I'm a pretty competitive guy these days. I fully admit and acknowledge this as fact. It isn't necessarily a bad thing to be competitive, but it can drive behaviors that maybe should be suppressed.
My competitive nature is definitely what has driven me this far in my efforts to transform my body and life. I've been pushing for over a year now, and gaining traction more and more all the time.
I recently started working with a dietitian. The idea is simple. Have someone figure out exactly what my body needs to fuel itself, and then from there simply follow those instructions. When combined with my trainer working with me and guiding me, I have zero excuses for not achieving my goals. I simply have to put the effort in.
With the new diet came a new idea in my mind; get lean. Now. These thoughts wander in and out of my head like a vagabond, aimlessly distracting me from what I need to focus on.
Suddenly, I am feeling kicked up to push myself to intense levels. I begin running every morning, lifting four times a week, and conditioning workouts twice per week. It's all well and good until things start to break down and you try to figure out why you're becoming weaker.
Here is the truth of it... the human body can only take so much abuse. While I have greatly conditioned myself over the last year and a half, I am not a guy who has been at this for 5-10 years; my conditioning is good, but as much as I would like to think it is amazing, it is simply a Level 1 Awesome of conditioning and not a Level 10.
As I went through two weeks, my calories rise up by order of the dietitian and I am pushing hard. Then I crash, and crash hard. Suddenly I feel weak throughout my entire body, and I simply can't push on anymore. We adjust my calorie intake, and things improve; I continue to struggle with lifts and energy levels.
As I look back on the prior two weeks, what I determine is that the vagabond thought that wants me to get lean is pushing me in directions that perhaps aren't on my charted course. It's driving me off the tracks and focusing more on the vanity side of fitness than my long term objectives.
At this point, as I evaluate where I am and what I've done in the prior month, I am at a cross roads. I must make a critical decision that will shape my fitness life for possibly years. I never expected to be at a point like this. When I started this journey, my goal was "be less fat". As I've progressed and become stronger with greater health and agility I discovered my goals changed and I wanted to be so much more.
I have a core long term goal, which I guess can be simply described as "be a big dude". I never really pictured myself as ever being the "strong" guy, but here we are with me deadlifting over 400 pounds. The day I pulled 405 for 3 reps was one of the best days I have ever had. It was an amazing sense of accomplishment and I want to continue to drive that higher; I want to continue to get even stronger, while shifting some strength work to my upper body.
Meanwhile, the vagabond thoughts are telling me I need to get lean and drive my body fat down; while I don't doubt this is something I could do, the idea of doing is right now versus a slow draw-down of body fat is on my mind. In fact, this is primarily what caused my physical breakdown; I was listening too much to the vagabond and paying less attention to my long term goals. This, in turn, has caused me to not progress as much this month.
Being 39 is a rough age mentally. You're almost forty (middle age) and yet you have so much ahead of you. There are at least 20-30 awesome years to change my body into something I want it to be. Meanwhile, I'm seeing guys in their mid-20s getting shredded and huge and it creates a wave of jealousy and regret. Another one of those vagabonds tells me, "if only you had started younger" and it almost makes you feel like giving up some days.
I remind myself that age is simply the number of times I've gone around the sun. I truly believe there is no reason I can't do anything if I put my mind to it and my body will comply. However, I have to remember the body has limits and I can't multi-task as much as I want to do multiple things at once. After all, who wouldn't want to lose massive amounts of fat, gain mass, and add strength all at the same time? At some point something has to reasonably give.
So now I am faced with the crossroad question... do I stay focused on my path of building strength, adding size, and let the fat trickle away as I transform my body? Do I do a "hard cut" and sacrifice strength in the name of the vanity and a short term ego hit?
Each path has pros and cons. However, the biggest con for a hard cut is that it risks sacrificing my long term goals in the name of short term fat loss. My trainer always reminds me, "trust the process." He reminded me again of this recently. As I've been thinking about this over the last few days, I think I only just now truly understand what that means. I have to take the path laid out in front of me, and trust the path I have chosen to follow that will lead me to my greatness in fitness.
I've immersed myself in the fitness culture over the last year. I read fitness blogs & magazines. I follow people on Instagram. I watch at least 20-30 minutes of fitness related content on YouTube every day. Invariably, I end up comparing myself to all those people. This is a faulty premise. You can't compare someone who has been 'in fitness' for a little over a year to people who have been doing fitness related work for 5-10 years or more. I have to remind myself that the only person that Ben should compare himself against is Ben. (Ands maybe Old Benjamin, because damn it feels good to remember all I've accomplished in the last year.)
Taking everything into consideration, it doesn't make sense to go for a quick fix when my long term goals are more important to me. The results in body fat will come if I simply keep my eye on the long term prize of growing my body and strength. I can't give up on my potential for the sake of vanity. Would I love to be able to lift my shirt up in a few months and say, "check out by abs?" Damn right I would. Then the shirt comes down, and my deadlift has scaled back. Conversely, how will it feel when I deadlift 10 plates, or even 12 plates in the future? Way more amazing, because it's simply part of the path I have chosen that works best for me.
Deep down I know I'm making the right decision to focus on the long term and not burn myself out trying to get something fast. When I look back at this point in 12-18 months, I will probably amaze myself that I even asked these questions.
In the arc of time, when you're looking at decades of life ahead, what's a year to achieve your goals and do something you'll love instead of a quick ego hit? Not much, and it will be worth it in the long run. After all, where I once assumed I would be gone by forty and now I am looking at a long life, I have time to achieve things I only previously dreamed of doing.
I simply need to take those vagabond thoughts and kick them to the curb; the Phoenix will achieve greatness.