Recently I ranted about how I (and at least a few of my peers) struggle to motivate myself to engage with content of an intellectual value over something that takes less investment but is essential not satisfying. I’m starting to think that the solution to this is to start doing rather than thinking. Things are so much simpler at the gym.
I only started going to the gym in January with the meagre expectations of going once a week or so for a month then giving up. Now I am going around 4 or 5 times a week, have drastically changed my diet and have realised that I am actually capable of getting into good shape. This was not expected. It has been a slow but constant progression. It has not been easy but I never thought I would be capable of doing so at all. Seeing as I have never thought that I was doing anything against my own will or interests I guess it has been easy in the sense that I never tried harder than my motivation enabled.
The main appeal of the gym is that is completely the opposite mental activity of doing philosophy (my chosen topic of study at university). Philosophy leaves one’s mind in a constant state of analysis and paranoia. Characters such as Sherlock Holmes show his genius drives people away don’t seem very far from the truth that constantly questioning and reassessing fundamental beliefs won’t be healthy.
After several years of studying philosophy I was was reaching a stage where all philosophical theories were false, as soon as a new convincing one was demonstrated it was torn down. The constant snatching away of any attempt at a coherent world view tends towards nihilism. But this only hones the skill of philosophy, of analysis, of finding problems in arguments after exposing the hidden premises, of (naively) assuming that everything is wrong. Exercise came as a flooding relief.
The clarity of exercise is something I’ve experienced form the physical activities of skating and cycling in the past but nothing brings complete focus and lack of distraction like a session at the gym. Pounding at the treadmill or pumping iron forces your mind to completely focus on making the correct muscles move as hard possible for as long as possible. This is fairly simple but completely absorbing. Time slows down. But when you take a break your mind is blank. If you are questioning the purpose of the exercise or anything else you simply aren’t working hard enough. Cycling has always given me the most amazing sense of intellectual freedom, being out in the countryside elevates the experience to being almost spiritual. But cycling is not fun in London. And you are less likely to die in the gym. And there are fewer distractions in the gym.