I always feel weird using “aging” to describe ourselves. Aging might sound good for scotch or wine – much less so for accounts-receivable or men. But if you’ve ever thought “I’m not as young as I used to be,” then you’re aging, man. Let’s use the word as a neutral-connotation fact, no more and no less.
For we the aging, doubling down on body-and-soul health becomes more important every year.
But this time of year, as autumn deepens, challenges mount to our motivation for fitness and nutrition. Shorter, colder days. Impending snow and sleet (or even just the rain that daunts Californians). Scrambling to complete work-related things before The Holidays. And then Holidays themselves (I’ll have pumpkin and apple pie, thanks very much).
So right about now, we can all use a reminder about what motivates us to stay fit and vital. That’s why I want to reaffirm and expand on the biggest, most-positive motivation out there: thinking of fitness as a major enabler of Joy and Meaning in your life.
JOY, PART 1
Most guys are aware of the chemical / biological ways exercise contributes to a sense of well-being. Research shows beyond a doubt that working out reduces stress hormones and replaces them with calming, mood-enhancing ones. (Want to learn a little more here? Read this.)
In evolutionary time scales, it was just yesterday that man spent nearly all day being physical. And he had a much narrower and simpler list of things to stress about. Today’s world came too quickly for evolution to keep up – and so we’re much less physical and more stressed than our biological design expects us to be.
That’s the scientific view. Another view, which I consider equally valid: if you’re not routinely using your body in a semi-rigorous way…your soul starts to freak out a little, whether you know it or not.
You can feel all this for yourself without relying on either the science or the new-age view. Once you’re in OK shape for a given workout type, I challenge you to get a solid workout and not feel more grounded and emotionally serene by the time you’re done.
Does a greater sense of calm and feeling of serenity equate to Joy? I’m not sure…but I know these feelings are precious in their own right, and put you in much better position to be Joyful.
JOY, PART 2
In addition to the physical aspects, a regular fitness routine creates environments that are conducive to well-being and Joy. Working out with friends, or even just friendly like-minded strangers in a group class, brings a sense of fellowship and belonging that is so key to enjoying life. Conversely, when you don’t feel these things, it is literally life-limiting. Not sure what I mean? See this on the importance of friends.
As important as people relationships are to the Joy equation, physical environments really matter, too. Exercise can bring the subtle but so-powerful benefits of being in outdoors in nature, or just give you a “third place” that brings peace (not office or home).
So working out can keep you connected to people and natural beauty, give you a chance to clear your mind (away from the 24/7 assault of media and tech), and feel refreshed and “whole.” As with the physical aspects described above, this is about creating a conducive “attachment point” for Joy.
“Meaning” is a big word, and hard to define. But the quest for it is the ultimate thing that drives us forward.
If you’re looking for a motivational read, for any aspect of your life, check out Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In this iconic work, he talks about how having worthy goals and treasured relationships with people give life Meaning (and how Meaning, not the search for pleasures or power, is what brings happiness and a sense of a successful life).
In addition to the focus on “what is it I really Want?” he reverses the idea to suggest reflecting on “what life expects from me.” In our lives, there are people, causes and organizations who count on us to be our best for as long as possible – and a commitment to fitness is part of that. Yeah, brothers, let’s aspire to heroically make impacts that are larger than ourselves…but also remember that to best succeed at making an impact, we need to take care of ourselves.
This brings us to the key point that our physical health and lightness of mind-and-spirit aren’t just about us (they’re not selfish, is what I mean). Rather, they’re a vehicle or platform for everything we hope to accomplish in life. Often, around OlderBeast age, guys start getting a more-vivid sense of all this…and deeper commitment to fitness is part of it.
WHY BEING MOTIVATED BY JOY & MEANING IS SO IMPORTANT
I like to think OlderBeast is a good source of distilled information on all the objective reasons we should invest in fitness, as well as providing useful friendly advice on how to do so.
But I also realize most guys know reasonably well why they should stay fit, and at least the “80/20” most important parts of how.
So in the end, the difference between the typical “aging” guy and the OlderBeast is not about level of informed-ness on fitness. It’s about if-and-how he can line up his inner thoughts and emotional way-of-being to support, not inhibit, staying fit. This is why it’s so important to touch base with this connection to Joy & Meaning periodically.
Please ask yourself: what would become more possible for you if you elevate “working out” and “eating well” to be parts of “cultivating Joy & Meaning in my life”? Maybe bring that question to mind ten or so times during the rest of the year, when you’re feeling the temptation to be inactive or not eat well.
I don’t know how to quote a song that has no lyrics! (Beethoven, Ode to Joy — click to listen)
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