Ever since I was about 14 years old I was obsessed with bodybuilding. I don’t remember exactly when my original interest peaked but I remember that even as a child I always admired big bulging muscles and athletic frames. Psychologically though, I have a pretty good idea where this interest developed.
As a kid I always loved sports. I collected baseball cards, watched endless sports on tv, and played sports with my friends as much as possible. There was just one little problem- I was, overall, a pretty dreadful athlete.
This didn’t stop me from playing every sport as a kid though- I was on basketball teams for years amassing maybe a dozen points overall, I was a steady right fielder in baseball who was lucky to see any spot in the batting order besides 9, and I was so unskilled in football that I played lineman at a whopping 70 pounds because I couldn’t catch or hold on to a football if my life depended on it.
Yep, that was me, the sports fanatic without an ounce of athletic ability in his body. This was pretty disheartening as someone who hung around athletic friends growing up that led their teams- scoring runs, touchdowns, and baskets. I still remember when I was cut from the 7thgrade basketball team (yes that’s a real thing, and as some know its still a point of contention for me but that’s neither here nor there) I thought it was the most traumatic experience of my life at the time!
From there my athletic career came to a rather anticlimactic halt. Besides one more year playing second string on the football’s B team (they didn’t make cuts there luckily), and my slightly above average high school career playing golf, my athletic pursuits had ended.
Why am I telling you all this? Because it goes back to the self-psychological analysis I spoke of.
I got into bodybuilding because I figured if I couldn’t be as athletic as my friends I could at least try to outdo them in strength and muscle. So I went off on endless bodybuilding.com boards to find out all that I could.
Now you might be thinking- well good for him, the dorky anti-athlete found another arena to exercise passion in and it helped him discover himself and find some meaning, right? Not so much.
I wound up confused and frustrated as I performed less than optimal workouts for many years. My physique improved somewhat but never to the level I wanted it to. I mostly just blamed genetics and cursed those who “just had it easier than me.” I was a living version of Einstein’s definition of insanity as it is quoted “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Before I go on I should explain something about myself.
Ever since I can remember I’ve been a worrier. I’d worry and worry about what bad things are going to happen, about what others are saying and thinking about me, and just about everything under the sun.
This has led to a lot of anxiety in my life and its something I never really took action to combat until very recently. You can imagine what this did to the kid who wanted nothing more than to be an athlete but could barely shoot a jump shot. I beat myself up and asked “Why me?” when my efforts to improve athletically never came to fruition.
In the same sense, I took this attitude with me towards bodybuilding, only WAY more extreme.
I dove in head first. I wanted to get every aspect that I thought was important down to a tee! The only problem was- the fitness and bodybuilding industry is so saturated with bullshit that the things I emphasized were really small potatoes in the grand scheme.
So I ate 6 or 7 meals a day to “boost my metabolism.” I slammed my protein shake as close to the end of my workout as possible, I bought every supplement under the sun from fat burners to trash pre-workout, to BCAAs, glutamine, you name it. Only to end up frustrated and extremely unhappy with the constraints these measures put on my lifestyle.
And God forbid just one of these variables would go out of line for me. I would I have a freak out if one minor detail didn’t go according to plan. I’d go insane if I hadn’t eaten in over four hours because I was just sure that I could literally feel my muscle wasting away (for those of you who don’t know, one of the great bodybuilding myths centers around meal timing and having to eat every 2-4 hours so your muscles don’t go “catabolic” and start breaking themselves down for energy, which I now know to be very untrue.) I could make this whole article about silly things like that I used to believe, but I’ll save that for another time.
The point is that my predisposition to anxiety and worry was compounded horrifically during most of my years attempting to bodybuild. It never allowed me to be truly happy.
That all started to change about a year ago. I can still remember the day the light clicked on in my head. I had heard about this guy Mike Matthews and his brand Muscle for Life and finally checked out some of his content online.
He said things like- “You don’t need supplements to build a great physique.” “You don’t need to ‘eat clean’ to get and stay lean.” “You don’t need to stop eating carbs and sugars to lose weight.” “You don’t need to eat small meals every few hours to ‘boost your metabolism.’”
I thought, this couldn’t possibly be true! He was basically saying everything I saw as Gospel for almost 8 years was BS!?
But it was.
The more I read and exposed myself to science-based and evidence-based training and nutrition principles the clearer it all became. I had it all wrong for years.
Did this realization that I had been self-sabotaging make me frustrated or angry? Quite the opposite. With this new power, I began to change the course of not only my physical wellbeing but of my mental and emotional wellbeing, and my life!
After a few months of absorbing and practicing new found knowledge, I started to see my body drastically change like it never had before, and this was after about 8 years of lifting weights! I was ecstatic. The best part about it was that it spurred so much growth in my life beyond physical measures!
I finally realized how easily small changes made consistently can add up and found myself entrenched in one of my now favorite mantras- momentum creates momentum! I was doing more, and I was more engaged in life than I had ever been.
As I said earlier I have always been someone who struggles with worry and anxiety. I always just accepted that that’s the way it is and the way it has to be for me. But after seeing how I could change my body with such relatively small realizations and changes, I started to wonder if I could do the same with my mindset. So I set off on more research delving into positive psychology and self-development. It was one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life. From here I learned about gratitude training, meditation, and counseling among other tools.
All of these steps completely turned my life around, with no exaggeration. I went from overthinking to doing, from self-conscious to self-confident. It’s no quick fix and I still struggle every day but I am beyond thankful for the changes I have made and it all started with redefining how I look at fitness.
This sparked an idea. I was very heavy into following fitness accounts on Instagram and I figured I could start one myself! This was the real test of my newfound self-confidence because as someone who worries, one of the major sources of concern is the criticism of others which I built up in my head as being a huge factor when it came to putting myself out there online. But I started anyway and it gave me the confidence to continue onto what is now an Instagram page, YouTube channel, Podcast, and Blog with JParkerFitLife!
This brings up another point that I’ve thought about a lot. Do I wish this could’ve happened earlier? Do I wish that I could go back and teach my younger self what I know now?
And the truth is- no, I don’t wish that at all. As Arnold Schwarzenegger puts it- “Strength does not come from winning, your struggles develop your strengths.”
If I didn’t battle with myself internally for years I don’t think I would ever feel the need to share my knowledge and story with the world in hopes that it can help someone else.
The best thing to come out of all this is that I finally stopped letting other people tell my story and started becoming comfortable with myself and my inner feelings and desires.
I can tell you that when you stop caring so much what other people think and stop trying to live the life you feel obligated to live you will have a newfound peacefulness and motivation that you’ve never experienced.
I’ll leave you with a quote by Ray Dalio from his book Principles “While almost everyone expects the future to be a slightly modified version of the present, it is usually very different.”
Here’s a link to Mike’s website, the foundation of my fitness knowledge!