What about becoming better people?

20-01-2016 Jeremy Regensburg

Like the human body, the human mind has incredible adaptive capabilities. As recreational or competitive athletes, as bodybuilders or CrossFitters, as weightlifters or rugby players, we train to improve our bodies. Many of us train to become better athletes, but what about becoming better people?

'Life assignments' started with a small idea from coach Willem who gave the UnScared athletes a few small assignments around the holidays. It reminded coach Jeremy of his ancient writings on the subject of personal development, and Jochem was immediately sold on the idea of making this something more than cliché talking about “being the best version of yourself”.

'Life assignments' is not just an idea. It's a concept, a mission, crystallized into a system where you receive an assignment each month that trains you to become a better person outside of your box/gym. Each assignment is related to a certain theme. It can be anything from creativity to pain tolerance to charity to courtesy to love to... you name it.. It's up to you whether you accept that assignment. If you do, you'll get the chance to talk about your results in the UnScared Facebook group, at the UnScared Facebook Page, or with Jochem or Jeremy if it concerns a private matter.

All the themes are divided into two categories, that we believe add value to your life and of those around you.

The categories

Equanimity

This refers to the impact the world has on you. Equanimity revolves mostly around being emotionally stable, regardless of what the world throws at you. It means having good coping skills, being able to deal with grief and having grit. 

Magnanimity

Magnanimity is an old word and it is sad that most people do not know the meaning of it. It is in a way the opposite of equanimity. It refers to how you impact the world. Being magnanimous means, among other things, being honourable, charitable, honest and courageaous.

Why we started this

One or two years ago, I worked on this concept extensively but I never went through with it because of other priorities.

But why did I write this? If I had to pick a big, abstract, esoteric, grandiose, lofty goal for all this, it would be to help people live a more fulfilling life by living up to their potential. More concrete, I attempted to write short essays, practical guidelines, exercises and even sample training plans to make both mind and body stronger and healthier. In 'Life Assignments', we're going to focus on the mind part. I hope that it will help equip you with the mental skills to fully embrace the good things life has to offer while fiercely conquering the bad things thrown at you.

So what makes me an authority on the subject? I'm not sure I am, but I do believe I've learned a lot of things over the years that other people would benefit from. On the outside, my life has always been easy. I've been privileged with loving parents who always made sure I had whatever I needed. I was pretty good at picking up theory, up to the point that elementary and high school were no challenge to me (aside from my laziness). I've always had friends and girlfriends, I generally got along well with people despite me behaving like an idiot most of the time.

Yet beyond the surface there was something else. I was 10 years old when the feeling first crept up on me that life seemed rather pointless. Perhaps that would be considered ennui, the boredom of life, the lack of understanding of the absurdity of life. This feeling came back a few times throughout my life, with one lengthy, more extreme case a few years ago. Those experiences, combined with my bachelor of social work and the natural (?) tendency to attract people with personal problems have taught me a lot. At the same time, they got me interested in the concept of 'growth'. It led me through books of weird self-help authors to no-nonsense strength training principles and a lot more.

Am I an expert in helping people grow? I'm not sure, but I know that I am stronger and happier than I was a few years ago and I know that I have reached out to many people to help them and, despite occasionally failing, have succeeded in helping some people to become better versions of themselves.

The importance of growth to humans

It is necessary to make the most out of life for several reasons, two of which I want to elaborate on. The first one is this:

"To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder to do a special thing unique to him and his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour." - Winston Churchill

The more of your potential you leave untouched, the more things you will miss out on in life. Better social skills may lead to better relationships, better career skills may lead to more success in your career and better treatment of your body will lead to better health and perhaps great athletic achievements, and so on. It seems so obvious yet we spend so little time actively exploring these things. How much time do you spend each week on improving your career skills outside of mandatory education compared to how much time you waste complaining about your boss, low wages or the bad economy? How much time do you consciously and actively invest in becoming a better person and attracting better people, as opposed to complaining about the people around you? How much time do you spend on building a better body, instead of just complaining and making excuses about it?

The second reason... Well, I'm sort of an anti-buddhist in this sense. Buddhism generally teaches that desire leads to suffering, but I believe that being stagnant in fulfilling desires leads to suffering. Never-ending growth with baby steps towards certain desires means a life long of small achievements and fulfilments, each one building upon the other. Sounds better than a mundane life of complacency where you numb yourself down with television, drugs and bitching on other people, doesn't it? Does that mean those things are wrong? Not per se, but if that's what your life consists of, I believe you are missing out on what life truly has to offer.

Countless books have been written about growth, and there are well known concepts in psychology that support what I wrote just now. I'll give you two examples.

Progress stimulates people, even the lazy ones. To illustrate this example, people are (possibly without realizing) so sensitive to this principle that in the field of psychology, it has been observed that humans have the habit of downplaying old achievements or looking down on their past selves. They will generally tell themselves that they are better now than they were before and if they're not, they have a tendency to place the blame outside of themselves and/or make excuses. People generally want confirmation of being better than they were before. (Or alternately, they want to be coddled and pitied for not being better - It's easier than putting in the work to garner additional progress in whatever aspect of their life.) Don't believe me? Find an average woman that has gotten fatter over the last year and tell her that, or find someone who has 'lost his/her touch' in his/her profession or sport and tell them that. See how they respond. I'm fairly sure that only a very small minority of people will say that you are right without feeling the need to defend themselves with reasons why - If they are willing to agree at all. Compliment someone on improving however, and watch their eyes light up.

Related to the previous point, achievement stimulates. This is so important to people that in the field of psychology, things like 'cognitive dissonance reduction' have been commonly applied by people who fail. Cognitive dissonance is, simply put, trying to make things sound right when they're not. It's when we make excuses so that our failure may actually sound like success. Even the laziest people have it. Think of the person who wants to train at the gym but stays at home because it's raining, telling himself that "it's better this way, my old injury was acting up a little while back and I could use a bit of extra rest."

How it works

Every month for twelve months straight we will release a life assignment through our Facebook page and Instagram account which you can choose to accept or not. Some assignments wil come easier to you than others, but we challenge you to complete them all. You can keep us posted on your progress by tagging our accounts and using the hashtag #lifeassignment. We'd love to hear your stories!

There will be challenges to take and habits to adopt, all of which will take some willpower, time and energy. All of them are limited. Pick your battles carefully and don't try to change the world and end up with nothing. Start small and enjoy the journey.  

 

Assignment one: fast for 24 hours (EQUANIMITY - PAIN TOLERANCE)

For a 24 hour period stop your food intake. Only drink water. Although the personal health benefits of fasting have been documented (and criticized) extensively, this is first and foremost a mental challenge. Handling temptation and dealing with bodily discomfort from time to time builds your grit. Take the time you normally use to eat to reflect on the 800 million people worldwide who live in hunger every day. Be reasonable. Intense training is not recommended during this time, and people with specific issues (diabetics on medication, people recovering from illness) should opt out of this challenge. Ask Jochem or Jeremy for a replacement assignment if you wish to participate.

As an add-on assignment: Break your fast with people you love. Realize how blessed you are to be able to eat and spend time with your loved ones during this time. Sharing at least one (3+ hour) meal with loved ones a week is strongly correlated with happiness. 

Jeremy Regensburg

About Jeremy Regensburg

Jeremy is a competitive olympic weightlifter, occasionally participating in powerlifting meets as well. He has coached kids with selfdefense, the elderly with retaining their vitality, competitive athletes to meets and injured people back to health. Jeremy is an olympic weightlifting coach at UnScared CrossFit and the owner of www.jemfit.net

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