Breaking the Mold

Fitness and life should be messy, beautiful, and human.

“Our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by society.”

Alan Watts

“Our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by society.”

Alan Watts

You were born into an industrialized world of domestication, isolation, and categorization. Pop Tarts for breakfast. Mom transports you to school. Sit still in class. Walk to another class with an entirely unrelated, compartmentalized subject. Sit still. Soda and square pizza at lunch. Every other day you get to move in PE. Your social energy is invested in finding an appropriate group category. Perhaps athlete or the theatre clique. Ride the bus home. Do your homework and watch TV before having Hamburger Helper or a frozen pizza for dinner.

Mom and dad were cogs in the machine, working jobs you hardly understood—insurance claims or as a data specialist—to provide more material accumulation. This was your goal. Go to college. Study business, finance, or something tech related in hopes of getting a high-paying job. The point was to put yourself in a comfortable position so you could afford all the things you want—nice cars, nice house, nice clothes, a house-cleaner, a premium television package, and all that makes life wonderful.

College was a blast, although classes were tough and, often, uninspiring. A means to end. You graduated and got a good job with lots of room for advancement. You’re selling something. It doesn’t really matter what. You punch the numbers in the spreadsheets, or make the sales calls to customers, or maintain inventory, or some other role on this figurative assembly line. You are disconnected from the beginning and the end, isolated in your cubicle, pushing paper for pay.

You are still drinking and eating like a college student. These habits provide relief from the mind-numbing work and dissatisfying lack of purpose. Absent of intramural sports and a biker-friendly campus, your physique inevitably deteriorates.

This leaves two choices. Deny your desire to be better, or make a change. You opt for a gym membership. It is refreshing to be in a new environment with new people. While initially annoyed by how quickly your body has declined, you’re amazed how good you feel after a workout.

But that novelty soon wears off. It becomes a chore to get to the gym. Sitting all day makes you tired. Workouts are uninspiring.

You run like a hamster on a wheel while watching the news. You walk a never-ending staircase. You bike without moving. You go to the arms section for arms, the legs section for legs, and then the ab section for abs. Industrialization and domestication.

The Daily Grind

Each day becomes a cycle of going to work and working enough to avoid notice, scanning social media and Amazon for things that might shake you out of your rut, battling traffic to get across town, and then punishing yourself at the gym, limb by limb, under the guise that this is the only path to health.

In the locker-room you overhear a guy talking about his new diet. He is only working out three days a week and he’s lost 30 lbs. All you have to do is militantly count calories. He gets 2,000 per day and tracks them on an app.

He’s found that by buying a lot of low fat foods he can eat more because fats have nine calories per gram versus the four of protein and carbs. His wisdom becomes your introduction to “clean eating.” Categorize foods by macronutrient profile and count the calories. Industrialization and domestication.

You become obsessed with buying packaged foods with clearly marked calories and then adding up the calorie totals each time you eat. Clearly this is no way to live. You feel lethargic. Every day there seems to be new sweets in the office that take away from what you can eat the rest of the day.

Eventually, you get a promotion and see your workload increase. After a fun weekend at a friend’s wedding you remember how free and easy life used to be. You are done with this crap.

This is normal. This is the standard model of life that we’ve been handed.

We don’t just eat. The concept of prioritizing whole foods available in nature seems bizarre. Like, you don’t eat chips? We don’t just move as an obvious extension of being alive. We won’t bike to work, but we think we need to get up an hour early to ride a stationary bike.

We won’t mow our own lawn, or take the stairs, but we’ll do lunges around the track. We aren’t connected to projects that have clear beginnings and ends. We rarely play and have little understanding about what will give life meaning.

The Funnel of Society

Society funnels us towards work, material accumulation, dating, marriage, and eventually having kids that require us to make more money in order to maintain the things we all “need.” With few other examples, and the overwhelming pull of smartphone distraction, these children are quickly indoctrinated into the same patterns.

It is a cold, artificial, reductionist world that misses the obvious interrelations between everything. Contrast this to the world your biology was intended.

Hunting and gathering was the only job and all in your tribe were on the same team. The group depended on you. You’d explore constantly, deeply in tune with the environment and all your senses. Each day introduced novel movement from climbing trees to jumping between boulders. Time was spent on hunting missions and building projects. Free time was ample and led to games, music, and stories around the communal fire. It was a life of natural harmony and discovery.

Sure, there were dangers and hardships, but there was also great freedom and strength. Each person got to realize the resilient beast they were made to be. They knew who they were, what they were capable, and what they would die for. They faced rites of passage that clearly illuminated their immense capability and forged unshakable bonds through profound, vulnerable experience.

“What would you risk dying for—and for whom—is perhaps the most profound question a person can ask themselves. The vast majority of people in modern society are able to pass their whole lives without ever having to answer that question, which is both an enormous blessing and a significant loss.”

Sebastian Junger, Tribe

Obesity, depression, anxiety, suicide, and drug overdoses all climb to disturbing heights. We’re entrapped by debt, stuck in a chair doing meaningless work, while totally disconnected from the universals of the human experience.

Insulated from reality, society is immersed in creature comforts, growing dependent on sweets and heated seats. We become brittle and entitled, feeling afflicted by the exact gift that we need—the adversity that would call us to purpose, authenticity, and a greater version of ourselves.

We can’t hide from our bio-evolutionary nature and expect to thrive. But, perhaps, we don’t need to go back to a nomadic existence to realize the essentiality in honoring these deep human needs for authenticity, connection, and competency.

In our work at Inspired Human Development, Justin Lind and I refer to the concept of a Standard Model. As Justin first defined it:

“The standard model is life as we know it. It is the promise of happiness and fulfillment if you only just follow the expected and “normal” path through Western life.”

Life Is Too Short to Be Normal

Let’s break the mold.

Breaking the mold is about questioning the standard model of fitness and life. It is about challenging the compartmentalization and needless limitation of this artificial world in order to experience a fuller existence.

It is about breaking down walls so fitness intersects with life and offers a portal to a new way of thinking. The body is the entry point for self-development, but if we don’t eventually take it further than arbitrarily selected fitness goals we are sacrificing this gift.

My aim is not to attack the gym, but to remember that the point of the weight room has always been to make us capable of more outside of it—to enhance our lives and make us capable of doing the activities that make life special.

We don’t go to the gym in order to punish ourselves for a bland, sedentary life, or to excuse laziness and limited living through the rest of our week. Rather, the gym was created to offer unique challenge and training that amplify our pursuits and bring greater possibility to our lives.

Breaking the mold is about asking why.

The past few generations have grown up absent of any mission or grand challenge. Without unifying purpose, the point of life became self-promotion, consumption, and convenience. Our lives were regimented around these outcomes.

The markers of adulthood became automatic and material. Eventually we took on the appearance and habits of adulthood, but without the strength and confidence we were sure would follow. A large part of us is desperately aware that we only have one life to live, yet unsatisfied with how each day is spent.

But, we have to do these things to provide for our children. The best thing any parent can do for their child is model a strong, tenacious spirit and a passionate life. Strong parents. Strong kids.

Stuff doesn’t matter. What really matters? Health, a joy in movement, passionate hobbies, a sense of freedom, confidence in your competency, deep relationships, and a desire to learn, grow, and chase challenges so that we are always becoming more.

We are already rebels. Fitness, in and of itself, is an act of counter-culture in this crazy world. Let’s take it further. Break the mold. Break down category and reductionism. Fitness and life should be messy, beautiful, and human. Fitness is not separate from life. It bleeds into every arena, and likewise, is informed by all our other experiences. Everything is everything again. We are an integrated, complex machine.

This Week’s Mission

Workout outside. It’s cold? Even better. It’s muddy? That’s the spirit.

Play with and practice these animal movements, courtesy of Justin Lind. Don’t worry about counting sets or reps. Just play as long as you can and feel free to let the momentum bring you into more creative play, whether handstand practice, cartwheels, a game of catch, or a joyful jog.

If other people are around you might feel awkward. Don’t be afraid of being weird.

Life is too short to be normal.