The one question you should ask yourself
In the post-truth, pre-sanity, information-vomit age where people can become “experts” by looking good naked, nobody knows what’s real news any more, and 20something “masterminds” are a thing…
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
There are 15 million hits on Google for damn near every fitness and nutrition question you may have.
There areYouTube videos with a bro “calling out the internet hatas” or articles like “Why your stretching routine is all wrong and probably going to snap your legs off”.
Plus Dr. Google is also happy to diagnose you with a rare disease if you search for “Why do I have a headache?” OH SHIT WHAT IF I’M MISSING MY SKULL??
We don’t trust our own bodies.
- Is my spine plotting to break on me?
- Why can’t I control my appetite?
- Is cancer growing in my innards right now?
- Why does my butt look like this?! Shouldn’t it look like that?
- Should I be “hacking my biology” more? That Bulletproof / Soylent / 4-Hour / 30 Bananas A Day guy seems to have it going on.
Human beings generally hate to feel out of control.
We worry. We ruminate.
We pick away at the edges of our life fabric.
We chew on our own heads.
So we look for rules.
Clear, unambiguous codes.
Like Food X is bad and Exercise Y is good and You Should Always / Never Do Z.
Person X is my guru! Person Y is a know-nothing hack!*
*To be fair, this is more true than not-true in fitness and nutrition.
Except rules suck.
We love them and we hate them.
We want them to fit us, but they never do.
We want to follow them; we want to rebel against them.
Ultimately, rules tell us nothing about ourselves.
They tell us nothing about what we need. About what we truly want.
About what our body is saying. About how we should colour in our life’s outlines.
About who we are.
Rules are cookie-cutter, outside constraints. They are other people’s scripts for how you should be.
Sure, we have to abide by some of them. We should abide by a few of them.
For instance, gravity is a thing. “Share your toys” is a good rule, as is “Try not to be an asshole” and “Don’t text while driving”.
But most rules have nothing to do with us as unique people.
So fuck rules.
Let’s try something else.
Questions are better than rules.
Questions ask us to actively show up to our lives.
Questions ask us to engage. To check in. To give a shit. To put on the big-girl / big-boy pants and belly up to the bar of reality.
Questions turn our brain and awareness on. Rules turn our brains and awareness off.
So here’s your one question.
“Is this making me better, or worse?”
Is this thing I am doing, this choice I am making, this perspective I have, making me better… or worse?
Think carefully now. Watch how your brain treats this.
“This makes me better because now I’m not a weak sack of ugly crap” is a wrong answer.
“This makes me better because now I’m not going to be so bad”: also wrong.
“This makes me better because now people will love me and I’ll belong to the club”: so wrong.
“Better” is a long-term effect.
Diligently doing your rehab exercises, or practicing something every day, makes you better… even if you suck at it right now.
“Better” has to pass the long-term test of sustainability.
Over time, if you make this choice over and over and over, will this choice help or harm you?
- Will it eventually move you towards a better life, or a worse life?
- Will it eventually move you towards a healthier body, or an unhealthier one?
- Will it eventually move you towards deep engagement with the world, or self-alienation?
- Will it eventually move you towards strength, resilience, and the power to do things, or injury and brokenness?
“Better” is living in alignment with your deepest values, priorities, and desired life outcomes.
Learning to communicate, or have relationship skills, makes you better if your goal is to connect meaningfully with other human beings… again, even if you suck at it right now.
Learning to move well and to treat your body with kindness makes you better if your goal is to age like a boss… even if that means you don’t go for that max lift done with crap form that might blow out your knees.
“Better” is for YOU and what YOU want out of life.
“Better” is what you want your whole story to be.
“Better” is not “perfect”.
Nor is “better” about “being the best”.
“Better” is a process of ongoing commitment to mastery and the quality of the process.
“Better” is about how you show up.
“Better” is about what you do when nobody is looking.
“Better” might not be absolutely better.
You can’t perform athletically at 81 exactly the way you did at 18. You can’t train with an injury the way you can when you’re perfectly healthy.
So “better” is relative to the moment, and to your unique circumstances.
Better is about the “inner game”.
Who YOU are as a person. How YOUR body feels and functions.
What YOU feel inside. What drives and inspires you.
“Better” is not about gold stars, trophies, social approval, or high-fives from other people.
“Better” is about being able to look yourself in the eye, and shake hands with yourself.
“Worse” breaks you down without building you up again.
Unlike “better”, where you might have to take a step back to go forward in the long run, or fall apart to put yourself back together, “worse” just keeps moving you backwards and corroding you, forever.
“Worse” has no long-term future.
“Worse” choices are often “right-now” choices, like “Fuck it, I want this 12th tequila!” or “Put all my savings on red 32!”
“Worse” is often driven by what you think other people need and want.
Like, “Well, everyone expects me to ____, so I should _____.” (See Your dreams are stupid and nobody cares.)
Like, “Nobody will love me if I don’t have / do _____.”
Like, “I’ll never belong anywhere if I’m not _____.”
“Worse” has shitty tradeoffs.
Tough choices are part of life. We may have to make tough choices to be “better”.
For instance, we may have to accept that:
- We must do some painful learning in order to grow. (Better.)
- We have to suck it up and do our rehab exercises in order to get back to doing the activities we love. (Better.)
- We have to lift lighter weights (or — gah — none at all) in order to get our exercise form correct. (Better.)
- We have to face the grossness of humility and admit we were actually wrong, in order to strengthen a relationship we value. (Better.)
But some choices make no sense.
- “I’m going to choose to starve myself, accepting that even if I ever get lean / skinny enough, I’ll still hate myself.”
- “I’m going to choose to keep doing this exercise with crap form, accepting that I’ll end this process with an injury.”
- “I’m going to choose to become obsessed with my body, accepting that at the end of it, I’ll alienate everyone around me and end up ironically alone.”
- “I’m going to choose to define myself by whether I can see my abs, accepting that this limits the sum total of my existence to a few contingent inches of flesh, and enables me to spend my days in a shame spiral.”
- “I’m going to choose to avoid painful feelings by drinking, accepting I’ll wake up with a hangover and eventually cultivate a nice case of liver damage.”
You don’t have to be a philosopher to know these are bad choices.
“Worse” is a choice between shit and shit. Shit now and shit later.
What if I don’t know the answer?
Allow yourself to struggle with the question.
Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes not.
Play out any potential scenario, to see how it unrolls.
What happens if you keep making this same choice for a year? 10 years? 20 years?
When you think about this choice, especially in the long term, what happens in your body?
Do you feel excited and inspired, full of happy bubbles?
Do you feel quietly proud, with a soft glow in your chest?
Do you feel despair, with your ribs suddenly caving into a sinkhole?
Do you feel avoidant, like your feet want to run away?
Use your body cues.
Run the numbers.
If body cues are too woo-woo for you, look at some data.
What is your choice costing you now? What will it cost you in future?
Accept that “better” is often uncomfortable.
Keep your eye on those deeper values. Push through the grossness as needed.
(Resistance may tell you there’s something important that you need to explore. Don’t ignore it.)
Get help being “better” if you need it.
Don’t try to make “better” choices alone if you know you’ll have a hard time not going back to the familiar garbage trough of “worse”.
“Better” vs. “worse” is the most basic fork in the road.
But it’s also often the one that asks us to do the most get-real work with ourselves.
What are you going to choose?