Toward the end of 2015 I noticed a marketing push by Jesse Itzler for his book “Living with A Seal”. I posted about it, which Jesse saw. He then contacted me directly and sent me a signed copy of his book a few months later. I was in disbelief as the return address was his actual home with his wife, Sara Blakely.
At the time I liked the mental toughness of the unidentified “Seal” character in Jesse’s book; but even then I warned about how simply pushing hard can be bad methodology. Sure, for people stuck in the excuse-making mode, there is a lot to be learned there. Nevertheless, pushing insanely hard isn’t actually a method or a strategy for 99% of people, and it certainly doesn’t achieve fulfillment or balance.
We have to be very careful about survivor bias. I didn’t wear a bike helmet or a seat belt as a kid. That I’m just fine doesn’t mean those are good tactics. I survived to tell the story. I too used to start my day between 2 and 4am, 7 days per week, and hammered out days which are unbelievable to people, FOR YEARS. That doesn’t mean it was a good idea for others. That doesn’t mean I was able to have balance with my family or maximize my time with loved ones who are no longer among us. It doesn’t mean I improved my long-term health prospects. It just means I survived.
A year or two later, the mythical “Seal” whom Jesse had built up in his marketing push, book, and interviews came out of the shadows to reveal his true identity: David Goggins. Already known in some ultra-endurance circles, Goggins stepped out into the public eye, and meteorically he skyrocketed to fame and stardom. Again, there is a lot to be gleaned from Goggins’ messages about inaction, combatting it and combatting the desire to weakly shut down and give in to our lesser selves.
The fact of the matter is that the Goggins mindset, though rare, is not singular. Lots of people push themselves and too hard, but they don’t survive to tell us how cruelty to their bodies was the right tactic. Through actual debilitating injury, sickness, or fractured relationships, they decide to reevaluate the idea. Goggins survived really dumb solipsistic training, outrageously imbalanced priorities, incredibly self-centered schedules. That doesn’t make it a good idea for others. It doesn’t make it a good idea for him. To his credit, he does say that what he does isn’t for everyone. To his credit, his primary message is that people have so much untapped potential they’ll never even know.
But there IS a problem. First of all, we have still not helped the majority of people find a way to get involved in fitness which progresses them and stays with them over the long-term. So more “go hard until you puke, and then keep going” messaging isn’t really winning any converts or having a net positive impact on the world. The health and fitness statistics for the average populace keep worsening, sadly. We need more realistic and reasonable messages, not more from extremists.
In fact, I have increasingly come to worry that watching other people do really hard physical feats may be worsening outcomes for all. Voyeurs and virtue signalers don’t do the hard work, by definition. We discovered some years ago that wearing a fitness tracker worsens outcomes: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2553448. That’s right. Wearing a FitBit or other tracker can make you fat, or at least REDUCE the amount of loss you would’ve had. One of the reasons is that wearing the device flips a virtue switch in the brain convincing the wearer that he or she has “done something” merely by wearing the device. Likewise, as fitness influencers have exploded into existence, the general populace has gotten more unhealthy at a FASTER rate than before. It’s likely that people watch someone like Goggins and think they “did something” by virtue of merely watching him or feeling his message resonate, without actually DOING anything.
Second, there are just as many dangers on the other side of inaction, just as many or more dysfunctions that crop up in relationships, just as many or more dangers of being a monochromatic caricature of a successful person. People get lost in obsessions, even ones which started with good intentions and transformative drive.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, mostly people need to get off their butts and move, get off their phones and live, confront fears, not cower in the face of challenge, get up and DO. When things get tough, yes, harden up. Good.
HOW do we get people to improve? Call me crazy; but I don’t think injuring themselves and burning up 6 hours per day on inefficient training methods is going to do it. We know that wearing trackers doesn’t do it. I don’t think that watching OTHER people do hard work gets it done either. Sustainable progress will keep coming back to moderate alterations. Developing consistency isn’t about shock, excitement, feelings of motivation, or punishing hours which most people just aren’t ever going to do. It’s about one positive step right now. And another after that.
And in six months, five years, ten years, if people haven’t figured out how to reasonably balance their progress with the rest of their lives, they aren’t still stepping. In a given bout, in a given moment, the 40% rule or the Goggins tough love is apropos. But then the bills come, the work deadline drops, the end of quarter occurs, the family member dies, and life happens… and the regular people literally do not have the immense luxury of sitting back on their fame, fortune, book deal, cult of personality, and multi-million follower base of supporters.
When you need to break the addiction to excuses, any guru will do. Goggins has no monopoly on it. Any tough love message will suffice. But you also have to acknowledge that you aren’t doing anything by simply listening to another tough love message, another pep rally moment, another podcast, another article, another reel. You have to actually go do the work. Moreover, when you are ready to stay consistent and balance your desired progress with the rest of your life, then scrap the gurus, keep a minimal weekly practice in place, recover, DO NOT push too hard, DO NOT embrace “no pain, no gain” mindsets.
Just do. And just be consistent. There’s no way to do that if you truly drive yourself into the ground, into exhaustion, into dysfunctional solitude, into injury, into brokenness.