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Selfishness: Another View

The dictionary definition of selfish goes something like this: lacking in consideration for others; putting yourself at the center. Then there is selfless—less self?—which is putting others at the center. Most people think one is undesirable and one is desirable, but is that really the case? It all depends on point of view, the situation and the degree.

On the surface, the workout is definitely selfish. For one thing, you are investing in yourself. You turn your energy inward; the workout becomes your world. To get all of what the workout is capable of giving, you must narrow your focus. That is part of the magic. You enter the gym and you enter a different world, one that becomes you and the weights.

Anaerobic work, whether it’s done with free weights or machines, is not mindless. The process forces you to think in the present. As Arnold said many times to me at the original Gold’s Gym, “The only rep you have is the one you are doing.” At that instant, self is at the center. If you are thinking about the next rep, the next set, the next bodypart or anything else, you are shortchanging your investment in self.

Peary and Mabel Rader, the founders of Iron Man, saw self-improvement as the core of what Iron Man was about. They were the epitome of selflessness in their support of bodybuilding, Olympic lifting, powerlifting and the strength sports. They were evangelists for the barbell and the changes it can create. They always said it was a part of a lifestyle (my word), not life. Over the past 72 years Iron Man has always been about whole-self improvement—always “bigger, stronger, leaner faster” but also “smarter.” Perspective should be part of the process.

In his book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People Stephen Covey calls investing in self “sharpening the saw.” In fact, without this investment, the other “habits” will be much less effective and eventually cripple the process. Without renewal, life withers. How does selfish become selfless? In the case of the workout, the power of anaerobic exercise to transform you, both physically and psychologically, enables you to live the rest of your life more effectively. A strong, healthy body and a clear mind are always assets.

Covey also talks about the roles we play in life: parent, child, friend, employee, spouse, athlete, leader. We all have a different set of roles, and it varies over time. If you look at what you do and what your responsibilities are, the effect of the workout moves from the selfish to the selfless. As your roles evolve from teenage athlete to adult, you become aware that the workout is about much more than just muscle. The ongoing process of working out is really a journey in self discovery. Enjoy the ride. IM

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