When my 3-year-old received a cancer diagnosis, my wife and I sat stunned in the doctor’s office, contemplating next steps. The biopsy verdict was in. Now we faced treatment. We asked the specialist if it could in any way be related to his complex autoimmune disease. Without hesitation, she shot back, “absolutely no way; the skin is entirely separate from what’s happening underneath the surface.” My wife and I looked at each other. We looked back at her. We looked back at each other.
It was not a particularly soaring high point in my life. I’d just gone through a lot of overwhelming frustration with debilitating Lyme disease and unhelpful medical professionals. The whole household had been though a month of bronchitis leading up to the birth of our daughter (giving birth is tough - but in the midst of a severe respiratory disease is unimaginable); my business partner wanted to go in a different direction; and the stress was so high and I was so under-rested that I had a complete pectoral tear during a routine light warmup.
I was so defeated that I had no rejoinder for the utter nonsense just spouted off by a leading pediatric dermatology medical doctor at one of the most revered hospitals in the world. The skin is separate from what’s going on underneath the surface? It’s a coincidence that the skin yellows during liver compromise? It’s a coincidence that skin changes precisely during hormonal fluctuations of puberty, drug use, or menopause? It’s a coincidence that my child has rampant inflammatory cascades AND a skin cancer?
We scheduled his surgery, my surgery, and life soldiered forward. We take each millisecond at a time, knowing full well that the rug may be swiped out without even a warning shot. I’m good. I’m good because INSIDE I’m a put-together person, not because my external environment is peachy. Next to my son, the best man I’ve ever known passed away not all that long ago. I’m good. I’m good because I don’t rely on external affirmations or delude myself into feeling whole by virtue of who does and doesn’t agree with me, support me, and so forth. I’m good because I’m good. I’m good because I accept that I was wrong, am wrong, will be wrong, and whatever expectations I try to set up for the universe would be sheer haughtiness. I’m good. That’s what I do. That’s who I am.
The doctor’s words still ring in my ear. Every day I hear her. I hear her throughout the collective “you” out there. You think you are going to force some other person to act a certain way, and that will magically change the fact that inside you are just an angry person. You think that you will change some external variable to no longer be a sad person internally. You think you will drop weight to no longer be a heavy person on the inside. You think you will support a political or philosophical position and that will change the fact that inside you are just a scared person. You cannot change the outside to fix what’s broken inside. You simply have to fix your inner broken pieces.
Don’t mishear me. There are many great causes for which you should fight. Absolutely, stand up for the marginalized. Alter inequities. But don’t for one second trick your brain into thinking that will make you whole. Your inner being is broken so tragically that no amount of ire, indignation, and external forces will make it right. The inside will still be wrong when everything outside is right.
This is the central message I preach in fitness. People want to lose weight, change eating, improve wellbeing, get stronger, whatever it is. That’s all great. But I know incredibly strong and visually fit people who are the most broken of all. Without a doubt, they fixed some broken components in order to showcase external outcomes. I don’t take an iota of credit away from them. Hear me though. Even in these cases, outside outcome was borne out of internal shifts.
ANYONE can go to any fitness program and “succeed.” That is, work some bolt-on lifestyle steps which you will assuredly discontinue, and the scale number will descend, or you’ll get a modicum of energy, or fill-in-the-blank-here. Cool. You changed the outside. The inside is still broken. I guarantee you’ll be back at square one and worse in 6 months, 5 years, 10 years.
Instead, have the vulnerability and go through the pain of acknowledging your inner broken being. That is all that matters. And, if in your egoism and self-righteousness and superiority you are incapable of facing yourself, you will be the same self except worse. Why? Because then you will have even less time to work the steps of internal revision.
People sit in shock when they hear about a wealthy or famous person who committed suicide. I expect it. I predict it. It’s the rule, not the exception. People who refuse to fix the inside are the most driven to seek the outside. Then they arrive. They changed it. But surprise surprise, the whole time they left the broken inner pieces asunder.
It’s time for the gut check. Do you have the same frustrations from a year ago? Do you have the same or worse impatience and temper? Do you have the same or worse tolerance for opposition as 5 or 10 years ago? If so, you’re breaking more on the inside than when you began to shape the world.
This is why you are dead wrong when you say you know what to do but don’t do it. This is why you’re dead wrong when you seek first to criticize than to understand. You’re dead wrong because you want to be right. If you want to be good, try being wrong.
I’m good, not great. That came from a shift where I seek TO BE WRONG. If 7 billion people believe something, I obligate myself to believe the opposite. Popular is danger. I don’t look to be right. I’m not interested in right. I like effective. I like productive.
Weight loss is nice. Workouts are fun. But fixing internal brokenness is where you must start and to where you must always return. Without that, the statistics are well known. I need not bore you with them.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I like you exactly as you are. But if YOU want to change something, I would simply challenge you to do an inventory on whether you are really addressing the fundamental barrier to achieving that change. In tens of thousands of people I’ve met in the fitness industry, every single one struggling is in overt refusal of fixing the inside. They want another plan, another diet, another workout, another video series, another pill, another scheme. Those are all artifices. You have to challenge the way you think, the way you feel, your obstinance, your rejection of humility.
You cannot change the outside in order to fix what’s inside.