Here's what you need to know...
• Stressed? Overwhelmed? Take it out on the iron.
• Set goals, but be very careful who you share them with. Crush the naysayers with your success.
• There's a special kind of "spiritual cleansing" that occurs during intense sets. Seek it out.
Crush Your Demons
I've been through my share of shit, but 2010 was probably the worst year yet.
That year I lost my father. It was a terrible process that started with him suffering a stroke and being rushed to the hospital. While admitted, the doctors found he also had cancer.
My dad was eventually released and bounced back and forth between long-term care facilities and the hospital before eventually passing away a few months later.
Not long after my dad died, my wife suffered a pulmonary embolism and was also rushed to the hospital. Seconds away from dying, the doctors had to perform emergency open-heart surgery to save her.
Finally, on the business front, I had two monstrous legal issues that were coming to a head. So add legal wrangling and nonstop meetings on top of the normal day-to-day bullshit every business owner has to deal with and I was at my limit for stress.
To combat this, I tried to do what I always did when life got stressful – I trained.
Normal types might scoff at the notion of hitting the gym with so much shit going on, but they aren't seeing the big picture – or at least my big picture. I don't punish myself with drop-sets and high-rep squats to build muscle. I do it to kill my demons.
We all have demons inside of us. Some have more than others, and some guys can deal with them better than the next. That 40-something stressed-out businessman who suddenly snaps and bludgeons the Walmart greeter with a plunger is an example of someone who can't handle his demons.
I'm not saying I'm always inches away from committing manslaughter, but I can be a real dick when I let stress get the better of me.
So I smash my demons. I crush them under PR's.
And if I'm too fucked up to train heavy, I torch them with extended sets, rip them apart with rest pauses and drop sets, and then chase them away with whatever fucked-up finishing exercise I can think of.
The demons always come back, mind you, but as long as I have a key to my gym I can stay one step ahead.
Set Your Goals High and Keep 'em to Yourself
When setting goals, keep your goal specific to yourself and a select few. Keep your goal general to all others.
In other words, if your goal is to bench 400 pounds, keep that as a marker in your mind, but if others ask just tell them, "I'm training for a bigger bench," or "I'm working toward a new PR."
Your goal may be to get your body fat down to 6%, but all the masses need to know is, "I'm dieting right now."
The reason for this is simple: 90% of everyone you meet are negative pricks who will go out of their way to tell you why you can't do something. Once they know your goal, they'll try and tear you down. Just keep it vague, and all they can do is wish you success.
Of course, they may still try to tear you down once you've actually accomplished your goal, but who cares. You've done the work and have the results to show for it. They couldn't have done it. So fuck 'em.
I do feel it's important to put the goal out there to make you accountable, but I'd only tell those who know you can do it and will hold you accountable.
Take a good look at the people around you, and consider yourself lucky if you know even a small handful of people like this. But all you really need is one: you.
Embrace the Void
When I was a kid, the gym was the place I could go to get away from feeling like I was a worthless failure. I could be in charge and decide whether or not I succeeded.
It was my place to build and grow, mentally and physically. Much like other young kids who come from similar situations, I built walls around me. My walls were built of cast iron and steel.
It was also something I was good at. And as I grew and got bigger and stronger, the abuse went away very fast. I went from the kid that got "fucked with" to the kid you "don't want to fuck with."
And I still see training that way today. The reason for this – and the strong guys reading will be able to relate – is there's something that happens during those very intense sets.
It doesn't matter if it's a PR set, a Max Effort set, a strip set, or a high-rep set, as long as it's one that you know will be a challenge.
You know you need to find a way to up your game, step out of yourself, focus, and see what you're really made of. Because once the bar is loaded and your set comes around, you find this place that I really can't explain. From the time you approach the bar to the time the set is over, there's nothing.
The fight you had with your girlfriend that day? Gone. Your finals? Gone. Your work issues? Gone. Your bills? Gone. The asshole across the gym? Gone. The bullies? Gone. The hurt? Gone.
The mental pain is now replaced with physical pain, but this is pain that you crave, because the load you've been carrying all your life is now resting on your back. And you have the power to smash it.
I call this "nothing" The Void, but it isn't really nothing – it's everything.
When I look back over 30 years of training, my big take-away is that training is my therapy. This is why I do what I do, both the positives and even the stupid shit. This is why I'm so passionate about passing on what I know.
The Void is the only time that I'm truly free – free from the bullshit that other people and life has thrown at me. It's all gone, just me and the weight. And that's where I find my peace.
The Void has changed my life. Maybe it could change yours?