0485 – the athlete must play hurt

Took a short break, drank some water and I’m back for round 5.

The title of this post is from a line from Steven Pressfield’s War of Art, which is a great book that I think I should keep on my desk to remind me of all times about The Resistance and how life is good is you face it down, and bad if you let it overwhelm you. It’s simplistic but it’s true.

The Athlete Must Play Hurt. The point is that we’re never going to be in the perfect mood. We’re never going to be perfectly comfortable, except maybe after a vacation which is when we’re actually not at our best (because we’re a little lumpy). So feeling perfectly comfortable isn’t actually a good thing. Vacations are good things, of course, and I’m probably due for one soon. But the point is that The Athlete Must Play Hurt.

This isn’t a cry for mindless self-damage and “no pain no gain”. Injuries are wasteful and tragic. We should seek to minimize and avoid injury as much as possible. And seeking out pain in a masochistic way is kind of troubling. Unless you really get so much joy and pleasure from it, which I don’t relate to. In an earlier vomit I talked about using guilt and shame to feel significant, and that’s a sort of masochism. But I don’t deeply enjoy that. It’s neurotic. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not like a kinky sex type of thing like enjoying spanking or choking or something. It’s more like smoking, where the habit sticks because you’re using it to self-medicate low blood sugar levels.

That’s a useful analogy. I think the whole idea about “quitting smoking” is a little misguided, and I’m sure all sorts of other things like “lose weight” are misguided too. I think habitual smoking, habitual overeating, etc are symptoms, not the disease. They’re manifestations of deeper problems. They’re bugs. What you really want to do, in my opinion, is to dig deep into the causal factors and get a sense of what the full picture is. The smoking and overeating and internet addiction and all of those things are [3] like the emissions at the end of a long chain of processes. If the goal is to “reduce emissions”, you need to understand where the emissions are coming from, and why. [4] You can’t just block the vent, for example. If it were that simple you’d have done it already. Block the vent and it’ll eventually pop, and the emissions will be even worse than before. And it won’t change until you address the underlying processes. And this is the part that people don’t talk very much about. It goes way outside the realm of civil conversation about polite things. It involves family, and friends, and sleep, and nutrition, and how you spend your personal, private time.

That’s why LifeHacks don’t and will never quite cut it. They’re just fun superficial ideas, and they can be fun to play with. But the real reason you aren’t productive isn’t that you don’t have the right hacks. It’s that deep, deep down inside, you’re scared, anxious, frightened, confused, lost, disappointed, frustrated, angry. And you lack discipline, and you lack skills, and those things just make you more upset and angry and frustrated.

What’s the LifeHack for that? I suppose you could say meditation, reflection, journaling, gratitude journalling, exercise. Yeah, all of those things are true, all of those things are helpful. I guess I’m a little bit bitter about how we frame things. I recently wrote a post “So what are you passionate about” in response to a younger friend asking me that question, and it had the same sort of bitter, angry tone in reaction to the cheery happy goody vibes that advice columns and Medium posts seem to be full of. (I’m plowing a lot of imaginary straw men down… but hey, it feels good and I’m getting it out of my system. I wonder what’s at the end of all this bitterness.)

The Athlete Must Play Hurt. I’m repeating it to myself because I feel like I still haven’t internalized it. I feel like every morning I wake up and I still think, “I’m still hurt, I haven’t recovered, I can’t play yet.” I still haven’t quite internalized the truth that the only way to recover IS TO PLAY. Exercise gives you energy, it’s the most counter-intuitive thing in the world to hear when you’re tired but it’s true. I wonder if anybody’s done a study about that– I think it has something to do with the body wanting to conserve energy. Bodies are incredibly intelligent but also kinda dumb, probably because we can’t communicate to our bones and cells that we live in a relative age of abundance.


[1] Interesting that I’d say that. Does it even matter? Probably not. I’m trying to feel better about myself by one-upping myself over my past self. Doesn’t sound like a particularly healthy thought. But it was a thought, and I let it out. Moving on.

[2] It’s not JUST that, of course, but I do still think the main distinction between hardcore habitual smokers and people who smoked a little bit and then stopped, or smoke once in a while, is the diet thing. And other chronic problems like anxiety, depression, etc.

[3] This is just my opinion, not a hard fact. And this is just one lens to view these things through, it’s probably worth using multiple lenses to get multiple perspectives to attack the problem from multiple fronts.

[4] Why do you smoke? What are the circumstances and conditions in which you smoke? What were you doing in those situations before you were a smoker? What do non-smokers do in those situations? Have there been circumstances in which you did not smoke? What were your best attempts at quitting smoking in the past? What sabotaged that attempt? What do you really want? What do you really care about? How do you demonstrate, with action and stakes, that those statements are true?

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