Motivation, Modern Self Help, and Recovering Who I Am

Motivation, Modern Self Help, and Recovering Who I Am

As my lungs burn and I fight for the next breath, wheezing and wanting nothing more than to be able to breathe again I hear a voice in my head. From an insane man, from the toughest mother fucker alive. From a man named David Goggins. And that voice yells at me, “Stay Hard!”.

See, before this run I had been watching some of his Instagram content. I had read his book “Can’t Hurt Me” and heard him on podcasts and interviews. He is part of the modern self help movement. A movement aimed to motivate using a drill instructor like approach, a mix of stoicism, and self discipline. An approach that says “fuck motivation, get after it”. A movement that has reminded me of who I used to be before I let life get to me.

So I keep putting one foot in front of the other. It feels like I am breathing through a straw that is pinched. My pace now is hardly above a walk. I am hacking, covered in gunk from my lungs and my nose. The poor people out for a relaxing walk at lunch were not expecting to run into a hard mother fucker like me today. That, and they probably think I have Covid, my wheeze is audible. I am hardly recovered from bronchitis, but I needed to run today. It was in the plan, it was the path, and I need to stay on the path.

That is something about this modern shift in self help and motivation. There is no being kind to yourself. There is no room for excuses or self love. It is all about finding and staying on The Path. The Path being this space where you are doing everything right. You are working toward and crushing goals, setting new ones, staying fit and being a leader. Where life is constantly trying to knock you off The Path and you fight to stay on it while also moving forward. It is all about The Path.

I reach a fork in the trail. Left is flat and even, back to pavement. Only fifteen minutes left in my run. I could just take the easy path for the last fifteen. The right is uphill, steep, rugged, muddy and meandering. I don’t hesitate. I can’t hesitate. If I hesitate I leave room for bad decisions. I turn right and, gasping like a fish out of water, I climb that hill.

A part of my mind starts throwing excuses: You are an asthmatic you could pass out. I reply in a way learned from another savage man, another uncommon human, Jocko Willink, “Good”. Passing out now would just give me a chance to rest a minute or two and get a better pace going.

The excuse comes again: You are getting over a terrible illness. “Good” I reply. Running with half capacity lungs just means that when they recover I will be that much better.

Again an excuse: You haven’t worked out in weeks. “Good”, I am recovered enough to get after it.

“Good” I have it written on my whiteboard in my workout space. I have it on a sign by my desk, I have it on t-shirts. “Good” is what you answer when life kicks you. When the world is crumbling you just say “good” and push onward. There is a positive buried somewhere, and you push to find it. If you can’t find it you push anyway, knowing that falling off the path is far worse than anything the world can throw at you. This is how Stoics approach the world and it is distilled into a single word, one I have to remind myself to repeat when things go south as they inevitably do.

I turn at the halfway mark and start back home. My chest is beyond on fire, now it is simply just a pile of white hot ember. My head keeps going shaky and my vision darkens. When this happens I force a deep breathe through the pinched straws that are my bronchi and recover enough to keep moving. My legs burn now, but that is nothing compared to my lungs. It is a short run, but it is also probably the most difficult run of my life. I have never felt this bad on a run, never had this hard a time breathing. Even marathons are better than this.

I am 30 years old now though, not 25. I haven’t stuck to a workout regime in nearly 3 years. I am fat, out of shape, unhealthy and coming off a rough patch. This run might be the hardest of my life but I also realize it is the most important. It is the run that will start me back down the correct path. It is a symbol, a reminder to myself that I can do any damn thing I set my mind to. That there is no stopping me, that, as David Goggins likes to shout “You can’t hurt me”.

The “You” here being the universe at large. The you is rarely another person in my world. It is myself and my internal monsters. It is the universe, it is life in general. The “you” is something external, something that is not me, and I need to remind myself that it can’t hurt me, as long as I don’t let it. So keep tossing shit at me. I forgot how much of a hard mother fucker I really am, but I remember now. You really can’t hurt me.

Yes I find assistance in the phrases and words of these two men, but all they are doing is reminding me of who I am, who I used to be. I remember saying “Good” to myself before ever hearing it from Jocko’s mouth. I remember staring down waves and near freezing temps in spring training for Dragon Boat and being one of the few on the team excited to get back out there. Excited to prove myself to myself. I would size up the other team in a Rugby match, see they were double my size at the smallest man and think “good” an easy match is no fun. I would stare at my injured knees, bloodied and swollen and think “good”, they were a sign that I had given it all I had. Even at 16 I could stare down hell and think “good”. I had forgotten how to do that as I got older.

I remember running marathons in snowstorms, feeling like I was going to die of exposure before the run got me and thinking “good”. I remember telling myself over and over to “be the hardest mother fucker out here” at the start of a half marathon Spartan Race. Being sprayed by a fire hose waiting for a start that I could barely hear over the crushing sound of water. Feeling like I was alive for the first time in my life.

So while these “motivational Speakers” have helped me, they have done so by reminding me of things I used to think on my own. Before I fell off the path. Before I let the depression, anxiety and addiction silence those voices. Before I started turning my alarm off at 4:30 instead of getting back to the fight. From before I convinced myself that comfort was better than the struggle. Before I started believing the lie that so many believe.

Steel is not forged in comfort. It is forged in fire and violence. Unforged it is a useless lump. You need fire and violence to become useful. Something I had willingly forgotten. Something I am now re-learning.

Am I scared? Sure. I am scared shitless. I know I carry demons and I know these demons will come when I am at my most weak. I know that this half hour run is just a tiny little baby step on wobbly legs. I know that it can all come crashing down. I know that odds are it probably will. But I also know I am strong enough to rise again from the rubble. That I can start over as long as the universe is willing to play this fucking game. That as long as I am still drawing breath I am going to keep coming.

I have stared down a charging black bear in the middle of the Algonquin Highlands with nothing other than a K-bar knife and walking stick. I have charged right into the oncoming bear, trying to bluff it. I have had that bear call my bluff, a full grown male having no fear of something half its size. I have stared into the eyes of a bear, close enough to hear its teeth chatter in annoyance. Annoyance that I turned and faced it instead of running. Annoyance that I refused to be an easy meal.

I have felt fear. I am not scared of it.

I have also woken at two in the morning, covered in sweat, shaking uncontrollably. Scared of nothing but terrified regardless. So terrified that I lose reality for brief moments. So terrified I can hardly breathe, but unwilling to wake my wife, because this happens every night now and I want her to get a good sleep. I conquered that fear, I now sleep like a fucking baby.

I have faced the fear of the world and the fear of my demons and I have come out stronger. Fear is nothing. Not any more.

I reach the last hill of my run. A hill I used to be able to sprint at the end of a half marathon, now a hill I get winded walking up. This hill is my new black bear, my new panic attack, my new depression, my new enemy, my new fear. And today I vow to defeat it.

I make it a quarter of the way before I have to stop. I can’t catch my breath, the darkness is literally closing in, I can hardly stand but I keep moving forward. Even at a walk. I refuse to stop. Refuse to be beaten by a fucking incline. I reach the top of that hill and my watch shows that it has been a half hour, that my pulse is near 200 BPM. That I should stop, my run is done. So I sprint.

I sprint first to the driveway across the road, then I tell myself just one more block, one more block. My sprint is slowing, but just one more block. I can see my apartment.

I collapse with one block to go. Still, I ran more than I had intended to, and I faced something out there. I faced myself for the first time in far too long.

Such a short run, something I would have called a warm up five years ago. But this short run changed everything. I finally feel hope again. Excitement for the future instead of dread. I finally feel like I can become someone better than I used to be.

I leave you with a quote from Jocko. If you are on a tough run right now I hope it can help you remember who you are as it has helped me.

“ I get some other messages from people that haven’t been able to dig out of that hole to overcome that despair. And to anybody out there that is in that place: You know you lock and load that last bullet and you shoot it at your enemy. And when you are out of bullets get out your knife and attack with that. And if you lose your knife, grab your enemy by the throat and you keep fighting. You keep fighting. And you keep fighting no matter what. And you never quit. You never… never quit”

Jocko Willink

Get after it. Stay hard. Stay on the path.

Posted by Craig in Motivation, 0 comments