Even if I was addicted to bodybuilding, that would be an AWESOME thing. I only saw my extreme discipline to bodybuilding and training as a positive aspect of my life and a sign of my tremendous work ethic.
A couple of years after I ended my long competitive bodybuilding career, I had a profound conversation that would instantly change my deeply-ingrained perspective and, in the process, change the direction of my life.
One simple question that was asked of during this casual conversation completely demolished a sense of certainty that I proudly embraced for many years.
The conversation was with a hardworking and very successful multi-millionaire. Our relationship started when I reached out to him for mentorship. I was determined to get my career started as a motivational speaker, personal development coach, and successful businessman in the very shortest time period humanly possible.
I created what I believed would be a win-win situation for both of us. I would help him overcome his challenges with his health and fitness and he would simply allow me to be in his presence while he went about his business.
I didn’t realize it at the time but, even with everything I shared with him about my area of expertise, I would be fortunate enough to benefit from this relationship far more than he did in many more ways than I ever expected.
One incredibly beautiful Southern California summer evening, he and I were alone on his amazing backyard patio that overlooked the majestic Pacific Ocean enjoying a glass of wine. He loved his fine wine. I have to admit, I felt a little guilty not being sophisticated enough to fully appreciate the quality of one of his favorite $500 bottles.
I always went way out of my way to do whatever I could to help him. Suddenly, the conversation turned back to me when he asked,
“Do you think you are addicted to bodybuilding?”
Let me make this perfectly clear: This man is brilliant. He’s extremely knowledgeable about human behavior and knew what the correct answer to his question before he even asked it.
At that time, however, I had no idea that I was “addicted” to bodybuilding. And, even if I was, that would have be a good thing.
No. Let me correct the way I thought back then. Even if I was addicted to bodybuilding, that would be an AWESOME thing. I only saw my extreme discipline to bodybuilding and training as a positive aspect of my life and a sign of my tremendous work ethic.
“No. Not at all.” I confidently answered without a nanosecond of hesitation.
He didn’t challenge me but, as I think back on the encounter, his body language and facial expressions clearly showed that he didn’t agree with me.
Me? Addicted to anything? Never. Not me.
I always saw myself in complete control of my life. Addiction, in my mind, was when a person was a slave to continually doing negative behaviors that he or she really didn’t want to do. A person who was addicted simply couldn’t help themselves from doing what they already knew was destructive behavior. To me, alcoholism, drugs, eating disorders, even cigarettes and excess shopping if that’s what you are forced to do to make yourself happy—those are what I considered addictions. I had never had any challenges with those types things at all.
Bodybuilding was a conscious, well-planned choice that I was making. I was convinced that my approach was a totally healthy pursuit and career—especially because I never used steroids or any other illegal physique-enhancing drugs for help.
The way I approached bodybuilding and training was extremely healthy and even noble because it helped people all over the world do what they wanted to do even better. And, that was obvious by all the positive comments I received for so many years about how helpful my articles and podcasts were and also by the number of my books and DVDs that were purchased around the world.
In my mind, I was great at bodybuilding because I had simply found my true “calling” in life. Bodybuilding was my passion. I was genetically built for it. I was lucky enough to find something that others viewed as a difficult struggle and I viewed as an almost effortless delight. I had enough business savvy to earn several major supplement company contracts throughout my entire career (while never even turning professional).
Reading many other bodybuilders’ profiles in the magazines for years, I noticed that many of them used to be the preverbal short, 100-pound weaklings who people made fun of when they were younger. Then, they transformed into hulking muscle men—just like the comic book superheroes that they idolized as boys. Many of these bodybuilders revealed that they didn’t like team sports because they preferred not to depend on teammates for their personal success.
Those scenarios certainly didn’t describe my experience at all. I was always rather big and fit growing up. I never owned a single superhero comic book. And, I excelled in team sports. Most of the time, I was the Most Valuable Player on my team and almost always was the team captain.
For those reasons, I was certain that I was so much different than everyone else who was attracted to this all-consuming bodybuilding and fitness lifestyle.
My obsession with bodybuilding and training was a 100 percent healthy endeavor. Or, at least, that’s what I mistakenly believed for so many years while in the middle of my addiction.
My transition out of the competitive bodybuilding lifestyle and career was extremely difficult. It was far more difficult than I ever imagined it would be.
I realized that I stunted a lot of emotional growth in regular lifestyle situations during the 15 years I focused on my bodybuilding career. I may have been chronologically 41 years of age but I wonder just how much I grew emotionally and socially since I started digging in deeply to my obsession at 27 years old.
This made me really examined the way I defined addiction.
That’s exactly what any addiction does. For every year you choose not to deal directly with the challenges you know you have (as well as the ones you do not realize you have) and pour your focus and attention into some other vehicle that makes you feel better, your emotional growth is oftentimes stunted.
At the very least, it will be severely slowed down. I was chronologically about 41 years old but I’m sure I shaved some years off emotionally.
I also became addicted to the predictability and structure of bodybuilding without the need to rely on anyone else to create this “safe place” in my mind. Sure, I’d rationalize that I was developing mental skills that would make me successful later in other areas of life. The truth was that I was getting my emotional “fix” satisfied in the moment. It’s no different then the person in their late 30s or early 40s who get educational degree after educational degree without a clue of what they are going to do with them after they graduate (despite what they try and tell you).
Here’s something that I discovered that was counter-intuitive to the way I thought for years:
Competitive bodybuilding made me lazy.
You’re probably wondering how the hell I can come up with that conclusion, right? How could such a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding pursuit like competitive bodybuilding make a person lazy?
Well, when you are walking around most of the year with incredibly low body fat because you only eat the calories you need to build muscle and lose fat, you don’t have a whole lot of energy to do a lot of other things. And, that’s if you saw past your addiction enough to even want to do other things.
With such a long contest preparation period and repeating it for 15 years straight, I gradually started not even thinking about much of anything else besides training heavily, doing all of my cardiovascular training session, buying food, eating food, and cleaning up after my meals (and that was optional for me some of the time).
I could rationalize why I didn’t stay on top of household things when I was tired and hungry for so many years but I didn’t have the same excuses when I stopped competing. That lazy mindset took me some time to overcome.
My biggest obstacle toward addressing this challenge head-on was the fact that so many people rewarded me for the choices I was making in my life. They respected and admired me.
People wanted to be like me.
Or, for as much of what they could see of my life, they wanted to be like me.
All the “pats on the back” that I received for so long just made it that much more difficult to break past my current way of thinking and the actions I was taking.
Why would I ever stop living this hard-earned, well-established, completely predictable and structured lifestyle when there was so much good to focus on?
“Nobody’s life is perfect” and “At least I’m doing what I love every single day” is what I rationalized to myself to lessen the pain that surfaced when I couldn’t continue to have it tucked away.
Yes, people wanted to be like me. Yes, they wanted to achieve what I was fortunate to have achieved. Of course, they could identify with me for way they didn’t even realize.
But they were clueless to the reasons why this was so important to them–just like I was for so many years.
The truth was that most of them were hurting in the very same ways as I was. They just didn’t that a person like me had experienced some of the very same pains and traumas in life that they had.
Just as I can clearly see now with many of the social media gurus and their tremendous number of “likes” and “shares” every time they unknowingly share their painful and disempowering perspective on life, I was doing the same back then.
It was a classic case of the blind leading the blind.
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