Memento Mori - The secret to achieving your fitness goals?
Remind yourself that you could DIE any moment and see how that changes your attitude towards health, fitness and life in general.
If I ask you why you haven’t been able to achieve your fitness goals yet, I bet you’ll EASILY have at least one reason (*cough* excuse *cough*), probably multiple, of which may sound embarrassing when spoken. I don’t blame you; been there, done that...do that. I’ve procrastinated, I’ve pushed targets and deadlines, and I’ve fooled myself into accepting mediocrity (I call it “going with the flow”) to a point where I stopped setting goals completely. I STILL DO. I didn’t give up on training, fitness has always been a part of my life, but there may be times I don't do it with 100% enthusiasm or with an end objective in mind. 100% may not be achievable, but the pursuit of it is. How, you say?
Follow me a few minutes on an incredible concept..
One day I read the phrase, “Memento Mori - Remember you must die” on the back of a car. It was a term I had read before while enjoying some stoic philosophy, but I did not embrace it at the time. It’s not like I didn’t know I was going to die, but I never thought of it in a way that I did that day. Since then, my perception of life has never been the same.
Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.
Life can pretty darn unpredictable; one moment you’re happy, fulfilled, and skipping along, the next, blindsided, left with what feels like nothing. If you’ve seen Ricky Gervais’ After Life, you may understand what I’m talking about. Remember, though we choose to ignore the certainty of death, the concept prevails and is coming for all of us.
Memento Mori is a philosophy that has been popular for ages. The Latins coined the phrase, Christianity adopted it, and it has been accepted through the Medieval and Victorian eras. It's popularity is rising today.
Through the contemplation of mortality, the phrase attempts to get people to be more appreciative of their lives, carefully choose what they want to think, say or do because they or the people around them could cease to exist the next moment, and motivate people to do the things they’ve been putting aside.
Are you wondering why you’re reading about death when you’re actually here for the Secret To Achieve Your Fitness Goals? Death, inevitable death, is the secret.
A concept too morbid or a sword in the heart of procrastination?
It’s worth noticing how most people, all across the globe, are terrified of death. It's worth wondering why; why is this inevitable end of things not accepted? We accept the end of movies, a song needs to end, our things get old and we buy new ones; so is the case with life, we get old and we wither. In my opinion, the end makes the game worth playing.
If we accept death and actually look forward to it, maybe our outlook towards this life would be completely different. We’d begin making amends with the people we love, we’d do all the things we’ve been keeping aside for another day, and we’d make every day and every moment matter? Or as far as our health is concerned, simply take advantage of our bodies and see what we are made of?
Hence, thinking about Death isn’t a bad thing because it can make us better people; it makes us humble and caring, teaches us to be happy in the smallest things, and helps us fight procrastination. It should not put us in position to YOLO, a reckless concept that will sabotage your present with no finger on the pulse of the future.
Nothing kills procrastination like the idea of the proximity of the end.
British Naval Historian and Author, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, published an essay for The Economist in 1955 with the opening line, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. What he meant by this is that it is human tendency to complicate a task, procrastinate and always do it when the deadline is just around the corner. This is called the Parkinson’s Law. You may have not known the term, but you are familiar with the behavior.
Let's consider this for a moment in relation to your training plan.
For example, say your goal is to progress in your deadlift training regime by 20lbs in 12 weeks. Of course you will not wait to week 10 to begin your plan, that is absolutely ludicrous. In this scenario the plan has to be followed over the full course of time. However, you should have a game plan for each day of training, and A TIME ALLOTMENT FOR EACH TRAINING SESSION. This allows you to not float through a day of putting in work at the gym. Don't spend two hours when one will do.
When we give ourselves more time to do a task, we take more time to do it.
Time wasted in procrastination forms a big chunk of this allotted time. Recognizing Parkinson's Law makes you aware of your time on a micro level, which positively affects the philosophy of Memento Mori on a macro level; the value of time is maximized.
If you’re wondering how to get into the habit of following Memento Mori and breaking Parkinson’s Law in your fitness regime, here are a few tips that might help:
- Set Tight Deadlines: Cut whatever deadline you’ve set for yourself short by 50%. If you think a workout will occupy 2 hours, set a limit of 1. This may not be reachable, but you will be aware of your time, and specifically, rest periods. We ALL enjoy those rest periods. Matter of fact, the only time it is acceptable is when you need to find that perfect song..
- Get an authority to track your progress: When a trainer, teacher or someone we look up to set deadlines and targets for us, in an effort to impress them or not let them down, we attach more focus and intensity to the task. Get a gym partner or a personal trainer and have them set your goals. If you feel they’re setting easy goals, ask them for a challenge.
- Define your 3 Most Important Tasks: Breaking down a goal into smaller, more achievable, and trackable tasks makes it easier to win. Say your goal is to lift 20 pounds more in your deadlift, break it into smaller tasks like these:
- Perform 5 sets of 5 reps each with your current weight capacity. Increase it slightly (by 2-5 pounds) every new day.
- Perfect the technique of a deadlift, many limits are imposed by incorrect form.
- Add accessory exercises to develop specific muscles and strength needed for your final goal. This could include exercises like stiff leg deadlifts, rack pulls, rows and front squats
- Set an Incentive Scheme: Cheat days are great, but try not to allow yourself anything worth indulging unless you’ve achieved your goal, or at minimum completed the steps you've laid out to reach it. Another concept I'll touch on in a future article is that the journey is what's up.
Making the switch from procrastination to following the Memento Mori philosophy can be tough. But if you want to constantly remind yourself that “you must, and will, die," here’s what you can do:
- Keep a coin, object or a totem in your pocket. Every time you touch the totem say “Memento Mori” in your mind. This will get you into the habit of remembering the fact.
- Download apps like Memento Mori (has an age countdown and reminds you that life is short) or WeCroak (shares 5 death related quotes at randomized times throughout the day).
Morbid? Maybe. Truth? Absolutely.
I’d love to hear your opinion about Memento Mori! Too gruesome and morbid? Or mindful and inspiring?
If you appreciate it, how do you use it to your advantage in life and/or fitness?
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