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Display Name Post: Iron John: Free Will & Free Weights by Dan John        (Topic#18814)
Jim Higgins
Total Posts: 1847
10-01-08 06:11 AM - Post#487434    

Iron John: Free Will & Free Weights
by Dan John

The Secret

I've said it a million times: There aren't any secrets to training. I would've stood by that too, until the single greatest moment in the history of strength training and fitness happened to me. I finally discovered the "secret." It's true.

I tend to joke about secrets and gimmicks quite a bit. You know what I'm talking about:

• Lose ten pounds overnight with the diet the stars use!

• Instantly increase you arm size!

• Use psycho power to get women and money!

True, I bought all these products, and I decided to use them all at once. They all worked! I lost all my money overnight. Whoops.

No, I'm talking about a real secret here: literally, the answer to a lot of the crazy issues that plague probably everyone here at T-Nation. The funny thing is simply this: I'm serious.

There's something you have in short supply that you need to cherish. It's the difference between making your fitness, strength, and body composition goals and not making those goals. Before I divulge it, let's look at a few examples of what I want to talk about in this article.

Resolutions and Prisoners

New Year's Eve. A drunk walks over to you, spilling a glass of merlot on your arm and the Persian rug. "You know what?" he slurs. "Tomorrow, I'm laying off the booze, going on Atkins, and I'm going to work out every day, just like I used to. Stopping smoking, too. This is probably one of the last times you'll ever see me smoking."

We all know what's going to happen. Most of us (raise your hands, please) have made a New Year's resolution that just didn't exactly work out as we planned:

"I will eat low carb."

"I will work my legs first every workout."

"I will stop looking at Internet porn."

What's strange is the fact that a person's resolutions are usually a really good idea. Let's be honest, saving the first ten percent of a paycheck, cutting back on carbs or sweets or whatever, exercising more, or being kinder to humanity are all pretty damn good things to try to do.

Next example: With my old job I did a lot of prison ministry. Prison is nothing like the movies or television shows, at least in my experience. Sure, there are deep dark bad places in every prison, but most of the place isn't unlike hotels I stayed in while visiting New Jersey and Florida.

I sat on a couch once and had a long conversation with a very nice guy without any bars or guards. I later found out that he'd killed six people in one night... the last just to see someone squirm. He seemed like a wonderful guy.

One of the things that people talk about all the time is how "buff" prisoners seem to be. "Ah, to have the discipline of a multiple offender," you might think. And there it is. That's the insight I had recently. All of the connections finally linked up and in a flash... I got it.

Got what? The secret to success in all of the goals we discuss here at T-Nation. Don't laugh, don't undervalue, and certainly don't underestimate what I'm about to say: the secret to success is Free Will.

A Lesson in Free Will

Free Will? Sure, call it what you want: self discipline, habits, free agency, or my favorite, no other damn choice. Now listen, his isn't a religion discussion, but there's a great story that illuminates the concept. By the way, the story is absolutely true. I verified it.

There was a very religious man who lived in a flood plain. One year, a big flood hit and he stood on his porch watching the water go by. A neighbor came by driving a motorboat. "Hop on, friend, and I'll take you to safety!"

"No thanks," the pious man said, "The Good Lord above will save me." Later, while sitting on his roof, the sheriff came by in a rowboat. "Here you go, hop in!" he said.

"No thanks. The Good Lord above will save me," the man replied. As the waters rose higher, a helicopter dropped a rope ladder down to him and offered him a lift off the very top of his home.

"No thanks. The Good Lord above will save me."

He drowned.

Standing in line waiting to get into heaven, the Good Lord walked by him. The man said, "Why didn't you save me?" The Good Lord answered: "I sent a motorboat, a rowboat, and a helicopter. What did you want?"

This is a true story and I'm standing by it.

What's the point? We all know that we need to take the bull by the horns, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, or add any cliché comment that you were told as an adolescent to spurn you to get off your damn computer chair and walk over to the gym and spend the next hour doing nothing but every exercise that you hate.

Or, you can keep reading this article and eat some of those chips that are bad for you, but since they come from Hawaii must be pretty good for you, so eat a few more then sneak over to those websites that have panting college coeds in pasties. Or whatever.

Every great motivational speaker from Napoleon Hill to Earl Nightingale to Anthony Roberts will always dedicate a large amount of time and energy to the concept of self discipline. My college coach, Ralph Maughan, had a saying for his athletes: "Make yourself a slave to good habits."

And you know, to a group of Division One track and field athletes who all have at least a 3.0 GPA, that's a nice bit of advice... certainly worthy of discussion. Of course, the audience was a little different than maybe most of us deal with during a typical day.

So, why does the guy in prison have a better body than you? It's because we have just a little bit of Free Will. How do I know? People actually research this stuff and then I steal it. Let me take a quick detour for a second and see if I can explain it.

Shaving Cream: How Full is Your Can?

I shave daily. I recently changed from shaving creams to shaving gels, but I'm going back to creams. Why? Well, with shaving cream, as you get to the bottom of the can, it splutters and spats and spits cream for about a week before it goes absolutely empty. So, the first time you get shaving cream spit in your eye, you mentally note, "I need to buy more shaving cream." In that week, you have three or four opportunities to get spat on and remember to buy more cream.

With gel, you're standing in the shower and you press the button and... nothing. Yesterday, a face full of gel, today you're trying to shave with Dial soap lather and your friends note that you have a dry, bleeding face all day. Your coworkers might simply think you got into another bar fight... like you told them last time.

You see, Free Will is like shaving gel. It seems that you have a one-can allotment and it just runs out without warning. Researchers did a test on people that I found interesting. Everyone was asked to do a series of complex tests without any chance of success. They timed how long people would do something – like maybe a Rubik's Cube that had been made to be impossible to finish – before giving up.

When the next group came in, they offered everybody cookies. Those who said something like, "No thanks, watching my diet" or whatever would quit the impossible task far earlier than those who said, "What the hell, give me a damn cookie."

Why? My friends, you basically have about one can of Free Will. If you use it saying "no" to cookies, you won't have any left for impossible tasks, quitting smoking, or whatever resolution you picked in a carb-induced haze sometime during the holidays. Sorry. One can.

That's why our friend in the prison has a better body than you. When your alarm goes off, do you basically get up? Why? Could you miss class if you're a student? Maybe. Well then, getting up out of your toasty little bed will eat up some of your Free Will.

Can you miss work? Sure, but then, you know, something happens, like you get the Henderson Report and the Dingwinglies fall off the Schimshank and whatever the hell else bad that happens to you at work.

Do you have kids? Now we're really talking about losing Free Will, fast and furious. Children will drink every ounce that you have before you send them off to school. Trust me, I don't have any personal choice at all! Who makes your meals or chooses what place you'll eat? You. There goes some of that decision making ability.

As decision after decision after decision hits you throughout the week, your reservoir of Free Will that you'll be free to spend in the gym begins to fade. When T-Nation published my Four Minutes a Day to Fat Loss article, a number of people asked me in the forum or in emails, "If it's so good, why don't you do it every day?" My answer was always clouded: "You do it and get back to me."

Why couldn't I do it every day? Well, let's be honest. To push myself that hard after a long day of commuting kids back and forth to school, choir, and volleyball, while the dog is puking next to the broken toilet, while the lady from the reunion wants to know if I can get there early to help hang crepe paper, after I get the truck back from getting new tires, before I mow the lawn, and the boss needs that report... I'm just happy to hide in the gym.

Lots of us know those workouts. We go into our gym and hide. I call it "arm day!" Our buddy in prison? Well, does he decide when to go to bed? No. Get up? No. Eat three times a day? No choice. Meals? Not only no choice on what to eat, but usually our friend doesn't have to do anything to prepare the meal. Quiet time? I don't even know what that is...

Day after day after day, decisions that I may take for granted are simply not a part of the prisoner's life. What does he have control of anyway? His workouts. That whole can of Free Will – literally bottled up inside of him for days, maybe even weeks and months in some cases – can be used for training. And train he does.

So, you decide on ten New Year's resolutions. Here's my unsolicited gambling odds: no chance. If you only make one resolution? Maybe you'll achieve it. It could happen, you know, with the right motivations...

Why am I confident you'll fail? Simply, my point: you have only so much in the can of Free Will, and most of us waste the bulk of our self-determination, grit, or free choice long before we can muster up the energy to deal with nicotine fits, carb cravings, and the three minute wait to get on the treadmill.

Listen, it's easier to just eat the damn cookie. I know, I've been there. "Hi, I'm Dan and I'm the guy who knows carbs are bad for me but I eat them anyway so leave me alone in my corner to sob... "

Leaving Some Free Will in the Can

How can we save more of the can of Free Will so that we can focus on our workouts or really push that diet? Let's be honest, look at Shugart's Velocity Diet. Just look at it. Pretend for a moment that you could do that for a month. Just pretend. I did. I immediately came up with about 400 events that I couldn't bring a protein drink to, even mixed with flax seeds.

Here are three ideas to help you get more Free Will out of your can:

Idea #1: Camp. I'm serious. Each year, I spend up to four weeks in training camps. Somebody else wakes me up, somebody else makes my meals, somebody else pushes me to work out, somebody else tells me when lights are out. You know, I work hard during those weeks.

So, how can I "reinvent" camp for my normal life? A couple of things leap out at me. First, if nutrition is so important, and that's my biggest problem, is it possible to sublet out my meal planning? One day a week, should I do all the cooking and bag and freeze all the meals? Can I hire out someone to do all the cooking? Should I buy a lot of pre-made meals? Or, should I just stock all my shelves with really good things for me and only eat in appropriate places?

Really, none of these ideas are bad. Not great, but not bad either. In the area of training, we all know what the value of a personal trainer actually is. It's someone who makes sure you do something in the allotted training time. I'm not ripping on PTs here; I'm just pointing out that the single greatest value of a personal trainer is that someone else's "will" is replacing our "will." That psycho, whistle-blowing high school coach you had might've been on to something.

Idea #2: I'm working with a young woman, Amy, who recently did a pretty impressive thing: she quit smoking, lost a lot of bodyweight, stopped "partying" so much, and decided to recommit to her lifelong goals. As of this writing, she hasn't smoked in a long time, lost a lot of weight, and is in the fog of love with a very decent guy.

Her secret? She took on one task at a time, but only with a large community effort behind her. What does that mean? It means she told everybody her goals. I mean that, gentle reader, everybody. Friends, people at parties, coworkers, and people in the mall looking for a new microwave all heard the same chorus.

"Hey, I'm quitting smoking, so if I say that I need a smoke, tie me down and don't let me smoke 'cause I'm quitting and I'm not going to smoke, so don't let me smoke." Hey, you aren't going to let that person smoke. Leave, yes, smoke, no.

Next, Amy joined Weight Watchers. She goes to the meetings. She talks about things. She talks to other people in Weight Watchers and she let's everybody know she's in Weight Watchers.

I'm telling you, you can save your precious Free Will by recruiting a vast army of people willing to give up their Free Will to bolster your Free Will. How? Tell them, ask them, beg them for help. Guys like me and the rest of the T-Nation team are there to help. But, that's not enough. Does your family know your goals? Coworkers? Professors? Mailman? Start putting it out there.

There was a time in my youth where I could go to a party filled with booze and an assortment of products from Columbia and no one would offer me a "share." Why? I was dumb enough to let everyone know that I was going after something that drugs and booze would only hinder. (I was joking about the "dumb enough" part. I'm damn proud of those decisions.)

Idea #3: I don't like this one, but it works: whittle down your life a little. I've always told my daughters that you can measure a good relationship by the way that you expand rather than contract. So, what am I saying? Maybe you do too much.

I'm guilty; I love leaping into things. In fact, it's a rare fall that I don't have a conflict on a weekend between a Highland game, a flag football league, and an Olympic lifting meet. To do all of this, something has to give. Usually, my skills at Highland games, flag football, or Olympic lifting!

Whittle. I was at a party recently with a guy who told me he can't get back into training. Six minutes later he asked me about a ton of television shows that I'd never watched or heard of before. By God, this guy watched Joey!

Whittle that TV set and the time will appear for training. Don't TiVo a bunch of crap so you can watch it faster "without commercials!" When I was growing up, we never watched CBS. Why? We didn't get the station because of where we lived. You know, I never missed a thing. Now, we have 10,000 stations and I think there's always something better on another channel.

Whittle. Drunk all weekend and come to work hung-over? Whittle away a little there. Whittle away your workouts, too. Why does anybody do the "innie" and the "outie" thigh machines? Really, why?

3 Choices

There you go, friends. Once again, I offer some simple ideas, but the problem isn't so simple. Be very sparing with your little can of self-discipline, Free Will, or whatever word you want to toss around.

You have three choices to help you make better choices:

One: Be proactive and try to find someone or some way to cut back on all the options, all those deadly choices and decisions... especially in nutrition and training.

Two: Bring on everybody to keep an eye on you. The more personal trainers, mentors, gurus, Yodas, and Gandalfs in your life, the better. Tell everyone you know or meet your goals and watch how much easier it is to stay on track. The crazy lady on the 814 bus might be the one person that stops you from munching on that damn muffin.

Three: Whittle away at all the extras. Better yet, chop away. I'm not saying to disconnect with humanity, but I'd like to see you turn off the damn television set. Chop. Chop. Chop.

Hey, like the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said: "Choose wisely."

And not very often...

© 1998 — 2005 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

"For sure, grit and spit will get you so far but it will also grind you down and leave you spent.
Good movement, superior movement, that is where grace and power live."

My 2011 Training Log

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