I am in this for the return on investment, I can plainly see the value in this discipline of competition.
It comes from looking at what our practices bring us, rather than seeking some result. It comes from looking at the tools we use in our pursuits and mastering them as best we can. The discipline to "stick with it" is a lot more calming and (in this coach's opinion) constructive than the strictness of "go get it."
We're almost all of us in competition somewhere in our lives. You are too. What tools do you use for that quest? Can you list them? Inventory them by name? And do you use them with discipline or strictness? Do you observe the impact and scope of each practice, or merely just try to nail it down and run off on a straight line?
Nurture the practice, rather than seek the reward. That is the model of investment in competition.
And then every contest – be it bodybuilding, work or a card game – will yield far greater rewards.