Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Phoenix Effect: A Reflection

"When you've nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire."

By the time I read this article, I had already drastically transformed my body. But I am greatly indebted to the article because it gave me a framework to discuss what I had already done. I didn't think of it at the time, but I had already finished living out most of those truths.

Real transformation involves laser-like focus, near obsession with diet and training, and a total disregard for what other people may think. (In many ways, you have to remove certain people from your field of influence in order to change, but that's another article.) Rather than a blurry, lackadaisical decision to make changes, the beginning of a successful transformation involves an emotional outburst, usually anger.
Remember, the phoenix dies in fire and is reborn in fire. Self-directed anger is your fuel in this process. You must get mad, combust, and feed the fire until you break the old habits and rebuild new ones relevant to your physical goals.
This is often the difference between those who succeed and those who don't. The unsuccessful person has a weak moment in his diet, makes an excuse, and gives in to the craving. The successful person gets mad at himself, stokes the fire, and stays strong. Examples:
The failure: "I really want that candy bar. And hey, I deserve it anyway. Didn't miss a workout all week. Plus, chocolate has antioxidants, right?"
The phoenix: "I can't believe I'm even thinking of ruining my diet. I'm stronger than this, goddammit! This is bullshit, and I will not be this weak! I won't put myself in the same category as those front-butted fucks who ride electric scooters around Wal-Mart!"

The same thing can occur in the gym. The failure — the person who hasn't begun properly and hasn't set himself on fire — will find plenty of reasons to avoid the tough exercises and rationalize laziness.
The phoenix — the angry person who has burned away all his previous excuses — will get mad at himself for slacking. He'll remind himself that he must earn his post-workout drink, and if he needs to, he'll slap himself across the face until he feels like getting into the squat rack.
Think I'm kidding? This is how truly successful people push themselves. They're not hand-holders; they're ass-kickers... even if it's their own ass that needs kicking. They drive themselves, and usually not with positive affirmations. It's not:
"You can succeed because you're a winner at heart!"
It's more like:
"Don't be a fat fucking weak-willed pussy!"
To bastardize Gordon Gekko's infamous greed speech from the movie Wall Street:
"The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that anger — for lack of a better word — is good. Anger is right. Anger works. Anger clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit."
Feel it. Feed it. Channel it. Use it.

That part of the article spoke to me like few other texts have. To change, to truly change, you need anger. I would go so far as to say, hatred. If I didn't hate the person I was, how could I kill the person I was? How could I put to death the part of me that loved fast food, loved to eat 2 lunches and 2 dinners? How could I crucify the excuse making scum if I did not loathe him? 

Oddly enough, I think I only hated that self because I loved life. I refused to die, to accept the reality as the final statement of my life. I swore to myself that if I did not change, I would end my life. Someone who cannot master his own life, the body and it's impulses, it's thoughts and decisions, then that person should have their life stripped from them. More important than the physical life is the capacity to live life.   I could not accept slavery to take-out, fast food, indolence and cowardice as my fate.

But having broken these chains, have I received a curse in return? I adopted a war-time mentality during my transformational period. Ask me to come out to Wendy's and you would receive a death threat in return. But what about now? Is this my own post-traumatic stress disorder? I'm not 320 lbs. I'm 210. I've done triathlons and a marathon. What is there left to hate? And if there's so little left for me to hate, then how am I going to live? I look at my life and I feel as if I've gone into neutral at the bottom of a hill. I've made it some distance but lack the power to go further. Honestly, it scares me. Hatred and anger have been my strength for so long. Where will I find strength if not here?

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