This question is a little difficult to answer. Perhaps it's because you derive a direct sense of pleasure from performing the activity, or perhaps it's a sense of power and entitlement you feel once the activity is completed or once a goal is achieved. Either way, the pursuit of such good feelings, whether short-term or long-term, gets you out of bed in the morning and into your office. It is here, where you find yourself exercising your proudest abilities to your greatest potential because you genuinely love what you're doing and are consistently motivated by your own energy. You feel bliss, freedom, and not only are you excited as to where your work may take you in the future, but because you are living in the moment and enjoying the process. This is how you know that such a personal practice is for you...but you're probably already aware of all this; otherwise, why else would you be doing it?
As I mentioned earlier, maybe that activity of yours is not something that you enjoy doing at all; maybe it is only the end goal that you are focused on, maybe it is a means to an end. In the fitness world, people go to the gym, exercise, and diet at different intensities with regard to their individual goals. Nonetheless, individuals who are trying to maintain a "good and healthy shape" or who are striving to take their physiques and capabilities to the next level are all still working in the gym as a community of exercising individuals.
From the outside, it's an energetic environment of collective, repetitive motions that comprise working sets, but at a more introspective level, it becomes apparent that not all gym-goers are on the same mental plane. Obviously, a professional bodybuilder will have a different mindset from the average individual who is simply exercising to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle. But in what ways do the two mindsets differ? Is it strictly a disparity in goals? Or is it something more specific, something found nestled within the emotional level?
A professional fitness athlete trains, diets, and competes for a living, whether it's via the Bikini, Figure, Physique, Bodybuilding division or even via Crossfit or powerlifting competitions. Of course, a living in the active fitness world is also made through advertising, sponsorships, photoshoots, etc., but what it comes down to, is that the athlete strategically trains and diets for 365 days a year to continuously fund his or her passion. Passion, is the key word here. If a professional or even amateur athlete is unable to find passion in his or her field of expertise, it is highly probable that he or she will be unable to continue such an rigorous lifestyle day after day, year after year. The athlete enjoys the process - dieting sucks, but leaning out and becoming more conditioned is awesome. It's a phenomenon that can be observed frequently, and it's something that can be described as a fair trade - what you put in is what you get out; no tricks, no games. If the athlete doesn't follow his or her training and dieting regiment, he or she will not see the expected results, it's as simple as that. Is giving up cheeseburgers, pizzas, Friday night drinks, or even an extra serving of rice, difficult? Is it exhausting? Absolutely. But it's a worthy opportunity cost if it means stepping on stage at the maximum potential.
Not every passion is painless, but the results seen by the day are worth it. These daily, short-term goals make the effort actually enjoyable, and at that point, the training and dieting are no longer viewed as "the suck", as "the suck" has been embraced and nurtured. The sacrifices made are accepted by the athlete because his or her passion to achieve goals transcends those momentary gasps of "pleasure" that occur when the plan is neglected. In the end, a short-term and long-term goal-orientated mindset is born - one that turns every 24 hours into a grateful experience, rather than just another damn day at work.
Ok, so that was a spiel. These people you're talking about are athletes who have already taken it to the next level. I'm not one of these people, I don't want to be like that...so how does this relate to a regular gym-goer who is just trying to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle?
It's true that the athletes described are individuals who have taken fitness to a greater level of intensity than the average gym-goer has. It is also true that the mindset of a professional athlete can be applied to someone who is just trying to stay in shape. The credential required to obtain such a mindset is really nothing more than a shift in perspective. Let's forget about dieting for a second. What are you in the gym for? To get in shape. To look good for a specific occasion. To live a healthy lifestyle. How are you going to achieve that? By putting work in the gym to achieve my goals. What kind of work are you talking about? To go to the gym a few times a week, break a sweat, and have a good workout.
This is the basic ideology of building muscle or just getting in shape, however you want to look at it. It is an ideology that is understood by all, and applied by few. Why? Because knowing what a concept is, is not nearly the same as applying that concept.
The reason why this idea of going to the gym a few times a week and truly working out and pushing yourself to make desired changes sounds so sweet but tastes so bitter, is because you are focused on the long-term concept of just "looking good" or "being healthy". What about the short-term concept of actually being in the gym and working to the best of your capabilities? It suddenly becomes so hard when you actually get to the gym because exercising is difficult and every session becomes a chore. And as an effect, every day begins to look like work, every week begins to look like a rigorous hike, and that long-term concept begins to look like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - it probably doesn't even exist, and even if it does, it's probably not worth all of this self-induced pain anyway. I can guarantee you that not just a successful athlete, but any individual who has succeeded in a long-term goal, did not see each day as some kind of death gauntlet that had to be endured for success, but instead, as an opportunity to take a step forward.
The beauty of general exercise, is that results are not monitored by a stopwatch or by some kind of pressure system that could instantly extinguish all of your hard work if you don't perform to perfection on a specific given day. The results are instead, monitored by the eye - your eye. If you're giving your true effort in the gym for as many hours a day, for as many times a week that you commit yourself to, you will see results of some degree, and those results have a little nag of being addicting. The more you put in, the more you get out, and before you know it, you'll suddenly wake up one day looking pretty decent. It'll almost seem as if no time had passed; Rome wasn't built in a day, so what just happened? Well, you didn't see it as work, so I guess it was pleasurable, to a degree, was it not? And the good times never really last, do they? The reality is, you just found passion - going to the gym doesn't have to be an obsession if you don't want it to be, but since you were passionate about performing to your best abilities and genuinely honoring each day as opportunity for growth, in turn, you became truly passionate about your long-term goal. Your desire changed from a dream to a goal, and consequently, manifested itself as success in your endeavor.
Andrew Qi is currently a business and psychology double major student at Rutgers University who is pursuing a future career as a sports psychologist. He has been resistance training for the past six years, has competed in NPC Men's Physique and his prepping for his second show. Aside from lifting and dieting (religiously), he has been a competitive swimmer for approximately 12 years and is currently swimming for the Rutgers Club Swim Team during the winter seasons. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram @andrewjqi as well as www.facebook.com/andrewjqi