Zen and the Art of Exercise (part 2)

Howdy readers! This is the second in a series of six articles titled Zen and the Art of Exercise. In each part I’ll be looking at a different koan – an anecdote or riddle used in Zen Buddhism to provoke thoughtfulness and enlightenment by circumventing typical logical thought – and then talking about how I feel it applies to exercise, fitness, health, training, etc. If you have no interest in philosophy at all, then this isn’t the series for you. But if you like thinking in the abstract and challenging your mind to understand new ideas, then this might be a fun read for you.


Zen and the Art of Exercise

Part 2: Open Your Own Treasure House

The Koan

Daiju visited the master Baso in China. Baso asked: “What do you seek?”

“Enlightenment,” replied Daiju.

“You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?” Baso asked.

Daiju inquired: “Where is my treasure house?”

Baso answered: “What you are asking is your treasure house.”

Daiju was enlightened! Ever after he urged his friends: “Open your own tresure house and use those treasures.”

The Lesson

What motivates you? In life, in relationships, in your career, or in the gym, what is it that drives you to be better tomorrow than you are today? Do you look outwards to celebrities, family, or friends to motivate yourself to accomplish your goals, or do you look inwards at your own desires and wants and needs? If you’re like most people, you look more towards the outside than you do the inside. It’s easy to say, “I want to be rich like Bill Gates” or “I want to lift as much as Rich Froning”. Looking at other people as your standard lets you step outside yourself for a moment and use them as a push. This can be useful when you don’t know what your goals are or if you’re having trouble getting up the courage to try something new, but what happens when the external “push” turns into your only reason for doing what you’re doing?

It can become dangerous to end up only extrinsically motivated, meaning you’re only being pushed to succeed from outside forces. It opens up a path where you are no longer responsible for your own success and failure. After all, if you were really meant to succeed, your external motivation should have gotten you there! Assuming you do succeed, who will get the credit for your success? If you rely completely on others as your driving force, you’re very likely to give them credit for your hard work, diminishing your own accomplishments to the person they should impress the most: yourself.

Prioritizing Intrinsic Motivation

If the secret to true success is to become motivated from within, then it serves you to learn how to do so! Here are ten ways to improve internal motivations.

1. Break down larger goals into small ones you can do relatively easily and on your own. Celebrate and “stock up” on these small successes.

2. Write things down. Make it easy to monitor your progress and tick off items on your “To Do” list.

3. Rephrase your pain points to highlight the pleasures you will get from conquering them. Instead of saying, “working out has never worked for me before” say something like, “exercising will make me feel and look 100% better than I do now”.

4. Use the pain points as motivation not to regress to bad habits. Instead of lamenting how hard it might be to workout that day, remind yourself how much sadder you’ll be if you stop your good habits.

5. Do your best to stop fearing change. Accept that it happens to everyone, that it will happen to you, and that it will happen over and over again. Change is progress and progress is good.

6. Set a higher purpose for yourself in the form of large, life changing goals. Examples might be starting a business or being able to run a marathon with your child when they’re of age.

7. Find healthy outlets of cooperation AND competition. Finding people to work with can help you motivate yourself to do more and accomplish more as a group, and finding people to compete with good-naturedly has the same effect but in a manner that sets all of you as goal extenders for one another.

8. Compete against yourself to garner ever greater results from relative effort on repeatable tasks, such as continuously improving lift numbers or running times.

9. Talk to friends and family who want to see you succeed. Brain-dumping your accomplishments can help you recognize your own success and push towards ever greater heights. Keeping a journal can do the same thing.

10. Use affirmations to remind yourself that success is possible AND probable if you put in the work. On a piece of paper, write down your goal 15 times as though you have already accomplished it. For instance, don’t write “I want to lose 15 lbs” instead write something like “I feel so much better and healthier since losing 15 lbs of fat”. Act as though you’re already there, and you will move towards it more effectively.