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  • Writer's pictureScott Francis

Physical Training in a Digital World

Why should we care about physical training? In today’s high-tech world we can telecommute, have our groceries delivered, and chat with friends via text message or social media. We no longer hunt or gather our own food. Physical labor is increasingly specialized. Automation and technology are moving the bulk of us from hard physical labor towards offices, cubicles, and computer work-stations.

With a decreasing need for physical strength & speed to meet our basic needs, why should we care about physical training?

1 - If you’re reading this, you have a body. You can choose to view that body as a vehicle, carting around your mind. But you can’t swap bodies, buy a new one, or use the loaner from the shop while yours is being fixed. We’re stuck in the one we’ve got. So it pays off to take good care of it. Our bodies need some raw materials (food, water, air). Our bodies do a ton of things to keep our minds working well, and they provide significant mobility & protection.

But beyond this, our physical bodies affect the deeper aspects of ourselves. The outward patterns we embody imprint deeply. Our physical habits of sleep, breathing, nutrition, and movement influence how well our minds function, how positive our emotional responses are, and how sensitive we are to gut feelings.

Our bodies aren’t simply vehicles, they contribute to the way we respond to the world.

The world is full of physical obstacles. Perhaps we don’t have to flee a saber-tooth cat or chase down a gazelle to survive. But we are confronted by a continual stream of physical challenges: fighting off viruses, getting to meetings, fixing the broken toilet or sink, replacing light bulbs; dealing with discomfort.

We bump around in the world, met by unexpected challenges on a daily basis. Some of those collisions result in physical discomfort. Everyone has experienced discomfort; it is the sign that something is not optimal. But how do we deal with it?

Avoid it? Whine about it? Find the source and eliminate the cause?

Our bodies aren’t simply vehicles, they contribute to the way we respond to the world.

The world’s major religions include the premise that life involves suffering. How we deal with suffering helps to define who we are. Do we run away? Complain? Or do we try to fix things?

Dealing with physical discomfort gives us an analogy for the bigger-picture.

We are creatures of habit. It’s difficult for us to invent new ways of dealing with problems, so we fall back on what we know. The way we respond to the physical discomfort of a challenging workout gives us insight on how we respond to:

the frustrating problem at work or school,

navigating the emotional minefield of a new relationship,

the process of learning when to trust our “gut instinct”, and

encountering the fog obscuring our connections to others.

Physical training gives us an opportunity to address a variety of discomforts by analogy. I have successfully used large sets of burpees as a way to practice a calm, unflappable response to screaming toddlers. Clients have used sprint intervals to practice dealing with emotional conflict in the workplace.

We can successfully condition ourselves to respond more optimally in stressful (uncomfortable) situations through practice. The physical training space can be a controlled environment for practicing mental & emotional improvements. The physical realm is the most concrete. It offers the advantage of clear feedback. Each workout is an opportunity to try a tactic for dealing productively with discomfort.

Ask your coach or trainer about the intent of the workout. Think about when it’s going to get uncomfortable. Create a plan for what to do when you encounter that discomfort.

Will you focus on your breathing?

Will you remind yourself of the goal you are working towards?

Will you see this discomfort as a step toward that goal?

Will you view this physical work as practice for responding in uncomfortable mental & emotional situations beyond the gym?

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