AN ATTEMPTED MANIFESTO

No matter what.

This is a phrase that has become more and more important to me over time, that I repeat to myself and that I find incredibly helpful.  I think it’s very possible that this can be misunderstood, that it can take on the same smug or unforgiving tone as some of the overused fitness meme type phrases that I abhor.  Tropes like, “no excuses,” or “pain is weakness leaving the body.”  I’m also fully aware that for some, those ideas may not have the connotations that they do for me, so if those are positive motivators for you that is awesome and you should keep on rocking with your bad self.  I’m equally aware that we each hear things in our own minds within the context of our unique perception of the world.  So if you are deep in self-judgement then what is inspiring for me will sound in your ears like the voice of your mean 2nd grade teacher.

In an effort to get clear on this, I’m going to talk about what this phrase means to me and why it is so important to me.  “No matter what” is a short-hand for me, it’s a stand-in for a lot of different ideas braided together into a philosophy.

I’ll begin with the Arthur Ashe quote I shared a few entires ago, when I was writing about  anti-perfectionism, “start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”  In this case, “no matter what” is the emphasis I throw onto the end of that: “start where you are, no matter what.”  Sometimes, if I just tell myself, “start where you are,” I reflexively begin listing reasons why I can’t, why the “where” that I’m at is no good for starting anything.  In this case, “no matter what” is the hand I throw up to block the attack I know is coming even though it hasn’t even launched yet.

If you have a very stern, mean-spirited, harsh inner critic, this still may sound a little too “no excuses”-esque for you.  Maybe you’re thinking, “well I can’t just do ______, ‘no matter what,’ because I have kids/don’t know how/broke my leg/feel really scared!”  When I am using this phrase, I am not asking myself to do a huge, insurmountable-feeling task to completion and do it perfectly, in a timely fashion and still be able to cook a five course meal after.  Look again at that Arthur Ashe quote.  It’s not “finish the task, without any help, yes, the whole thing, today, right now, or you’re a loser!”  It’s, “start where you are, use what youhave, do what you can.”  It is entirely about starting with what you’ve got inside of you because you are enough.

I throw my “no matter what” on to the end to double-remind myself that no matter where I start, it’s fine and no matter what I have to start with, it’s fine and no matter what I am actually capable of just now, it’s fine!  No matter what I may have going on, what obstacles are cropping up, how afraid I am, I am actually an intelligent and capable being who will figure this out as I go along!

Like it says, right under the name of this blog, “no matter what, if you want to build a cathedral you start with one brick.”  It means you have to start.  No matter what the “brick” is.  No matter what your personal “cathedral” is.  You have to start.  Just start, just go and if you totally fuck it up, go again, start again.  And keep going, take that first step, even if it’s just getting yourself up out of bed so you can look in the mirror and remind yourself that you are still here, you survived some more.  Some days that’s all you can do.  Whatever, it’s fine, get over it, don’t feel bad about it, just go, just start.  No matter what.

(The not feeling bad about it part is really key.  Shame, judgement, negative bullshit is 100% a waste of your time.  At this point there is absolutely zero scientific evidence that berating yourself creates the behavior you desire.  And there is a mountain of evidence for the opposite.  But do you really need a scientific paper to tell you that being ashamed of yourself feels awful, that it doesn’t inspire you to do the things you actually want to do?)

“No matter what” is action-oriented.  It is a way to give yourself the push you need to keep taking a step, even a tiny, micro-step, and then taking another one.

Besides just getting myself to act, I use this phrase as a tool of positive reinforcement.  It calls upon visualization and uses repetition to help me obtain goals.  For example, one of my long term goals was to be able to do 10 pull-ups in a row.  And by long term I mean since 2012.  Last month I did 10 pull-ups in a row for the first time ever.  For me this was a tremendous victory.  I didn’t even know that it was going to happen because I have someone else program my training (after programming for all my clients the last thing I want to do it figure out how to train myself so I outsource it) and three Fridays ago there it was:  pull-ups 4×10.

To be honest, at first I panicked, “I can’t do 10 pull-ups!  And I have to do inverted rows first, I’m going to be too tired!  This is ridiculous!”  I got a little dramatic.  And then I did what I do when I come up against something in my training that I’m not quite ready for:  I do my best, no matter what.  How that strategy actually works for me is like this, if 10 pull-ups are required and I can only do 8 in a row I do 8, rest about 30 seconds, or longer if I need to, and then do the remaining 2.  In a set of 4×10 this could look like this: (8/2)/(8/2)/(6/4)/(6/2/2).  This is what I’ve been doing, specifically in regards to pull-ups, for the last year and a half.  And now I’ve reached my goal and I can do 10 pull-ups.  So, that’s cool.

If I am prescribed 10 pull-ups but I can’t do 10 in a row, only 8, I do my best in the above manner and tell myself, “I attempted to do 10 pull-ups in a row and only got 8.  I am strong, no matter what.”  If I believe I am strong I will continue trying to be strong, I will continue acting like a strong person (i.e.: practicing my pull-ups) and that is what ultimately will get me 10 pull-ups.  In my mind, a strong person works out, they do all the work there is to do to complete their training, it doesn’t matter how it gets done because it gets done no matter what.

If, conversely, I think, “I attempted 10 pull-ups and only got 8.  I am weak.”  Then I have no reason to try again, I will give up.  I’ve decided I am weak.  What do weak people do?  Well, they certainly don’t do pull-ups.  If I stop practicing my pull-ups, I will never get to be able to 10 in a row.

A temporary set-back (only getting 8 pull-ups today) is just that, temporary, because I am strong, no matter what, so it only makes sense to continue attempting 10 pull-ups.  I have made being strong non-negotiable.  This is a way of putting the concept of “believe, then become” into practical steps.  And this is how I am now capable of 10 pull-ups in a row.

“No matter what” helps me be productive.  Right now I’m not entirely stoked with how this blog entry is turning out.  It doesn’t matter,  I decided I would write one entry per week and update every Monday, no matter what.  I decided from the outset that I will use quantity to arrive at quality and I will be okay with not being a genius every second because that is not actually realistic.

“No matter what,” is my go-do-it-go-get’er-done rallying cry, as in, just write that blog entry and post it and then write another one.  Now, this is not an excuse for sloppy work.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  The truth is, if I keep going and I keep going and I keep going it is unavoidable that eventually my work will improve.  I consider it my best try if I am trying to make it beautiful, no matter what. Can it be more beautiful?  Of course, there is no upper limit on beauty.  Improvement is always a possibility.  It can also just be beautiful; I can write something, acknowledge there is room for improvement and also acknowledge that it is beautiful, those things are not mutually exclusive.

And this brings me back to my point about self-judgement.  The practice of practicing requires that we release self-judgement.  We can use an objective eye to critique our output, to look at the weak points we can improve and the good stuff we can make more of.  This is not the same as looking at our output that’s not as good as we think it could be and saying, “this is crap.”  That might still happen, we all have that voice inside of us, but recognize that it is not a helpful voice.  The helpful voice makes a suggestion like, “try using less words in this sentence.”  The unhelpful voice makes a suggestion like, “try being a waiter instead of a writer.”

I’m going to finish this entry no matter what because I am trying to communicate something that I believe in and only in attempting to communicate it will I develop the voice I need to communicate it clearly and usefully to others.  This feels like an 8/2.  I am a good writer, no matter what.  The best writers know when to put a piece to bed, or to step aside for the words of someone who may be able to express it better.  It doesn’t matter to me where this message comes from, it matters to me that you understand it.  And this is the point when all that’s left to do is quote Henry Rollins:

“Get yourself a break from self rejection
Try some introspection
And you just might find
It’s not so bad and anyway
At the end of the day
All you have is yourself and your mind…
I know the self doubt that runs inside your mind
I know the self that treats you so unkind…
If you could see the you that I see
When I see you seeing me
You’d see yourself so differently
Believe me.”
Elias Gross