Don’t let the selfies fool you, I despise the sauna.
Imagine sitting in this claustrophobic cedar hotbox, eyes bathed in salty sweat; your heart racing faster and faster with each passing minute. Your equilibrium begins to betray you, so you draw a deep breath- a lungfull of air so hot and thick it feels like volcanic mud.
I’m not a sociopath. It’s unpleasant.
It’s twenty minutes in, and I want out. Badly. And although my soul screams for mercy, I grant it no reprieve. I offer my weakest self no amnesty, because history has already taught us that Appeasement is a poor strategy.
Then it’s over. And as the ground slowly stops swaying and my eyes regain focus, I delight in knowing that I won.
I won the battle over my weakest self. Skirmish might be a better metaphor- because each of these instances of subjecting myself to discomfort are just small, brief clashes in a Great War.
And you never know where the fighting will break out.
I don’t enjoy most of the things I put myself through. I engage in these difficult endeavors and deprive myself of certain comforts for my own health and personal growth: longevity, recovery, cognition.
Fasting? The worst. Try making a grilled cheese for your daughter 16 hours into a fast, and you’ll know the 3rd level of hell.
Oh, you love cold showers? Interesting. What else do you lie about?
I don’t like it. I do these things because they need to be done. They’re immensely beneficial. Unfortunately, in an equally hilarious and infuriating twist of fate, Mother Nature- in her infinite wisdom and humor- developed this supercomputer we call brain, this miracle, and apparently tasked it with fighting us every step of the way.
Our very own hardwired worst enemy.
The foe is a worthy adversary: cunning, resilient, conniving. Your mind has no qualms with Guerilla Warfare, and knows the dirtiest tricks to play.
Good. Each small victory is made that much sweeter, and that much more bountiful.
Yes, you reap all the benefits of the act itself: cellular autophagy, heat shock proteins, reduced inflammation, hormone regulation- but it goes far beyond that.
When you’ve forgone the easy road; when you haven’t folded, or wilted- when you’ve stuck it out, you’ve earned the gratification of being the person you want to be, who you intended to be, not who nature fated you to be.
It feels damned good. Relish it.
And each time you triumph, the power balance shifts. You’ve grown stronger, and the enemy weaker. You’ve confronted your weakest self, and have seen his dirty tricks. What once swayed or tempted you becomes white noise. Your language begins to change. I might becomes I will, and if becomes when.
Discipline equals freedom
Make promises to yourself, and keep them. Do this enough, and you’re free. Free from guesswork, free from temptation, free from the incessant internal negotiations. The Siren Song of the couch loses its allure. Of course I’m training, because I’ve decided and it’s not up for debate.
But how? you might ask. Start small. Move the pebble.
The great stoic Seneca said:
You have to persevere and fortify your pertinacity until the will to good becomes a disposition to good.
Build yourself up brick by brick, until your willpower is a stone fortress. Develop pertinacity, a tenacious stubbornness. Build it slowly, build it surely, and never stop adding mortar to the joints.
It’s an invaluable lesson, however, and one you’d be wise to revisit often: you don’t have to enjoy these things. In fact, if the act itself is enjoyable, it’s most likely doing you little good. Instead, learn to enjoy the victory over weakness, or laziness, or temptation. Enjoy the novelty of it, the absurdity of these difficult endeavors.
Enjoy the person you’re becoming.