Friday, January 14, 2011

Free Will and Free Weights - Dan John

See here for more -

An open, chapter by chapter discussion on the book
"Never Let Go" is currently being held at

Consider picking up the book and joining in.

Never Let Go, Chapter One
by Dan John

Free Will and Free Weights

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.

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 of the stars!
• Instantly increase your arm size!
• Use psycho power to get women and money!

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

No, I’m not talking about a real secret here, the answer to a lot of the crazy issues that plague probably everyone. The funny thing is 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.

New Year’s Eve – A drunk walks over to you, spilling a glass of merlot down your arm and on 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 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 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 resolutions are usually good ideas. 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 what I saw wasn’t unlike hotels I stayed in while visiting New Jersey and Florida.

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

One of the things people talk about is how buff prisoners are. “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 our goals. Don’t laugh, don’t undervalue, and certainly don’t underestimate what I’m about to say. The secret to success is free will.

Free will? Sure, call it what you want: self discipline, habits, free agency, or my personal favorite, no other damn choice. Now listen, this isn’t a religious 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 water rose higher, a helicopter dropped a rope ladder down to him and offered him a lift off the 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 we need to take the bull by the horns, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, or add any cliché comment you were told as an adolescent to spur you to get off your damn computer chair and walk over to the gym and spend the next hour doing nothing but every exercise 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 after all, so eat a few more, then sneak over to those websites that have panting college coed in pasties. Or whatever.

Every great motivational speaker from Napoleon Hill to Earl Nightingale to Anthony Robbins will always dedicate a large amount of time and energy to the concept of self-discipline. My college coach, Ralph Maugham, 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, especially worthy of discussion. Of course, that 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.

I shave daily. I recently changed from shaving cream to shaving gel, but I’m going back to cream. 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. 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 as a reminder 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 all day your friends comment about your dry, bleeding face. Your coworkers might think you got into another bar fight, like you told them last time.

You see, free will is like shaving gel. It seems you have a one-can allotment and it just runs out without warning. Researchers did an interesting test on people: Everyone was asked to do a series of complex tests without any chance of success. They timed how long people would try the task before giving up – like maybe a Rubik’s cube that had been made impossible to finish.

When the next group came in, they offered everybody cookies. Those who said, “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. It 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 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 bed will eat up some of your free will.

Can you miss work? Sure, but then, you know, something happens, like you miss the Henderson Report and the Dingwinglies fall of the Schimshank and whatever the hell else bad 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 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 hits you throughout the week, the reservoir of free will you’ll have on hand to spend at the gym begins to fade. When I originally wrote my Four Minutes to Fat Loss article, which you’ll read later in the book, a number of people asked me, “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 wouldn’t I do it every day? 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 while the boss still needs that report . . . I’m happy to hide in the gym.

Lots of us know these workouts. We go into our gym and hide. I call it arm day! Our buddy in prison? Does he decide when to go to bed? No. Get up? No. Eat three times a day? No choice. 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 I take for granted are just 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, months and years in some cases - can be used for training. And train he does.

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? 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 cars are bad for me, but I eat them anyway so leave me alone in my corner to sob.

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

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


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

How can I reinvent camp for my normal life? A couple of things leap out at me. First, if nutrition is so important, and it's my biggest trouble spot, is it possible to sublet my meal planning? One day a week, should I do all the cooking and bag and freeze some meals? Can I hire 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, 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 actually is: It's someone making sure you do something in the allotted training time. I'm not ripping on PTs here; I'm just pointing out the single greatest value of a personal trainer is someone else's will replacing your own. That psycho, whistle-blowing high school coach you had might've been on to something.


I'm working with a young woman, Edna, 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, has 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 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, Edna joined Weight Watchers. She goes to the meetings. She talks about things. She talks to other people in Weight Watchers and she lets 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 yours. How? Tell them, ask them, beg them for help. Does your family know your goals? Coworkers? Professionals? 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 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.


I don't like this one, but it works: Whittle down your life a little. I've always told my daughters you can measure a good relationship by the way you expand rather than contract. 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 Games, flag football or Olympic lifting!

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

Whittle that TV habit 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; we didn't get the station where we lived. You know, I never missed a thing. Now, we have 10,000 stations and think there's always something better on another channel.

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

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

You have thiree options to help you make better choices:

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

TWO: Bring everybody onboard to keep an eye on you. The more personal trainers, mentors, gurus, Yodas, and Gandalfs in your life, the better. Tell everyone you know 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 who stops you from munching on that muffin.

THREE: Whittle away at all the extras. Better yet, chop away. I'm not saying 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive