I’m going to turn 64 years old this month. I hate to admit it, but I’m a paying member of a health club and I struggle to get there once a week to exercise for 30 minutes. Why don’t I get there more often? Because the burning desire to be strong and fit left me years ago.
I recently realized that there is only one technique that I can use to generate enough desire to push myself to exercise several days a week, eat the right foods, and lose some weight. The technique I’m referring to is simple yet profound, but its effectiveness will rest entirely upon how willing I am to be a true follower of Jesus.
Before I explain my new technique, I need to provide you with my previous experience concerning exercise and fitness.
During the summer of 1969, when I was 12 years old, I took over a paper route delivering newspapers for the Peoria Journal Star. Every day, I picked up the newspapers at Stafford’s Dairy, which was located about six blocks from my parents’ home.
There was a boy my age who periodically hung out in the parking lot of Stafford’s dairy where he smoked cigarettes and caused trouble. His name was Rick. Shortly after I started delivering papers, Rick started picking on me. He would get in my face and cuss at me. I would ignore him and walk away, but he would follow me, push me around, and dare me to fight him. Although I was strong for my age, I didn’t feel that I had the fighting skills to take him on. Consequently, each time he became confrontational, I acted as though his actions didn’t bother me and I got away from him as quickly as possible.
At the same time that Rick was picking on me, there was a bully at school who looked like a gorilla and was a year older than me. His name was Jim. Every week Jim and a couple of his buddies would pick out a boy on the playground to beat up. The day eventually came when Jim called out my name and he and his buddies chased me down and beat me up. That was the day I made the decision that I was going to learn how to defend myself.
I tore a coupon out of a comic book, wrote down my name and address, and mailed it to a company by the name of Charles Atlas Ltd. The ad that I answered was written in a comic book format and started out by showing a young man who was a “97-pound weakling” being humiliated in front of his date by a bully kicking sand in his face.
The ad then showed the young man in his home kicking a chair and sending away for the Atlas body-building course. After receiving the course, the man built up his muscles and was later shown on the beach punching the bully in the face. He was then declared to be the “Hero of the Beach,” with his girlfriend standing next to him admiring his muscular body.
When I received the Charles Atlas booklet in the mail, I read it from cover to cover and then ordered his bodybuilding course. I wanted to be like the guy in the ad — muscular, tough, and admired by pretty girls.
After I ordered the Charles Atlas course, I ordered a weightlifting book. When the book arrived in the mail, I read it in two days, and then I sat at my desk and prepared a weightlifting schedule that would help me build up and strengthen each of my muscle groups. I started out by lifting weights every other day, and I measured my progress by keeping track of everything I did.
At that time, I was a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. I wanted to be like him — tough, strong, and confident. I approached my dad and asked him if I could sign up for boxing lessons. He asked me several questions, but there were two questions that he kept returning to: Why do you want to learn how to beat someone else’s head in? Why do you want to be involved in a sport where someone is trying to beat your head in?
All I could say in response to his questions was, I just want to learn how to fight and defend myself. I didn’t tell him about the guys who had picked on me. I didn’t want him to call their dads and attempt to work out a solution. I wanted to be able to handle them on my own. I wanted revenge.
My dad ended up saying no to my request to sign up for boxing. As usual, he was right.
The following year, when I entered high school, I joined the wrestling team. What I learned while on the team ended up serving the same purpose as boxing lessons. I was able to work with a coach who forced me to get in great shape and taught me skills I could use if the need ever arose. More importantly, my experience with the team helped me to develop confidence in myself and my abilities.
When I was 16 years old, I subscribed to Muscle & Fitness magazine. Every month when the magazine arrived in the mail, I read it from cover to cover. The magazine provided different exercises and routines, as well as advice on nutrition. I continued my subscription until I was 18 years old.
What was it that motivated me to invest my time, effort, and money on weightlifting, bodybuilding, nutrition, and learning how to fight?
It was the same formula that has motivated young boys for centuries. I had a burning desire to develop my strength and skills, so I would be able to defend myself and keep from being humiliated by bullies. I also had a burning desire to be attractive to beautiful girls.
Fast forward 50 years. As I already indicated, I’m going to turn 64 this month and I have absolutely no desire to exercise or lift weights. I no longer have a desire to be attractive to women because, by the grace of God, I met and married the most beautiful woman in the world more than 40 years ago. And I am no longer the high-testosterone teenager who has a need to prove his manhood or seek revenge against bullies.
If we had the ability to discover what motivates the most successful high achievers in business, sports, parenting, fitness, and finance, we would find that each of them began with and maintained a burning desire to achieve greatness. The fuel for that burning desire could be one or more of a number of experiences and emotions, including fear, anger, guilt, greed, affinity, esteem, and inadequacy.
If you consider the emotion of fear, the most powerful fears that motivate us are the fear of criticism, humiliation, growing old, failure, loss, death, harm, and the fear of being disliked, despised, slandered, forgotten, wronged, suspected, ridiculed, and taken advantage of.
It takes extraordinary or catastrophic events and emotions to compel people to abandon their comfort zone and make the extreme sacrifices of time, effort, and isolation from others that are necessary to reach a level of achievement that most people only dream of.
It was my experiences and emotions that fueled my desire to be strong, fit, and attractive. The problem — if you want to call it a problem — is that now my early experiences and emotions no longer fuel that burning desire. I’m no longer motivated to do the work that is necessary to get in top shape (for my age) and to get my weight down to where it should be.
When Mother Teresa was changing the world with the international organization she founded — the Missionaries of Charity — what motivated her? What was it that created a perpetual burning desire within her to keep going? I think I discovered one of the most powerful techniques she used to keep the fire of desire burning inside her heart and soul.
I’ll share that technique with you next week.