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For the vast majority of people, this fitness stuff is just picking stuff up and setting it down.  Then, it is picking stuff up moving it around, and putting it down. Then, it is doing it faster or carrying a heavier load. It’s a formality. At the end of the day though, this is low stakes. Sure, the risk of injury always looms, but the common man/woman at the local gym is usually just improving fitness for aesthetics or because the doctor prescribed it. Neither of these are bad reasons for pursuing better fitness, but there is a very small contingent of people that come into the gym because their livelihood depends on their fitness: fighters, athletes etc., and the intensity of their training is directly proportionate to the amount of skin they have in the game. 

Further, there is an even more select group whose lives and the lives of those around them, depend on their fitness: firefighters, soldiers, police. For these people, the choice is simple; work your absolute hardest to break down mental barriers to allow peak physical performance when called to action. Anything short of maximum performance could mean lives are lost. For them, the tool for completing the job is their mind/body, and they cannot afford the cost of that tool failing to strike the nail flush.  For them, the stakes are too high to be let down by a moment of weakness (mental or physical), so improving fitness is not really a choice, but a necessity.

Words like ‘want’, ‘desire’, or ‘willingness’ are used a lot in the context of the gym.  We often talk about those that succeed in pushing their physical and mental limits as “wanting it more”, and because of their willingness to suffer, they are rewarded.  While I definitely believe that those who are willing to suffer will reap the due benefits, I think there’s a distinction in language that is worth noting.

I think there is something greater than “willingness”.

I think there is a level of commitment to a task of more dire circumstance than even the strongest “want”.

“Want” is an idea that people in our industry (myself included) have grown to love because there’s something inherent in the word:  active participation, a choice that was made by the “Want”-er.

People who “want” or have a strong “willingness” have chosen to undertake the hard work as a sacrifice for some greater purpose, be it a faster 2k, a higher Deadlift, or a faster 40-yard dash.  I love that there is this component of active choosing built into the definition of “desire”.  It reminds us of the give and take in the coach/athlete relationship.  The coach must be knowledgeable, and the athlete must make the choice to pursue their “wants”.  The inherent choice in “want” is also empowering to the athlete at times, and a necessary step to reaching somewhere new.

But “want” scares me because inherent in every choice is a way out.  When the athlete comes on hard times in training, they can always look back and think, “I chose this goal, so I can just as easily un-choose it”.  This is what I think young people truly mean when they say “I just don’t enjoy it anymore”.  Often, the reality is that they’ve just convinced themselves that what they previously desired is no longer worth wanting.   Want is too dependent on the participants “willingness” to choose it.  Fortunately, there is something else.  There’s something I’ve seen in successful people that just looks different.

They do not “want”.

They “need”.

“Want” is what gets you in the boat.

“Need” is what gets you out of it and on the podium before the other team.

“Need” is unique because it almost feels divine.  “Need” feels out of body.  “Need” is somehow out of the participants’ control.  It is beyond the athletes' ability to un-choose it.

When the goal is “needed”, the athlete does not choose the goal; the goal chooses them.

With that outside “need” comes an acceptance of suffering as a pre-determined fate beyond the athletes’ control.  The athlete who “needs” rather than “wants” does not dread hard work because it is born of necessity.  The athlete accepts that they will work hard to fulfill a need, and forgoes dread entirely.

I have “wanted” a lot of things throughout my life/athletic career.  A lot of those things came and went, some achieved, some not, as the intensity of willingness wavered from task to task.  On the good days, my want was strong enough to carry me through.  On my bad days, I chickened out and easily convinced myself that the goal was not worth wanting.  I was always wrong.

“Want” is a choice, and damn fine one requiring strong character.

But “Need” is something that will truly occupy you.

“Need” is something we should all start convincing ourselves we have in relation to our goals.

Let’s take this for a test run.

Stop talking about “wanting” to achieve your goals.  You deserve more.  You deserve to need them.

You deserve more than a choice.

You deserve an obligation.

You deserve to hold yourself accountable to fulfill your needs.

You deserve to raise the stakes.

You deserve dire circumstances and more skin in the game.

Make your wants your needs, and watch how quickly your goals turn to milestones.

Red Sullivan is a Gym Jones Fully Certified Instructor at PACK Strength & Conditioning based in Central NJ.  He believes that any goal is achievable with the correct mindset. You can contact Red or visit his Instagram Page @red_pack_sc for more information.

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