The inspiration to start exercising came from The School Of Life YouTube Channel. They do historical, literary, psychologically practical videos with charming English narration. When they made a video with a short exercise routine saying one should take care of body and mind, and that exercise has cognitive and emotional benefits I thought oh yeah I should get some exercise. I started doing some of their stretches here and there but it wasn’t until I started doing a one minute plank first thing every morning that exercise started to take hold. (here, if you don’t know what a plank is).
Eventually my plank got up to 4 minutes. Which is pretty boring.
Then I read (thanks to GQ and my love of suits coincidentally) that there’s no point working your abs if you’re not going to burn the fat off your belly and that means cardio. They specified 20 minutes of pre-breakfast jogging so that’s what I did.
And that’s the real turning point of it all because I had a really bad procrastination problem my whole life but because they – a fashion magazine – had said morning jog and I had already established morning planks I was in the condition to do this right. I saved starting my jogging routine until I was on a break from work so that I couldn’t skip it. No matter when I woke up, no matter how slow I moved, I declared that I couldn’t eat, drink coffee, open my laptop, or do anything until after a run.
You’ll need a hero from time to time. Jocko’s Psychological Warfare album on Spotify helped me out some mornings.
Every morning there was resistance. Just pure drag. But once I got my headphones on – with the same playlist every morning – and into the first stretch the resistance was gone. And I noticed that the resistance felt terrible but the stretch and the run never did. Eventually I started ignoring the resistance and being excited to get on with the run.
Then the morning runs got canned by winter and then our neighbor complaining about our treadmill – which is fair because the thing sounds like a self-destructing U-boat – and I switched to running after work at the gym. I changed from first thing when I got up to first thing after work and I learned a lot about how much time and energy I really had access to in a day.
And that’s when I knew I’d really gotten started.
But I think the most important thing was in me before any of this: I had a vision of my better self. What Jung called the Shadow Self, the version of me made up of all the things I’m not. I could imagine this better self running a parallel life to the one I felt trapped in the previous year. Once I could access that better self without just wishing and regretting and mourning I was free.
If the practical was what really mattered there wouldn’t be any unhealthy people at all, it’s the internal, it’s not what you see in the mirror – it’s who you see in the mirror. If you see someone who you think doesn’t really deserve to be happy, or who is a tragedy because they should have done things differently years ago then you’re just going to mourn your best self rather than become it.
If you want to change you have to break free of your persona, of the story you tell yourself. You have to close your eyes, breathe deep, and ask what would the better you do?