by Mark Twight of Gym Jones
The psychological impact of physical effort is a common Gym Jones theme. The temporary transformation one experiences by becoming what he or she is doing carries over into other aspects of one’s life. Because I presume awareness and competence I often fail to point out that, going through the motions, without presence, intensity or commitment does not produce positive psychological effects. To be transformed by effort, one must dig deep, surpass one’s expectations or self-imposed limitations, risk failure, blow up, and, as cycling guru Keith Bontrager aptly described, “get the full dose.”
“It always hurts when you go as hard as you can.”
Pain is constant during hard effort. Bontrager wrote, “It always hurts when you go as hard as you can.” And this is precisely what keeps most people from pulling out all the stops – it f***ing hurts. But with the right attitude and the will to suffer, “this sort of pain can become easier to endure with practice.” You confront it, immerse yourself in it, and become it. You survive. The next time – because you know what’s coming – you are less apprehensive, which spares energy, allowing you to focus, to push harder, and perhaps to truly suffer. You don’t quit. You get through it. Confidence soars. Your self-image changes, you begin to see yourself as able, capable, and newfound capacity causes ambition to evolve so you try something harder. It lasts longer. In it, you have the time to think, to look inward, which separates the “sprint” experience from the endurance effort: self-knowledge gained during effort is more honest and clear than what one learns through analysis after the fact, which is too often corrupted by selective memory.
Bontrager also states, “the perspective that you acquire on facing hardship makes you stronger and tougher in a lot of ways that are unrelated” to the specific sport or endeavor, though only “if you get the full dose.” When dose and duration are great enough you will be transformed. How much, and how long? Olympic gold-medalist Brad Lewis wrote, “A man goes through many changes in 2000 meters. Some of them not very pretty. Some make you hate yourself.” Brad’s incredible intensity allowed him to plumb his soul in less than seven minutes. Others substitute duration for intensity, spending hours or days on honest self-inquiry. Some dedicate themselves to a lifelong process. For those interested in finding answers, the journey lasts as long as is needed, constantly attended by the risk that the answer may not be the one desired.
Nietzsche wrote that, “Great pain is, as the teacher of great suspicion, the ultimate liberator of the spirit.” He doubted that “such pain ‘improves’ – but I do know it deepens us'” Whether you consciously take or involuntarily receive the full dose, a bright, tingly, and often harsh self-awareness results. Different people react differently to such cathartic events. While one may stick his head in the sand because he doesn’t like what he sees, another may become more conscious, more often aware and mindful.
We state on the site, “effort and pain may not be avoided” but it should be included that without their mental counterparts the physical symptoms (or consequences) of hard effort are mostly irrelevant. Suffering is the gateway to true knowledge of one’s self, and therefore humility. Season the physical with psychological difficulty and risk and administer at the proper dosage to achieve higher consciousness. What is this spice? It is the unknown, the new and different, an uncertain outcome, a consequence or penalty, competition, comparison, or perhaps it’s as simple as changing expectations, being held to a higher standard.
Learn something new. Do something different. Test yourself. Confront your true capacities. Instill dedication by threatening yourself with a penalty for failure. Take away the safety net to compel better performance. One of Brad Lewis’ mentors suggested it is, “better to work without a net, or a saw guard. The intensity [is] greater, more concentration, total commitment, better results.” This is the ideal of the solo climber, and the man with his back is against the wall, with nothing to lose.
You have to be willing to bite off more than you can chew, to overdose, and to fail. If you won’t risk the answer you won’t ask the question. If you lack the will to ask then consciousness will not unite with muscle and bone. I criticize such a lack of will (especially in myself) and ask, “What’s the worst that can happen?” The fearful part of me replies, “I may fall short of my expectations. I may not be who I pretend to others. My perception of self may be proven wrong, very wrong.” The confident part of me says, “So what … only after breaking myself apart may rebuilding begin.” So go ahead, break stuff. Break yourself on the once-hard edges of yourself. And recycle the debris into the foundation of your future.