BY Chris Shugart OF T NATION.COM
At 5AM every morning, Ray gets up and starts packing his food for the day. He leaves his dorm at 5:30 and heads to the gym. After a grueling hour long workout, it's back to the dorm for a shower and a protein shake, then it's off to class with his cooler full of food.
As soon as his classes end for the day, he dashes to his job in the kitchen of a local restaurant. When his shift is over, he goes back to his room and cracks the books. On Sunday, Ray spends the day cooking enough food for the coming week.
Ray is carrying 18 hours this semester and holds down a job to help him pay for school. His GPA isn't 4.0 but it's damned close. Yet despite all this, he still gets in six healthy meals a day that coincide with his physique goals and hasn't missed a scheduled workout since his freshman year.
Ray has put on over twenty pounds of muscle since then and his body fat has dropped into the single digits. His roommate says he'd like to be built like Ray but he doesn't have "great genetics" like Ray does.
Hmmm. . .
Sandra considers herself a fulltime mom to her kids, but she also works several hours a day at a clothing store to help pay the bills. Her day begins at 5:30AM with a fast ride on an old stationary bike out in the garage. At 6:00, she wakes the kids and helps get them off to school. After dropping the kids off, she has just enough time to dress for work and be there at nine. She wants to be there for her kids when they get home from school, so she goes to the gym during her lunch break.
In the afternoon, she's back on mom duty, fixing meals, doing laundry, and helping with homework. When her husband gets home from work he takes over with the kids while she attends a night class. Sandra is slowly but surely getting her college degree, a degree she put off when the first baby came along. The next day, she starts all over again.
Sandra has lost twenty-five pounds in the last year and only misses a workout if one of the kids is sick. Her friends always say that they could get back in shape too if they had "all the spare time" that Sandra has.
Hmmm. . .
Adapt or Die
Do these stories sound familiar? They probably do. You either relate to Ray and Sandra or you relate to their rationalizing friends. Ray and Sandra lead very different lives but they have one thing in common: they both display adaptability.
In other words, they're faced with a problem - in their cases, they want to stay in shape but both have hectic schedules and other responsibilities - and they figure out a way around that problem. They adapt.
I first heard the phrase "display adaptability" in the Neil Stephenson novel, Cryptonomicon. In the book, that was the motto of a family of Marines and their answer to every possible dilemma. And when you think about it, it's a great answer.
Sadly, not many people display adaptability these days, especially when it comes to building their bodies. There seems to be a societal trend in excuse making. When a person is faced with a problem or an obstacle, he automatically sets his mind to finding an excuse rather than solving the problem.
He realizes he's fat and instead of looking at his poor diet and lack of exercise, he tries to find a way to rationalize and explain his fatness. "Oh, I don't have time to spend all day in the gym. And besides, I have thyroid problems and my whole family is fat. Must be a genetic thing." This is usually said between bites of a glazed doughnut.
Yes, people like this are pretty good at lying to others, but they're immensely gifted at lying to themselves. Hey, you can talk all you want about getting into shape, but your sagging gut isn't getting any smaller is it? Sorry, chubby, but running your mouth isn't enough exercise to make that fat ass of yours any smaller or those puny arms any bigger.
And if you're not going to do anything about your body, then you lose the right to bitch about it. Thems the rules, partner. Those who have the balls to overcome their problems don't want to hear you gripe about yours unless you're going to do something about them.
At this stage, the excuse makers aren't even trying to display adaptability. Instead, they're avoiding the problem and turning their backs on reality. The first step around this is to cut out the self-deception and fess up to your faults and mistakes. Most people can never make it past this first step. That's because they're such fragile little creatures their egos can't take the honestly.
So let's help these little delicate flowers out, shall we? If you're an excuse maker, repeat after me:
"I'm fat. I'm fat because I let myself get fat. I caused this. My diet sucks. I don't train regularly. I look for quick fixes instead of working hard. I even purchased an ab gadget I saw on TV. I'm so ashamed. I feel like shit and I look like shit and it's all my fault."
Or if that doesn't apply, try this one:
"I'm a skinny bastard and it's all my fault. I have no idea how many calories I consume each day. How much protein do I eat? No clue. I'm too lazy to keep a food log or a training log. Heck, I don't even train consistently. My ten year old sister can out bench press me. I suck."
There, now don't you feel better? You've made it past the first step and that's more than most people can say.
Now that you've owned up to your mistakes and confessed your sins, it's time to tackle step two. This involves simply not making any more excuses. The word "but" is a sign you're about to make an excuse. Make no mistake about it, failure begins with the word but.
"I need to lose weight, but. . ."
"I'd like to add some muscle, but. . ."
"My bench press is weak, but. . ."
Get the idea?
Step three is to display adaptability. How you do this is up to you and specific to your situation. The key is to get into the habit of immediately trying to solve the problem. Doing this quickly is crucial.
Fact: You can't solve problems and make excuses at the same time! One action shorts out the other.
So get into the habit of adapting and evolving to situations before the excuses have a chance to pop into your head. Make a conscious effort to think "Display adaptability!" whenever a problem comes up.
You can't afford to go to a gym. Display adaptability!
You can't possibly fit in five or six healthy meals a day. Display adaptability!
You don't have time to workout? Display adaptability!
You can't afford supplements. You guessed it. Display adaptability!
Sounds a little corny at first, but it's amazing how fast a solution will come to you when you ditch the excuses and focus your mental energies on actually solving the friggin' problem!
I remember one kid at my old gym whose job it was to clean the equipment and mop the bathroom floors. I asked him how much he made and he said that he didn't make a single penny. Turns out, the kid had went to the owner and told him he couldn't afford to be a member but he'd gladly put in a couple of hours of grunt work every day in exchange for getting to use the gym. That's how to display adaptability.
I know another guy with no gym access who filled plastic trash bags with water and used those as weights. He'd add or pour out water to change the resistance. Of course, he was in prison, but still, it's a great example of displaying adaptability.
Another young kid, when his parents forbade him to go to the gym every day of the week, built his own equipment, trained in the freezing basement of his house and did pull-ups on tree limbs when it was warm enough. (That kid, by the way, was named Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
Avoid the Masses
This ability to adapt is what separates us from the masses. In ancient times, those that couldn't display adaptability didn't live too long. These days, they survive but they never really accomplish anything. They never really get anything done because their excuses hold them back.
As a regular visitor to T-Nation, I doubt you fit into that category of the population; however, you may occasionally find yourself making excuses instead of making adaptations. Has your bench press been stuck for months? Are you having a tough time dropping that last five pounds of fat or struggling to get another quarter inch on your upper arm measurements?
Before you even think about blaming your bad genes, ask yourself if you've truly tried to solve the problem. Or have you simply been doing the same thing over and over again and waiting for a different outcome?
Maybe, just maybe, you're the one holding yourself back.
Maybe it's time to display adaptability.