Rocky IV changed my life

Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, productivity

One of the best things about the Playstation 2 was that you could play DVDs on it. Around the time I got one, I managed to procure a small TV somehow. Then, one night, I made the move – up to my room they went. That heady combination led to many late nights gaming, and watching movies.

When I started working a Saturday job, I bought pre-owned games and DVDs by the dozen. The summer holidays of Year 9 were like a crazy, self-funded term at a film school. My curriculum was as varied as you’d imagine a teenage boy’s to be: Bond, Rambo, Conan the Barbarian, Predator, Under Siege. Then, at Christmas, I got the complete Rocky box set. I can’t remember if I managed to watch them all in one sitting or not, but it was pretty damn close.

Yes, they’re cliched and hammy. But they’re glorious. The training montages are the crystallised core of the films, representing all that makes them an iconic part of the zeitgeist. Rocky IV sees a bearded Stallone in the best shape of his life, sprinting up mountains, lifting rocks and helping Russian peasants. Why’s he putting himself through this agony? To avenge the death of his best friend at the hands of Ivan Drago. His trainer screams “No pain!” while synth music blasts in the background. To this day, the scene below gets me pumped up:

 

At the time, I was simultaneously extremely skinny and ridiculously out of shape. I’d never been in shape! I didn’t play any sports, or even think about why anyone would want to. My diet consisted of anything and everything – bags of donuts from the tuck shop were a staple. I just wasn’t connected to my body in any way. I had absolutely no drive or discipline: physically, or in any other area of my life. I was simply floating along, letting things happen to me.

For some reason, seeing Rocky control his body in that way, deliberately putting himself through hell to become stronger, faster and better in pursuit of a worthy goal, changed the way I looked at the world forever.

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s winning.”

Ringside at the final fight.

I started doing pushups, situps and pullups in my bedroom. I progressed onto making contraptions out of cinder blocks, sticks and rocks. I’d load up Sainsbury’s ‘Bags for Life’, and haul them around in a crazy circus act of a workout. Eventually I started running too, with absolutely no finesse, strategy or understanding. I literally just ran around the block in plimsolls. At first, I could barely get to the nearest lamppost and back before I was out of puff. But, it filled me with a kind of joy different to anything I’d ever experienced. At 17, I joined a small, local gym and started lifting weights properly. From there, I’ve not looked back.

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I’ve become more and more addicted to exercise over the intervening years. It’s slowly formed a central pillar in my life. It grounds me. I know that wherever I go, whatever I do in my life, physical exertion will be a part of it somehow.

Exercise showed me how the actions I took had direct impact on outcomes. If I chose to do pushups and pullups, I could literally see a physical development in my chest and back muscles in a matter of weeks. I’d never thought of things in that way before. The realisation was incredibly empowering.

It didn’t take long to start applying that understanding into other areas of my life: the more I read, the more knowledgeable I became. The greater my effort into thinking clearly and having challenging conversations, the better my ability to communicate.

Rocky IV was the way I discovered self-discipline. And that’s at the root of everything I do today.

So… what’s the point? Why did I tell you that story?

Well, I’m not saying Rocky IV is going to be as transformative for you as it was for me. But you don’t know what film, song or book could be. It might be anything, and it may arrive in your life at just the right moment to make a difference. So deliberately expose yourself to new things. Go in with an open mind to every book you read, every TV programme you watch, every conversation you have – and maybe even every blog post you read.

In being curious, thoughtful and ready to act on your convictions, your mind will become a fertile ground for new ideas.

And, if that moment of realisation hits, you’ll be ready.

 

Pride before a fall

Fitness, Motivation, Philosophy

My neck aches.

I lift weights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and in between I do mobility work, runs, yoga, HIIT or otherwise. That’s what works for me.

At the end of my most recent yoga practice, I got the idea to try doing a headstand. My balance isn’t great, and I’ve never been able to do them. More importantly, I’ve never put any consistent practice into trying to do one either. But, I thought ‘I’m feeling pretty good, pretty flexible. Let’s do it.’

You may have deduced where this is going. Cockiness got the better of me. I came crashing down, landing hard on my neck at a funny angle. As I lay there on my mat collecting my thoughts, I felt ashamed and humiliated. Not because anyone had seen me fall, but because I knew I’d forgotten a critical lesson.

Seth Godin, in his excellent blog, wrote recently about trying to ‘win a yoga race’:

 

It makes no sense, of course.  

The question this prompts is: Are there places you feel like you’re falling behind where there’s actually no race?

Seth Godin

 

Do you remember that feeling of elation after receiving a good exam result, a promotion, or hitting a new bench press PR? That feeling is ephemeral. Living your life in expectation of these fleeting moments is a misguided waste. You’ll spend 99% of your time in the process, the grind, the journey.

This dull ache in my neck is a reminder:

A steady, incremental climb towards a worthy goal is infinitely more meaningful than short term gratification.


Notes:

I’d definitely recommend subscribing to Seth’s blog. He’s incredibly insightful. Most importantly, his advice and wisdom is actionable.

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A mass of habits

Creativity, Philosophy

At 7:30 this morning I was up and rolling around on my yoga mat. I’ve got a mild ‘winged scapula’ (my shoulder blades stick out a lot because of some weakness in the serratus [1]). It’s caused some issues with shoulder pain and a slight muscular imbalance. I researched it and I’m doing something about it. It’s not the most fun workout I do, but I’ve certainly noticed the difference already.

It got me thinking about the journey to ‘being in good shape’. What does it mean? Isn’t being something really just a series of activities? Creating a workout plan, maybe a diet plan too, fitting in training around your busy life, not neglecting flexibility or endurance, resisting biscuits, buying groceries, cooking packed lunches, adjusting your plan, getting to and from the gym, sacrificing extra minutes in bed…

“We are what we repeatedly do.”

Aristotle

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

William James

So, if we accept that the ‘doing’ in each day ends up defining our lives, it’s important to think about what it is you want to be, and then set up the ‘doing’ portion according to those aspirations. So let’s say you sleep between 6 and 8 hours. What fills the rest?

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Casey Neistat does a fantastic job of explaining this idea here – there’s no bullshit here. It’s such simple advice, and it’s incredibly actionable:

This was the first one of Casey’s videos I ever saw. I’d highly recommend subscribing to him on Youtube. He’s an incredibly hard working, innovative creator. I’ll write about him soon.

You’ve got a certain amount of time each day (24 hours to be precise). It’s up to you how you choose to allocate it, fit stuff in and actually do it. As soon as you have the realisation that your time is scarce, and you have some choice in how you spend it, you can never look back.

If you don’t take action, you’re making a conscious decision that you don’t care about your future.

How do you know what the right things to spend your time on are? Get your thoughts out on paper – it’s cheap.


Notes

For a relatively short essay, this required a lot of thinking, and I’m still not blown away by how it came out. I’ll revisit this topic once I feel I can articulate myself a little clearer on the issue.

As usual, here are the various notes this article came from:

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