Choose as if Your Life Depends on It

By Michael Krueger

Photo by Nick Krueger.

By far, the most commented-on columns I have written involve motivation or, more precisely, lack of motivation. So many people want desperately to improve their fitness yet create all sorts of obstacles to prevent it. It can be very difficult to change no matter how badly you may want to, and the resistance to change can be as strong as the desire for it.

Your Own World

Everyone has created a world in their head that contains their version of reality. It sounds strange, but that seems to be the way it is. Your idea of fun may involve running into burning buildings; mine, not so much. My ideas of success and failure differ from yours, which will in turn differ from those of others. Being able to create a reality that is encouraging and beneficial to you rather than toxic and destructive is the key.

I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t claim to understand exactly how the mind works. My knowledge comes from personal experience, both with my own struggles and those of my clients. Everyone struggles at various times to find their way when it comes to health and fitness.

The one thing I am sure of is that if you get your physical fitness in order, the rest of your life seems to follow along. I’ve asked myself why this happens, and the answer I have come up with (my reality) is that we are animals first, and by addressing our physicality we address our most basic self. Your body won’t lie to you, but your mind is a different story. It makes up stories and rationalizations following an ever-changing agenda that is complex and convoluted. On the other hand, your body is strong and fit or it’s not, and no amount of rationalization and spin is going to change that. As you stand naked staring in the mirror, you can suck in your gut and claim that “it’s all muscle,” but your heart, lungs, and aching back know better. Give your body good nutrition and consistent exercise, and in return it will perform up to its potential; a more straightforward and honest exchange you couldn’t ask for. Unfortunately, the body is the slave of the mind; it can’t achieve anything on its own. All that is physically good must happen in your head before it can happen to your body.

Feeling Special Yet?

You are an individual, the result of everything that has happened to you–more accurately, the reaction and internalization of everything that you have ever thought, seen, heard, or done. That certainly does make you very different from me and from everyone else in this vast and variable world, but special is probably not the word I would use.

Everything you do is for a good reason, and all those reasons are true for you. You get some sort of a payout, positive or negative, for every thought and action. They fill some need and offer you some comfort. You must understand that simple fact before you can change the way you think, so you may change the way you feel, so you may live the life you desire. Once you do this, then you really have earned the right to feel special, because not everyone can accomplish this feat; otherwise, everyone would.

Fitness Obstacles

The problems associated with becoming or maintaining fitness rarely begin in your body. They begin in your mind. You recall all the times you failed as a child on the playground. You remember the humiliation of sports or gym class; it doesn’t matter what the indignity entailed or how long ago it occurred, it affects the way you now think about yourself.

To make matters more complicated, there are all kinds of people trying to get into your head, sending you conflicting messages–all in an effort to control your mind and take your money. We see images of models, athletes, and celebrities and all the ubiquitous advertisements promising the world if only you purchase their product. They all tout a Madison Avenue or Hollywood version of health, fitness, and beauty; it’s got nothing to do with the real world.

Women have been dealing with these social pressures for far longer than men, but now the issues have branched out into the “insecure male” market. Changing fashions involving clothing and hairstyle are one thing, but when it moves into sculpting your body it can become a serious threat to your health, both mental and physical. If you can’t create the “perfect” body naturally, don’t panic, because there are always “answers” through chemistry.

Look at the glossy “muscle” and “health” magazines directed at men. They all sell a version of masculine muscular perfection that isn’t attainable without steroids for 98 percent of men, and the workouts presented make little sense except for world-class body builders. This month they proclaim that they have found the perfect bicep exercise to give you those 18-inch guns you are told you so desperately need to have to not be inadequate. Next month will be another perfect bicep exercise to do the same thing but add in a six-pack as well; the next month more of the same.

The sooner you quit watching the ads and listening to the voices that are just trying to lighten your wallet and clutter your mind, the sooner you will hear your inner voice and find your own truth among the myriad messages that constantly assault you. Once you have found it, then all of your conflicts will be resolved and all of your doubts will have ceased, and you can begin living your life on your terms.

Finding Your Way

There are as many modes of exercising as there are people. Even among different cultures, you will find conflicting ideas of what constitutes quality exercise, from Tai Chi and yoga to ultra marathons and strongman competitions. All of this variance is a good thing if you are truly looking for a mode of exercise that works for you. It is not so good if you are using the sheer volume of options to avoid making a choice, thereby rationalizing your lack of exercise or just being totally, honestly overwhelmed by all of the available information.

I have said before that not finding a program or routine that you can stick with does not excuse you from exercising. If this is your attitude, then perhaps you need to look really deep to find out what the real issue is. Lack of exercise is a life-threatening situation for many Americans, and it is an even greater risk to a first responder and to those they serve.

It’s All About Choices

Human beings are experts at self-delusion and rationalization. We can look in a mirror and choose not to see the rolls of fat; we can look at our food intake and ignore the excess calories and lack of quality nutrition. We need to stop and catch our breath at the top of the stairs, but we do not correlate it to our lack of aerobic capacity.

So, our arteries continue to clog, our muscles deteriorate, our knees throb and our backs spasm, our heads ache and our stomachs turn–all because of our choices.

We go to the doctor to be treated pharmaceutically for the diseases that our culture nurtures through marketing, advertising, and technology. In the end, though, our culture isn’t to blame—we are. We need to quit blaming others and making excuses and start making better personal choices.

Many of our illnesses are simply manifestations of our own poor choices and could be mitigated if not prevented by improving our diet and exercising. Instead, we ask for drugs because it seems to be the “easy” way. Then we complain about the side effects and costs of those drugs. We ride when we could walk; we sit when we could stand; and we eat fatty, salty, processed junk when we could eat natural foods that actually taste like food.

Ultimately, we choose to become ill when we could choose to thrive; and we die when we could’ve chosen to live.

Exercise allows you to live free–free of physical constraints, free of drugs, free of anxiety, and free to be the person and to live the life you’ve always dreamed about.

What more motivation do you really need?


Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at 


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