On Shame

It’s a tradition as old as REAL bootcamp: shame. Soldiers in training for real battle have weathered this tactic for centuries: Break ’em down, build ’em up. Hollow them of emotion with a sharpened spoon. Smack them with compliance until they no longer question; destroy the ego. Your way is the WRONG way, trooper! Praise shall only be forthcoming through victory on my terms, following my directions. MY victory is the only win that counts.
And soldiers followed. They got in shape – through regular meals, humping packs, crawling around, and fear, they became smaller targets for the enemy.
The current ‘boot camp’ trend takes the Full Metal Jacket Sergeant and puppets his almightiness. The fun part – making people hate themselves – is celebrated; the harder-core, the merrier, right? A gruff voice is the only prerequisite. When dragging them down, why stop at MY level? Why not induce Stockholm syndrome by terrifying them into submission, and then offering a brief glimmer of hope (“Nice burpees, kid.”)
One answer: it doesn’t work.
Creating long-term change is a frequent topic for my essays, both on this blog, our educational blog (Ignite,) and two business blogs. If our long-view goal for a client is to make them a different person – a happier one, who is self-satisfied and confident, living a better life than when they first spun their credit card around our turntable – IF we care, then we need to understand how brain chemistry works.
But first, a word about ‘reality.’
Sean Wise is a producer for Dragon’s Den, a concept show that’s popular around the world (it’s called “Shark Tank” in the US.) He came to town for a lecture last year, and we shared a lunch table.
The premise of Dragon’s Den is this: would-be entrepreneurs pitch their contraption or contrived service to the ‘Dragons’ – devilish Angel Investors who have the opportunity to purchase shares in the company, in return for assistance bringing the product to market, or just much-needed cash flow. The way contestants are chosen is enlightening: they’re grouped into four categories (Good product, good television/ good product, bad television/ bad product, bad television/  bad product, good television.) Guess which two categories make the show popular?
Wise says that, while the audience DOES like to see the occasional success story, the real interest is in the car wrecks. Find five people who implode under pressure, or who are convinced that their terrible product is the next iPad; throw one legitimate idea into the mix for realism; and go for a three-martini lunch.
We can surmise that the selection process for weight-loss reality shows follows this plan, too: a highly-motivated overweight grandfather who wants to play with his grandkids….and five or six ‘weep-on-demand’ basket cases who won’t confront the ridiculous showmanship of the “coaches.”
Consider what failure at these contests brings: humiliation on national television, and further destruction to the inner self. “If I can’t even succeed HERE, with these famous Trainers and chefs and the purplest Stairclimbers in the world……” Tear ’em down. Go to commercial.
Consider, too, what success brings: the expectation of continued success. And how will that success be achieved when the lights have gone down? Daily adherence to hours of exercise with a screaming coach? Premade healthy meals, created with actual groceries? Removal of children, work, and all other responsibility? Terrifyingly embarrassing “weigh-ins”?
But….that’s what WORKS, right?
We don’t think so. More importantly, the evidence doesn’t support the idea. But the producers have been paid, they’re onto Season Twelve, or whatever number we’ve reached, and they’ve found new specimens to put behind glass.
What’s the real answer? Projecting small successes. Ask yourself: “If I lose ten pounds, what will that feel like?” Imagine how your clothes will feel looser; how you’ll sleep better, and have more patience. How you won’t be tired all the time, and feel better about yourself. Imagine the next pair of jeans you’ll buy. Use those feelings to get you into a gym like ours.
Next, find something you’re GOOD at. While I dislike distance running for weight loss, if you’re GOOD at it, you’ll DO it. (Just do other stuff to take care of your knees. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
If you’re a good deadlifter, you’ll deadlift. If you’re good at skipping, you’ll skip. And if you come to CrossFit, we’ll use these “bright spots” to make you better at MORE things. More skill equals more joy. Joy, as we understand it, is pretty helpful.
One of our lunchtime heroes just posted on facebook that she’ll be wearing her first bikini in over a decade in Jamaica this week. We’re glad for her. But we’re PROUD that she overcomes the quicksand-tentacles of her workplace and comes to the Park every DAY at lunch. Why does she make the cross-town trip? Joy. She loves it, and she feels it loving her back. She smiles every day: when she arrives, as she’s beating us at the workout, and as she leaves. It took her a year to get here; she’ll tell you it flew by.
We once wrote a book – a 400-page monster – about motivating students, as well as those whose brain injuries and cognitive challenges predispose them toward being unmotivated. We can overcome the worst degrees of demotivation NOT by yelling ever louder, but by drawing a clear map, step by step. We motivate not with a whiplike tongue, but with a high-five, a laugh, and (occasionally) a big party of other folks who are JUST. LIKE. THEM. And you.
The best part? You can start feeling better RIGHT away. Get through a tough workout, and you’ll be proud of yourself. Rightly so. You won’t find pride anywhere on a treadmill…or on television, for that matter. There’s no happiness in boredom. Motivation won’t come from a screaming, belittling coach….and you won’t get closer to your goals by watching television.