Categories
General Life Skills

The Burden of Ambition (And The Importance of Looking Behind You)

We love to set big goals and get shit done. But is our ambition making us feel unsatisfied?


As ambitious Type-A people, we feel that if we’re not finding new ways to grow, learn, or challenge ourselves then we must be moving backward. (And there’s nothing an ambitious person hates more than failing to make progress.)

Ambition has its perks, of course. It allows us to learn new skills and create new things. But I believe it can also be a burden. Left unchecked, our ambition can cause us to put too much focus on where we’re going and not enough focus on where we are now or where we’ve been.

And you don’t need to be a Buddhist monk or new-agey mindfulness expert to know that always looking toward a future, far-off goal—and failing to live in the present—is a recipe for unhappiness.

Focusing on the future is like chasing the horizon.

We step outside our doors and take a look faaaarrr in front of us, our eyes following the earth until it turns to sky. From our vantage point, the horizon seems like a fixed point, some place we can physically get to if only we start walking.

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Credit: Andrew Loewen

So we start walking.

But instead of getting closer, the horizon keeps moving farther and farther away. We walk and we walk, but we never seem to reach it. After a day of walking (or a month, or a lifetime) we realize we haven’t gotten any closer.

That’s because the horizon moves as we move.

This is when ambitious people start to feel demoralized. We didn’t capture the horizon. We didn’t reach our Big Goal. And from the looks of it, we may never reach it.

What a miserable failure, we think. Why do I suck so much at life?

But if we were to take a moment to look around and maybe enjoy where we’re at, we’d likely see that from where we’re standing, things actually look pretty good. And if we were to turn around and look back behind us, well, we’d see how far we’ve actually come.

“Holy shit, I started way back there. And now I’m here.”

By all means we should continue to chase our goals. We should thank our weird biological wiring and embrace our ambition and the positive consequences that come with it. But we should also realize that our Big Goal, whatever it is, is never a fixed point. Just like the horizon, it moves as we move. We’ll never truly get there.

That’s why it’s important to pause every now and then to look around, take in the sights, see what’s happening right here, right now.

And maybe even look behind us, to see the real progress we’ve made.

-Nate

(Thanks to Phil Caravaggio for introducing me to the concept of “chasing the horizon.” And thanks to you for reading.)

Categories
General Health and Fitness

“How Do I Get My Workout Habit Back?”

Here’s an email I received last week:

Workout habit

I’m no Dear Abby, but I do like to try and help people when they ask. I told Joe I had some ideas for him, but that I preferred to share them publicly, just in case it could help someone else in a similar situation.

Joe was cool with it. I’m cool with it. I figure you’re cool with it too.

Here we go.


Joe! Thanks for the question, man.

After thinking about this, the following is what came to mind based on my own experience. Feel free to take it or leave it.

1. ACCEPT AND EMBRACE “THE FUNK”.

You write, “I was doing well and now I’m in a funk.” I think it’s important to understand that no matter what part of life we’re focusing on, we’re gonna randomly and consistently oscillate between “well” and “funk.”

It happens on both a micro and macro level.

MACRO: My life is amazing and everything is easy and rewarding…………..I hate my life and wish a comet would hit Earth and kill everyone.

MICRO: It’s gonna feel so good to meditate, I can’t wait to sit down and do nothing for a full 20 minutes…………..Screw meditation.

This fluctuation is normal and shouldn’t surprise us. That’s why the first thing I encourage you to do is simply to accept and prepare for the funk. Some days are gonna feel easy. Other’s are gonna be a motherfucker.

And on those days, I’ve found that making a short list of habits reminds me of the minimum I need to do to stay on track—and maybe even turn things around.

2. START WITH ONE SMALL ACTION—TODAY.

If you’re not currently working out at all, what’s one small thing you can do today to start? Don’t think too hard here. Instead, it’s important to pick something and do it, just so you can build momentum. (Also, if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised, you may have forgotten how good the serotonin boost can feel, even after just 5 minutes of moving.)

A few ideas:

Sure, it’s small. But it’s better than nothing (which is what you’re currently doing).

PRI Yoga, with Craig and Margaret
Anti-Yoga, with Craig and Margaret

3. ASK YOURSELF “WHY?”

It may be that you’re not working out consistently simply because you don’t have a good reason to work out consistently. In other words, your goals aren’t in line with your values.

When I worked with Precision Nutrition, we gave every client an exercise called “The 5 Why’s.” (See below.) It’s a simple way to give your goals some teeth.

I suggest you ask yourself the question, “Why do I want to get back in the habit of working out?” and follow the process to see what you come up with.

PN why

4. GIVE YOURSELF A NEW CHALLENGE.

When I was burned out on the gym and feeling unmotivated, one thing that helped get me out of it was coming up with a new physical challenge or skill I wanted to learn.

I wanted to stay in shape but I was tired of going into the gym and doing traditional strength training stuff the way I had been for the past decade. A new challenge was a good way to break the monotony and rekindle my passion for training.

A few challenge ideas:

  • Train for a one-time future event (like a Spartan race)
  • If you’ve been lifting weights for years, try adding gymnastic-based movements like working with rings and parallette bars or practicing handstands.
  • Pick up a dormant skill or game, like skateboarding, basketball, rock-climbing, ultimate frisbee, or any other active thing you used to do.

FINAL THOUGHT

In my experience, the same principles apply whether you’re trying to start a new habit or get an old habit back: start small, get clear on why it’s important to you, find new ways to have fun and challenge yourself, and embrace the fact that some days will be better than others.

And remember: This is all a work in progress.

-Nate