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"Happiness, we come to discover, is found in the pursuit of happiness." Ė George Sheehan

The Key To Success

I can honestly say that, after more than 50 years in the gym, I derive more satisfaction and enjoyment from training than ever before. In Ripped 2, published in 1982, I wrote:

"I like to train. I like stretching my limits a little each workout, lifting a little more than the time before. I like being completely absorbed in a workout. I like the feeling of mastery over my body that training gives me. I like feeling my muscles contract. I like the full feeling of blood in my muscles and the warm, used feeling that comes after a hard set. And I like the tired, satisfied feeling that comes after the workout is over."

Itís still true, only more so. Perhaps with advancing age, Iíve become smarter about my workouts. Iím better at avoiding the little hurts and injuries that donít prevent training, but cause setbacks and make progress more difficult. Thatís important because progress is what makes me look forward to the next workout. Iím also better than ever at planning my workouts for success. Iím more careful now not to bite off more than I can chew. I set hard, but achievable goals for each exercise in each workout Ė and I almost always succeed. I try never to fail. On the rare occasion when I do fail, I immediately make a note in my training dairy what I should change to do better next time. Probably more than anything else, careful planning for success makes my workouts enjoyable. Thatís key. I enjoy the process of training.


 Learn what makes training enjoyable, and youíll have the key to success. Photo by Pat Berrett

My friend Dick Winett, Heilig-Meyers Professor of Psychology at Virginia Tech and publisher of Master Trainer newsletter, in the brilliant essay which follows, tells how he came to realize that the joy of training lies, not in ultimate success, but in the struggle to succeed. (See also Laszlo Benczeís piece on his friend Bill, who never gives up.)

The Myth of the Sisyphus Revisited

By Richard Winett, Ph.D.

"The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor"(1).

Many years ago, the philosopher and novelist, Albert Camus, had used the myth of the Sisyphus as a parable for the human condition. The popular interpretation of the myth seemed to be that life was basically absurd with no particular purpose or reason and certainly no divine guiding hand. People had to accept this basic absurdity and futility and then were on their own to make their life's choices.

However, there is a somewhat different interpretation of the myth, in fact, the interpretation suggested by Camus (1). Sisyphus both comes to understand and accept his toil on the mountain and each time the grueling process of rolling the rock up the mountain begins again, there is a certain joy in the labor. "The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy"(1).

I think many of us have had a life history that has some elements of Sisyphus. And, perhaps it may take decades of rolling the rock up the mountain, only to see it roll down again and know we have to start over, when we finally, as Sisyphus did, see the light.

I'd like to very briefly relate this parable to career and training.

My 30-year career has always focused on ascending the mountain, getting to the top of my field. Early on, I was able to reach some of the lower crests on the mountain, but always something happened and I came tumbling down. After some short time to regroup, emotionally and physically, I always started up the mountain again, always reaching for the top.

I got pretty close to the top a few times, particularly in the last decade, but those times when I seemed to just swoop up the mountain and get very close, were inevitably followed by a crashing to the bottom. The crashes were getting harder to take, and the idea of trying once again was becoming less attractive.

In 2000, a number of accomplishments placed me on top of the mountain! I had finally made it and I had a number of sure-fire projects that certainly would make me a permanent resident on top of the mountain.

Strangely, after the 30 years of work in trying to reach the top, I felt very unsettled. In fact, I was bored and unchallenged and wondering what to do next.

After a couple of months of this funk, much to my surprise and initial horror, the rock started to quickly roll down the mountain. None of the sure-fire projects materialized and some ongoing projects developed major problems.

At first, there was incredible sadness and anxiety even though this time the rock didn't fall all the way down the mountain. Within a few weeks, however, a new perspective crystallized. Suddenly, I was energized, and if not entirely ecstatic, definitely ready to start rolling that rock up the mountain again. My funk was over. In fact, and quite ironically, it was because projects didn't materialize as expected and problems developed that I was energized. I now had some major challenges before me.

The joy is clearly in the struggle. Our purpose is to get back up and keep rolling that rock knowing that we may never reach the top, or if you do, we're going to quickly need to find another mountain, perhaps one that's even steeper.

With training, many of us have been toiling away for years believing that once we find that one new approach or key, we will suddenly reach the top in strength and muscle mass, albeit within some realistic constraints. We try some new tactics and make some progress but often after months of training, we may discover that we're not much further up that mountain. Or, perhaps, some injury pulls us all the way down the mountain again. We got our squat all the way up, but a lower back injury puts us down for the count. Or, we may get so overtrained, that we need weeks to recover.

The myth of the Sisyphus tells us that few of us would know what to do or be very happy if we actually reached the top of the training mountain (Indeed, what exactly do we expect to happen if we reached the pinnacle of muscle and strength?). What we need to do is to understand that much like Sisyphus our lot is to keep pushing and pulling that resistance. We need to understand the joy is in the effort and struggle, in reaching ledges and plateaus, to thrill in both those tangible signs of movement and success, but to keep up the struggle as long as possible.

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1. Albert Camus, The Myth of the Sisyphus: Comments.  sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/00/pwillen/lit/msysip.htm

From, Master Trainer, April, 2001 (www.ageless-athletes.com)

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