I'm about to turn 44. I started lifting when I was 14. At that time, my home life was a disaster and my best friend had just died in a motorcycle accident. My self esteem was shot. I dropped out of school a year later and never went back until college.
I could have dove into drugs and alcohol during those years. But what lifting did for my self esteem was unparalleled. All I dreamed about everyday was getting bigger and stronger. I read every article and book I could get my hands on. As a young man struggling with what felt like an infinite amount of loss at that time, lifting was a healthy coping mechanism and an outlet to pour myself into every day.
Lifting Has Many Parallels to Life
Just like there are seasons in life that we go through, lifting is no different. During my years of competitive powerlifting I didn't care about being shredded or even being healthy. I cared about weight on the bar. That was all that mattered.
Eventually I "retired" from powerlifting. I stopped caring about weight on the bar and began to loathe the huge role it played in my training. It sucked out all the joy. If I wasn't getting stronger or setting PR's then I wasn't happy. In addition, I found myself constantly comparing my lifts to others. And as the saying goes, "comparison is the thief of joy." That was true.
That season ended as planned. And I made a promise that when I turned 40 I'd focus on prioritizing health, conditioning, and overall sexiness.
The next season led me into doing a bodybuilding show, which I'd always wanted to do. And I found that show prep was very time consuming and tends to rule every minute of every day. My focus afterward remained overall health, conditioning, and sexiness.
Investment vs. Bullshit Motivation
So what's the underlying thing that kept me in the gym for almost 30 years now? The idea of investment. Lifting isn't always fun. You have to commit to it and put in a lot of effort knowing that you'll get paid back for it later.
There are plenty of days that I dread it, or even skip it. But there are more days where I don't. It's become so ingrained in me that NOT going to the gym just feels weird.
But that's the thing about life, lifting, relationships, whatever you're committed to – in order for you to continue to invest in them, they must add meaning and purpose to your life. I once had an expert tell me "someone doesn't walk away from a relationship so long as they're still getting SOMETHING out of it."
I still get a lot out of my gym time. But the purpose related to that time has changed. I'm no longer obsessed with growing more muscle. I'm no longer ruled by how much weight is on the bar. But I still love pitting myself against the iron on the daily. I still find a lot of meaning involved in the effort there.
People often quit lifting because eventually, for them, the juice isn't worth the squeeze. The effort they're putting in isn't worth what they feel it should be getting back.
I'd love to give some poignant advice about how one could find such meaning with the iron. That would keep them motivated to stay in the gym, but I honestly don't have any. I believe that motivation, as a source to draw from, is very fragile and mostly bullshit.
But if I had to give some advice, it would be this: somehow you have to learn to fall in love with the process and stop worrying about the destination. The happiness that arrives at achieving something is fleeting. It's that area in between where you are now and where you'd like to be that you'll spend the most time in.
You have to fall in love with the effort required for you to get from that metaphorical A to B. That's where the magic in longevity lies.