This post originally appeared on the 3D Muscle Journey blog in May 2017.
One of the most common detriments to physique and strength athletes is their impatience.
Everybody wants to be ten times more aesthetic and strong than they currently are, and they want it to have been achieved yesterday.
You might even have a very solid nutritional and training plan in place to ensure muscle growth over time, but still not look the way you want to look or lift the way you want to lift.
So what gives? Why do you feel like nothing is happening and you are spinning your wheels and wasting your time? Why aren’t you “there” yet?
In essence, if you’ve given your sport a good amount of time and effort, why hasn’t it rewarded you in return?
Well, I’d like to argue that your reward system might be a little messed up.
If your definition of “reward” involves chiseled abs, striated glutes, 18” inch biceps, top national placings at meets, pro cards in your favorite organization, over 100k Instagram followers and a slew of supplement sponsorships, then it is highly unlikely that you will ever feel appropriately compensated for your efforts.
Sure, those things may very well happen to you. But if you currently feel like the balance between you and those rewards is unfairly one-sided against you, chances are that you have a lot more giving to do before you start getting.
So if that’s true, what the hell are you supposed to do in the meantime?
I am not saying that you should just put your head down and be a completely miserable human until one of those very prestigious accolades falls into your lap so everyone can objectively see that it was all worth it.
I am simply saying that you are missing out on the countless other not-so-obvious rewards that are inherently baked into any struggle or journey if you choose not to look out for them.
If you’ve done your research and laid out an appropriate plan, have some trust that very training session contributes to those far off, slow-coming physique goals. You check your boxes, you do the work, you eat the food to support that work, and that’s all you can ask your body to do.
But beyond that, look forward to who you are becoming in the process. What else are you practicing every day that you are not honoring, celebrating, or taking advantage of? How is your sport already rewarding you every day without you even realizing it?
For example, I recently stumbled upon a kickass article from Psychology Today about “Humility and Sports” that instantly struck me as a useful reminder of why I should consider myself lucky to struggle in the gym every day.
Here is a blurb from that article that I found to be quite meaningful:
How can sports be a school for the virtue of humility?
• They can help us understand and appreciate our limits.
• They give us a structure in which humility is an important trait, as we accept instruction, correction, and submit ourselves to the written and unwritten rules of the game.
• They give us chances to praise and encourage others, rather than seeking glory for ourselves.
• When we win, we can do so humbly by acknowledging how others made it possible, and by refusing to let victory puff up our egos.
• When we lose, we can do so humbly and graciously, realizing defeat is a part of life.
There is no guarantee that we will develop humility or any other virtue in sport. But if we are intentional in these and other ways, it is more likely that we’ll grow in character. Doing so takes effort and intent, just like becoming a more skilled athlete and coach. In this and other ways, moral and athletic development are very alike.”
Sure, humility is just one favorable human characteristic, but there are countless others. (1)
Another one of my favorite ways to appreciate my difficult athletic endeavors is to remember that I am constantly developing grit and resilience through my struggles and unmet desires. Both of these traits require many years of deep practice towards specific goals in order to maturate over time. (2, 3)
Just like perfecting your bench press takes insane amounts of hours under the bar, so do your mental skills and personality traits.
If I get beat up at the gym and have a crappy training session, it does not keep me from going again the next day. Not because I am better than anyone else, but because I have practiced that same course of action hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
I believe that very same action also contributed to my ability to get beat up in my professional career as well. My very first eBook in 2012 sold ZERO copies. The second one sold five copies. It wasn’t until the third one in 2013 that I could pay my rent for one month. Fast forward four years and six products later, my most-recent eBook collaboration could pay my rent for over 3 years straight.
I am not telling you this to brag. (Or to have you assume anything about my financial status because obviously, life has more expenses than just rent.)
But I am delivering this message because I do believe that taking hits is a skill. And of all the things I am grateful for in life, getting used to falling off a balance beam at six years old is definitely one of them.
So if for some crazy reason you feel like your sport owes you, I’d encourage you to flip that around real fast.
It’s already giving you plenty if your eyes are open to it.
1 – A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for adults: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport. Eime et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:135
2 – Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Duckworth, Angela L.; Peterson, Christopher; Matthews, Michael D.; Kelly, Dennis R. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 92(6), Jun 2007, 1087-1101.
3 – Seery, MD; Holman, EA; & Silver, RC. (2010). Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability, and Resilience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(6), 1025 – 10