This Book is For:
*Everyone who wants to feel in control of their own health, body, and future, and who is willing to make the necessary investments in themselves to make that happen.
*People who have a vision for their bodies and lives, and who are driven to break free of artificial limitations, realize their unique talents, and fulfill their true potentialities.
*Athletes and competitors who want to learn how to find that extra gear inside themselves and develop the physical, emotional, and spiritual strength and energy needed to overcome any obstacle.
*Anyone who hates feeling like they're moving in slow motion, and who wants to fight back against the exhaustion and inertia that's preventing them from healing what's unhealthy, fixing what's broken, and improving what's lacking.
“You have what it takes to do what it takes.”
I haven't been this impressed with a fitness book in a long time, but in no way is this just a fitness book.
For whatever reason, most people think that the gym is just about working out, but training is never just training. The gym is...Life.
The lessons you can learn inside the gym, the person that working out can help you to become, can be taken with you everywhere else that you go in life and they will serve you well in every other thing it is you do.
Once you learn how to control what happens inside the gym, you find out that there's a lot more that you can control outside the gym too.
The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation is a thinking person's fitness book, and somehow...somehow...Mike Matthews finds a way to bring Epictetus, Solzhenitsyn, Teddy Roosevelt, Socrates, and more into a book about health and fitness and still make it accessible, easy to get into, valuable, and fun.
Moreover, fitness should be fun. It should make your life better, and not be seen as a chore, some fearful obligation, or something that's beyond your reach. This book is for people who want to be better than they are right now, and if there's just one thing you take away from this book I hope it's that being better than you are right now is never beyond your reach.
That's not to say that you won't be asked to make meaningful sacrifices and to do things that you don't want to do right now, in order to get you closer to the things you want most. As Mike says:
"Although ultimately rewarding, the process is often hard, draining, boring, and even depressing. And in too many cases, life wins. It knocks too many people down too many times, who then brand themselves as failures and stop trying to get up."
That's another thing the gym teaches you: the supreme importance of showing up. Getting back up after every failure, dusting yourself off after every defeat, and doing your best today, tomorrow, and every day. That's why you won't achieve a spectacular physique after one single day of training. It just doesn't work like that. You have to keep showing up.
Now, you won't find specific training or meal plans inside this book. Mike has other books like Bigger Leaner Stronger that offer plans like that. This book is more about the principles and fundamentals. Once you get those right, and understand the reasoning behind them, you can successfully choose, discard, and even invent methods accordingly.
The main difference between the people who find this book helpful and the people who let it gather dust on their shelves is that the people who found value in it actually put these ideas into practice on a daily basis. They actually got up and started to get after it, which is how they avoided the trap of spending too much time thinking and too little time doing and looking.
As we'll see in the Key Ideas below, action is the only salvation that exists. But it has to be intelligently directed action, and that's one of the main things this book will clarify for you. It'll help you set meaningful goals, stress test them in the real world, recalibrate, get up and go after them again, and get closer each and every time you do.
Keeping an optimistic but realistic mindset as you move forward is something that Matthews emphasizes, and this is something we can all get better at.
Easy answers and false promises have no place in the Mike Matthews playbook though. As he consistently reminds us, working out and eating right takes time, energy, effort, discipline, dedication, and patience, and Life always finds a way to test us and make us prove how badly we want it.
So keep this book close by and hold tightly onto your growing self-belief. Don't ask for an easy life; ask for the strength to endure a difficult one. Don't limit yourself to the light weights; motivate yourself to get stronger.
#1: Conquering the Fitness Game
“If you have what it takes to conquer your psychology and your physiology, then you might just have what it takes to reach out into the world and conquer a whole lot more.
In short, the better you get at the fitness game, the better prepared you’ll be for every other game you might want to play.”
People think it's "just the gym," but in reality, it can be so much more. Approached in the right way, you can learn just as much (if not more) about yourself and what you're capable of inside the gym than you can in any classroom.
Perhaps the biggest lesson that I see many people take away from their gym experience is that they have the ability to tackle harder, more complex challenges outside the gym as well.
After you've pushed through enough plateaus and lifted that bar for enough reps, you start seeing changes that you are in control of, and the knowledge that you can effect those kinds of changes is a before/after moment in many people's lives. It certainly was in mine.
Speaking for myself, I was able to take that newfound sense of self-efficacy and self-belief with me out into the wider world and make BIG changes happen out there too.
Those changes didn't happen overnight, which taught me patience. Results take time, inside the gym and out. Those changes came hard, and I had to keep at it for much longer than I had anticipated, which taught me the value of consistency and work ethic.
Every rep, every workout was a positive reinforcement of those kinds of life-changing lessons. Very little that most of my teachers have ever said to me has had that kind of impact on my life. I owe it all to the gym.
The gym is an extremely special place, somewhere you have the opportunity to put yourself in difficult situations (yet in a controlled environment), where you have to figure out how to make it. You have to do this, and so you're confronted with some difficult questions that you can't run away from: Are you going to lift this heavy weight or not? Are you going to run that extra mile or not? Will you persevere?
But the lessons don't stop there! Tracking your workouts, measuring your progress, and showing up at the gym every day whether you feel like it or not teaches you discipline and conscientiousness, which are valuable everywhere human beings seek to make an impact, no matter what the project or goal.
The gym also teaches you to handle your emotions when results don't come as quickly as you'd like them to, or when you feel overwhelmed and aren't sure whether you can make it through these last few, heavy, difficult reps. You almost always can, but until you prove it to yourself, your true capability will always remain "potential" and not "actual."
Perhaps most importantly, the gym teaches you the supreme importance of keeping your promises to yourself, no matter what.
The worst thing you could ever do is to let yourself down, and the gym gives you that choice: Am I going to come through for myself? Or am I going to lie down? Am I going to follow through? Or am I going to just fold?
Every single lesson and piece of valuable self-knowledge I've described in the preceding paragraphs is also valuable in the external world where we all live out our days. And the gym is one of the best places in which to learn these lessons.
It's all too easy to focus on the physical pain of each rep, and the emotional drain of doing your absolute best, no matter what. But you always have to remember: your mind is getting a workout too, and on the other side of this next, brutally challenging set is an entirely new self-concept, a whole new reality.
#2: The Most Rewarding Adventure
“What we’ve done or failed to do doesn’t forever determine who we are or will be. In fact, I believe that we have no idea what we can really do. We may never find out, either – there may always be another level – but striving to reach the top is the most rewarding adventure life has to offer.”
The perfect physique doesn't exist, and whatever you've achieved in life so far, isn't your true potential. You can always do more; that's yet another thing that the gym teaches you.
But again, there's more to it than that. The gym also happens to be one of those places where not only is everyone welcome, but it also doesn't matter who you are or how many times you've failed in the past: you're still always welcome within these walls. Nothing you do - or fail to do - can ever change that.
Look: every workout is a new workout. Every day is a new day. Every attempt is a new attempt, and our past doesn't determine our future. We determine our future, and it's always up to us. Something else that the gym teaches us!
The interesting thing you'll discover is that attaining that perfect physique (or anything else, like social acceptance, status, trophies, etc.) was never the point in the first place. Those are external measures of success that are undeniably important; we need to have objective ways to determine winners in sports and athletics, and competition does wonderfully focus the mind, elevating all the competitors in the process.
But in fitness, there is no finish line, and even if you were to get there, it would only represent a tiny fraction of the total time you've devoted to getting better and better at the gym.
As they say, the person who loves walking will go further than the one who just loves the destination. It's the present that we inhabit - one where we're tested by meaningful challenges and must prove ourselves worthy - where we'll find the majority of the rewards of our training, and when you think of it like that, the fact that this process never ends is actually the most wonderful news of all.
#3: Paying the Full Price
“We have been watching people succeed and fail for thousands of years, and in distilling and codifying our findings and observations, we’ve learned an important lesson: the people who win make the right sacrifices and the people who lose don’t.
That’s an unforgiving and unpalatable idea, but also powerful and empowering, because it says that there’s no telling what you might be able to do if you’re willing to pay the full price.”
Throughout history, the people who stored food for the winter, learned to anticipate the changes of the seasons, and sacrificed at least a little bit of their present comfort for their future survival were the ones who actually made it.
While we may not face nearly as many existential threats to our safety as we did in the past, the same general principle is true today: the people who win make the right sacrifices, and the people who lose don’t. It's all about giving up at least some of what you want now, in exchange for what you want most later.
In his book, The Power of Regret, Daniel Pink identifies four distinct categories of regret (foundation, boldness, moral, and connection regrets), and the sacrifices that people make in each category partly determine what kinds of regrets they're saddled with (and/or avoid) in the future.
For example, foundation regrets involve things like not saving up money for retirement, never gaining an education, etc. All those things contribute to one's stability throughout life; they serve as the foundation for a better life. But in order to save enough money for retirement, you can't blow all your cash (not to mention your health) on getting drunk every weekend. You have to sacrifice at least a little bit of what you want now (an entertaining weekend out that you may or may not remember), for what you want most, which is the calm, peace of mind, and equanimity of knowing that you'll be provided for financially when you choose to stop working.
Similarly, with training, the more you sacrifice, the more you'll be able to achieve. Maybe you won't be able to eat whatever you want, skip workouts whenever you feel like it, or stay up late and wreck your sleep watching movies. You're going to have to get up, you're going to do some work, and you're going to have to undergo some discomfort to get what you've said that you want: to get in shape and improve your body. But that's just the price you'll have to pay.
A quote from football legend Tom Brady gives perfect voice to this idea. He said:
"If you want to compete with me, you're going to have to be ready to give up your life, because I've given up mine."
Now, depending on your goals, you certainly don't have to give up your whole life. But how far do you want to take this? How hard are you willing to train? How long are you willing to maintain your workout streak? Are you willing to impose certain limits on yourself in some areas so that you can transcend your limits in others? What are you willing to give up now for what you want later?
The answers to those questions make all the difference between the people who make it and the people who fail.
But I'll also say this: you don't have to be perfect. Not if you don't want to be a world champion. You just have to do enough. You just have to determine the full price of whatever it is that you want and promise to pay it. As Matthews says:
“I’ve learned, however, that the more of yourself that you’re willing to sacrifice to your cause, the less perfect you have to be to succeed. You just have to get enough right, enough of the time.”
#4: This is What "Hard" Feels Like
“Many people think that finding answers to the right questions is the ‘secret’ to setting and achieving goals. They’re wrong. That’s the easy part. The secret is facing the answers.
How much pain are you willing to take? What are you willing to sacrifice? How far are you willing to go?
And know this: It’s always going to be harder than you think. It’s always going to take more time, effort, and energy than you want to give. You’re always going to face more seductions to stray than you think you can resist. And you’re always going to suffer more setbacks and shocks than you feel is fair.
If you can clear those hurdles, though, then there’s quite literally nothing that can stop you except death itself.”
This is somewhat of an extension of the last Key Idea, in that once you commit to paying the full price of what you want, you often discover that the actual price is far higher than your original estimate.
Sometimes, even though we do take what is undoubtedly the hardest step - the first one - we find that the next thousand steps are shaping up to be far more arduous than we had ever imagined. We thought that we knew what it was going to take, but it turned out that we had no idea. And you know what?
That's fine! I mean, how would you have known how hard it was going to be if you had never attempted it before? I'm speaking, of course, about starting a new training program, a new business, a new relationship - anything. It's probably going to be much harder (at times) than you are anticipating.
At times like these, it's helpful to remember that this is what "hard" feels like.
You've embarked on a journey worth taking, and of course that's bound to be difficult. Did you expect it to be any different?!
This is supposed to be hard, and because it's hard, you can rest assured that most people just won't be able to sustain that kind of tremendous effort. But you can. And every time you do, what you're doing is separating yourself from average and everything that being average entails. That comes with discomfort. It's unavoidable - just part of the deal. This is what "hard" feels like.
But if you can withstand that and keep going - continuing to pay that price - you will eventually get to a place that hardly anyone ever gets to see. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, if one advances confidently in the direction of their dreams, and endeavors to live the life which they have imagined, they will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
#5: Implementation Intentions
“As it happens, there are over one hundred published studies on this phenomenon, and the conclusion is crystal clear: if you explicitly state what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, and where you’re going to do it, you’re much more likely to actually do it.”
The above quote refers to what are called implementation intentions, and they're extremely helpful when it comes to installing great habits.
My process for reading 100+ books a year works exactly the same way. In practical terms, I schedule my reading first and then schedule everything else around it. But what I'm really doing is deciding that I'm going to read, at specific times, in a specific place, etc. It'll work the same way for anything that's important to you.
Are you going to work out? Okay, great! What type of workout? Weights? Calisthenics? Rock climbing? When? Today? Tomorrow? (Please make it today)!
Now, where exactly are you going to work out? How far is the gym from here? What time do you have to leave in order to get there at your chosen time? Who are you going with? How long are you planning on staying? The more clear and specific that you can get about these details the better.
Strong implementation intentions are essential to forming great habits, and Mike Matthews backs up his claims with cited research evidence that this stuff works:
“The findings of the study were clear: writing down specific goals, working out specific steps to achieve them, and creating accountability appear to be very conducive to success.”
#6: We (Partly) Determine Our Willpower
“Most people would say they just lack the willpower or self-control, but it’s not that simple. While our ability to tap into willpower and exert self-control is influenced by our genetics and upbringing, it’s not an immutable element of our biology. We can influence these things greatly through our choices – our mindsets, decisions, and environments.”
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons you can take away from this entire book is that where you start doesn't have to be where you end up.
You can make changes. You can improve; you can get better. There are things you can do that will stack the probabilities of success in your favor, and you have significant control over whether or not you actually do them.
Where willpower is concerned, doing a few separate things is sure to give you some quick wins. Prioritizing your sleep, for one. It's hard to focus on anything through one bloodshot eye, and you're sabotaging yourself in the future whenever you cheat yourself out of the sleep your body desperately needs tonight.
Another important thing is optimizing your body's hormones, such as dopamine, serotonin, and several other important neurotransmitters.
Admittedly, I'm no expert when it comes to hormones and neurobiology (even though I've read more than a few books where they're discussed and explained), and in these breakdowns, I never try to pass myself off as more knowledgeable than I actually am.
So in this case, I'll refer you to people like Andrew Huberman (and obviously, Mike Matthews) who know a hell of a lot more about this stuff than I do. But I know that it's important, and whenever you reject sources of "cheap" dopamine like junk food and social media scrolling, and instead tie dopamine release to the accomplishment of your goals, you can do some pretty incredible things.
As Matthews says in the quote above, your mindsets, decisions, and environment play significant roles as well, including the people within your environment and the people influencing your mindset. It's hard to move forward in life with a bunch of 175lbs anchors holding you down, so you're doing yourself a disservice by willingly associating with people who aren't actively helping you to get better.
The self-image we have of ourselves is also a huge factor in how much discipline, self-control, and willpower we can summon in service of our highest aims. Maxwell Maltz proved that our self-concept - how we see ourselves - powerfully shapes our behavior, and that's one of the reasons why you should never say anything about yourself that you don't want to be true. You might just start to believe it.
The bottom line here is that we are not helpless. We are not stuck with the level of willpower and determination that we currently have. We can do more. And if we don't try to find out how much we can really do, we will never know.
#7: The Only Salvation That Exists
“If we can do just one brutally simple thing well, then no amount of psychological and emotional trauma can put us down.
If we can truly embrace this one little thing, then we can even learn to tune out the treacherous voices in our heads and inoculate ourselves against their poison. This little thing is action.
By staying in motion, the roots of doubt and despair can’t take hold and ensnare us. By doing things, we can’t be stopped by thinking things.”
In one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite books of all time, Zorba the Greek, the main character Zorba says in a letter to the narrator, "Action! Action! No other salvation exists." This, I believe, is one of the more foundational truths of human existence. Everything positive that we want to realize in our lives springs from taking massive, energetic, effective action.
To improve our situation, we must actually do something. We must act! We have to get moving! Generating forward momentum and drive! It's truly the only way we can save ourselves, whether that's from living a life of regret and missed opportunity, developing the kind of physique we want, and all the rest of it. Action gives us the life and the body that we want; it gives us that option.
Reading about getting fit isn't going to make you fit. Just like reading about starting a business won't generate any sales. But once you get started, moving things tend to stay in motion, and once you've generated sufficient momentum toward your goal you become very difficult to stop.
Action also clears the mind and brings incredible focus; it silences - or, at least dims - the voices of self-doubt and self-loathing in our heads; and it allows us to go much further than we ever thought we could way back when we were just thinking about getting started.
Only you can save yourself. But you know what? The good news is that you're also the best person for the job.
“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”
“If you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough.”
“We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.”
-Quarry Worker’s Creed
“You can put in the work, or get put in your place.”
“Let’s not forget that not so long ago, our forebears had to chase, fight, and kill just to survive. They expected hardship. They were willing to face the worst. They embraced the fact that the universe, in all its apparent tranquility, is a carefully balanced chaos of forces that we barely understand.
We, on the other hand, have it easy. And that makes it easy to go soft, lose perspective, and be lulled into idleness. Working out is something of an inoculation against this. It's a tribute to the primacy of effort.”
“Nothing fails as spectacularly as half measures.”
“In order to have the best life possible, you must know what the best decisions are and have the courage to make them.”
“While the concrete rewards of making good decisions may be delayed and uncertain, the emotional ones are always instantaneous and assured. By focusing on the latter, we can gain considerable power over our behavior.
We can consider how it will feel to smoke or drink less or stick to our diet and exercise routine instead of how it will benefit our physiology; how it will feel to see our savings rise or debts fall, instead of how it will impact our net worth or financial resilience; how it will feel to spend less time on social media or watching TV, instead of how it will free up time for other valuable activities.”
“I decided that I would keep going until I died. And then it got a whole lot easier. Am I dead yet? No? Then I can keep going.”
“For whatever reason, intention seems to be a force multiplier of sorts, and work done with resolve seems to outpace work done with a wavering mind.”
“Even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely. That’s the thing people don’t get.”
“If you’re going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life, because I’m giving up mine.”
“The peak of the mountain is important only because it justifies climbing, which is the real goal of the enterprise.”
“In many competitions, you don’t have to be the best to win. You just have to be harder to destroy.”
“You have to give something to get something.”
“We can only be as great as our circumstances demand.”
“Be less concerned with what you have than what you are.”
“The more you suffer voluntarily, the less you’ll suffer involuntarily.”
“Where you are now is a result of who you were, but where you go from here and ultimately end up depends solely on who you decide to be from this moment forward.”
Important Insights from Related Books:
We've never really understood the true nature of mental toughness until now.
Before Steve Magness and the pioneering scientists whose research he presents in this book came along, we've seen only one side of it, and this book will show you that there's more to toughness than we usually realize and more inside you than you've ever known.
The old model of mental toughness was based on fear and ridicule, shame and doubt. It was based on hiding all evidence of weakness, and the old style of coaching and leadership involved yelling and screaming at people until they get closer to what we wanted them to be - not for the purpose of allowing them to reach their full potential.
That changes today, and it changes with this book, Do Hard Things.
Steve Magness is a high-performance coach and scientist who works with Olympic athletes and people of comparable ability and prowess, and his book is a compelling and useful attempt to "fix" our old definition of mental toughness and replace it with something more flexible, more insightful, and ultimately, more useful.
Do Hard Things draws from the very latest in science and psychology to teach us how we can work with our body, emotions, and feelings, and how we can shift the very meaning of discomfort in our minds by leaning in, paying attention, and allowing ourselves the mental freedom to perform at the highest level of which we are capable.
The new model of toughness is all about embracing reality, listening to what our body is trying to tell us, responding instead of reacting, and transcending discomfort by tapping into the deeper meaning behind it all. The old model made everything look like a nail, so the only tool it could offer us was a hammer.
There's everything in this book from mindfulness, military case studies, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and more, and it all comes together in a wonderful book that ends up being more growth-focused, intent on building you up, rather than tearing you down. Focusing on what's right with you, what you can accomplish, rather than what you lack or what is temporarily out of reach.
You already have everything you need within you in order to become more resilient, stronger, tougher, more flexible, and more adaptable. To paraphrase the great psychologist, Abraham Maslow, toughness isn't about adding something to you that isn't there already, it's about acting, striving, and competing as the person you are...with nothing taken away.
Sample Quotes from the Book:
“Real toughness is experiencing discomfort or distress, leaning in, paying attention, and creating space to take thoughtful action. It’s maintaining a clear head to be able to make the appropriate decision.
Toughness is navigating discomfort to make the best decision you can. And research shows that this model of toughness is more effective at getting results than the old one.”
“A key component of real toughness is acknowledging when something is hard, not pretending it isn’t.
An honest appraisal of ourselves and the situation allows us to have a productive response to stress. It can shift whether our body is pushed toward fear or excitement, challenge or threat. And in turn, whether we’ll take a risk, shy away, or be able to access our full potential.”
“Instead of aiming for our best performance, something that we can only accomplish rarely, shoot for improving your best average. When we judge ourselves against our all-time best, we inevitably fall short more often than not. Instead, averaging out our five most recent performances gives us a still tricky but achievable goal.”
Read the Full Breakdown: Do Hard Things, by Steve Magness:
This book packs a huge motivational punch, even though, ironically, motivation and discipline couldn't be more different from each other.
You see, motivation can't be trusted. It can't be relied upon, since it comes and goes with the way you feel. Discipline, on the other hand, is your friend for life.
Motivation can never be allowed to dictate action, says Willink. Instead, you need to do what needs to be done, regardless of whether or not you actually feel like doing it. That’s the essence of self-discipline, of being an adult.
Jocko Willink's methods for success were developed in the SEAL Teams, where he spent most of his adult life, enlisting after high school and rising through the ranks to become the commander of the most highly decorated special operations unit of the war in Iraq. That's where he draws much of his credibility from.
This is a very short book - one you could read in a little more than an hour, I’d say - but it’s right up there in terms of power with David Goggins’ book, Can’t Hurt Me.
Jocko's book includes strategies and tactics for conquering weakness, procrastination, and fear, and in this breakdown, we'll cover important ideas like binary decision-making, as well as examine the positive use of aggression and the insidious natures of hesitation and weakness.
However, as the title implies, the whole project is mainly about freedom. Freedom from enslavement to your own mind, to addictions, to compulsions of all kinds. Freedom from the seductive call of laziness, indolence, and sloth.
Jocko also makes these valuable lessons easy to remember and apply. In the book, there are bolded passages and ALL CAPS in some places for emphasis, and his incredibly motivating and powerful ideas are captured in short, pithy phrases that you could carry around with you for life. And you probably should.
Sample Quotes from the Book:
“Do not think you have done enough. It does not matter what you did yesterday. Yesterday is gone. And today: THE COUNT IS ZERO. Wake up with that attitude every day. You have to prove yourself all over again. You have to earn your seat at the table. You have to GET AFTER IT.”
“Impose what you want on your brain: Discipline. Power. Positivity. Will. And use that Mind Control to move your life where you want it to be: stronger, faster, smarter, quicker, friendlier, more helpful, more driven. Don’t let your mind control you. Control your mind. And then you can: SET IT FREE.”
“Yes or no. This is not complicated. And sometimes you have to put yourself into this mode: Binary Decision-Making.
Are you going to be weak or strong? Are you going to be healthy or unhealthy? Are you going to improve your life? Are you going to make it worse? Are you going to sacrifice long-term success for short-term gratification?
You know the right answers. You know the right decision. Don’t overcomplicate. Binary Decision-Making. Make the right decisions.”
Read the Full Breakdown: Discipline Equals Freedom, by Jocko Willink
Self-discipline has traditionally been a hard sell. Self-indulgence, quick dopamine hits, and having a good time have been winning the marketing battle lately, similar to the "battle" between chocolate and asparagus. Or between reality television and educational documentaries.
But what if the problem is simply that we've been thinking about self-discipline in entirely the wrong way?
Up until now, self-discipline may have been the equivalent of a Henry James novel in a TikTok world. But Ryan Holiday's book, Discipline is Destiny, will have you reimagining the whole concept in a much more liberating, fulfilling way.
His aim is to teach you how to harness the powers of self-discipline to fulfill your personal destiny. While everyone's destiny is fundamentally different, everyone's destiny is the product of self-discipline. Your habits shape your character, and your character shapes your destiny, and so Ryan's book goes right to the root and gives you the physical, mental, and emotional skillsets for success.
In the final analysis, self-discipline is prescriptive. It will show you your future. Your environment, actions, habits, and mindsets are constantly shaping your destiny, and this book will show you how to guide this process more intelligently.
This involves thinking of self-discipline in the "proper" way: not as a punishment, as self-deprivation, but as it really is: a pathway to even greater freedom.
Some days will be hard. Actually, that's not true...many days will be hard. The hard days will outnumber the easy ones, but the meaningful days will also outnumber the meaningless ones. Living this way won't always be easy, but it will always be worth it.
Sample Quotes from the Book:
“At the core of this idea of self-mastery is an instinctive reaction against anything that masters us. Who can be free when they have lost, as one addiction specialist put it, ‘the freedom to abstain?’”
“Think about it: Most people don’t even show up. Of the people who do, most don’t really push themselves. So to show up and be disciplined about daily improvement? You are the rarest of the rare.”
“The cost is not just personal but shared by us all, in symphonies never written, feats never accomplished, in good never done, the potential of an ordinary day never fulfilled.”
Read the Full Breakdown: Discipline is Destiny, by Ryan Holiday
It's hard to do your best, much harder than most people realize. By definition, "your best" is the absolute greatest effort you are capable of giving, and sadly, most people just never even come close to that.
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden was a master when it came to seeing potential greatness and infinite self-worth lying dormant inside the players on his teams, and his leadership style - that you can learn to adapt for yourself - was perfectly suited to drawing excellence from the teammates entrusted to his care.
For Wooden, there was a standard that ranked above winning, and he believed that if you give every single thing you have within you to be your very best, then you're already a success no matter what.
Doing your best is all that can ever be asked of you; it's literally everything, and although winning may be a natural byproduct of that supreme effort, it could never be the sole reason for a team's or a person's existence.
I won't pretend that winning isn't important to me. Indeed, John Wooden and his elite basketball players loved to win, but it was the way they played and behaved that was ultimately more impressive than any of the records or the championships themselves.
Disciplined, intensely focused on executing the fundamentals, self-controlled, team-focused, and unselfish, they would have been winners no matter what, and this is because of Wooden's exceptional leadership style.
John Wooden also possessed an immense moral strength that was given expression in many of the actions he took as a coach and leader. For one thing, when racism was still a significant presence in collegiate sports, he refused to enter basketball tournaments that his black players weren't allowed to participate in.
They were a team, and if they couldn't all play, then none of them were going to be there. It was this strict, incredibly demanding coaching style, combined with this gentleness, and a strong, enduring belief in human potential and infinite human worth that made John Wooden such a spectacular role model. One that we would all do well to emulate in our own lives.
There's so much that we can all learn from John Wooden's example, and we're going to examine several of his most fundamentally important lessons here in this book breakdown.
Sample Quotes from the Book:
“Just before our team took to the court before a game, including the 10 to decide a national championship, these were my final words to the players: 'Make sure you can hold your head high after this game.' They all knew I wasn't talking about the final score.
I did not say it as a fiery exhortation, but with all the seriousness and sincerity I had in me. It was the most important message our players could take with them into the battle: 'Do your best. That is success.'
Believing that simple truth gave us tremendous strength. Teaching it gave me tremendous satisfaction."
“No one has ever achieved anything he or she wasn't capable of. Whatever you have accomplished, you could have accomplished more. What you have done, you could have done it better."
“I slept well, comfortable in the knowledge that I had done the best of which I was capable. This knowledge is a very soft pillow on which to sleep."
Read the Full Breakdown: The Essential Wooden, by John Wooden and Steve Jamison
The View from the Opposition:
No one's ideas are beyond questioning. In this section, I argue the case for the opposition and raise some points you might wish to evaluate for yourself while reading this book.
#1: Announcing Your Goals
There are two different schools of thought when it comes to whether or not you should announce your goals to the world before you achieve them, or whether you should keep them to yourself until after they've been achieved.
Mike Matthews' view is that talking about your goals before you've achieved them diminishes your motivation to achieve them by giving you a premature sense of accomplishment that substitutes itself for the real thing.
To your brain, strangely enough, talking about your goals can give you the same kind of dopamine hits that you'd get from actually making progress toward them. This then causes you to basically do nothing, because if you've already triggered those feel-good brain chemicals without actually doing any of the work, why do any of the work?
For the record, I don't think Mike's wrong. There's also plenty of research to support his conclusions. I do still tend to take an alternative approach, however, and there's merit in my way as well. There's also plenty of research backing up my approach, so take from that what you will. Science is hard.
But in my view, sharing your goals publicly introduces social pressure to back up your words with meaningful actions, whereas if you kept your goals to yourself, you could just quietly quit and no one else would ever be able to tell. You'd have no external accountability, which can be tremendously helpful when it comes to achieving meaningful goals.
If nobody else knows about your goals, how can they help you and support you? How can they provide motivation and assistance to help you keep going? Who are you doing this for?
One of my favorite bodybuilders, Tom Platz, says that he loves putting himself in uncomfortable situations - places where he has to figure it out, where he has to make it. That kind of positive pressure can stimulate effective action as well.
At the end of the day, though, it's really up to you which approach most resonates with you. There's plenty wrong with my and Tom's approach, not least the potential for social embarrassment if we quit and everyone knows that we quit. But just keep both viewpoints in mind and come to your own adult decision. Mike and I would both agree on that.
#2: Quotes and References
This isn't my own criticism of the book, but a few people have said they don't like the book because Mike draws too heavily on other thinkers and their ideas, rather than his own. I don't think that's particularly fair, and I actually love that he quotes people like Solzhenitsyn, Emerson, and all the rest. But here we are.
I've even heard one person say that if you follow "countless others," you'll hear lots of the same advice. Well, my response to that is, why don't you just read this book instead of "countless others"?! Or read all of them!
Repetition is fantastic when it comes to learning, and is it really possible to hear a life-changing idea too many times? I suppose you could, but I don't think you're in danger of doing that by reading The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation.
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
Questions to Stimulate Your Thinking:
The quality of your questions determines the quality of your life. That's also how you get the absolute most out of any book that you decide to read:
You ask great questions the whole time - as though the book was on trial for its life.
Here in this section are a few questions that can help guide and stimulate your thinking, but try to come up with your own additional questions, especially if you decide to read this book the whole way through...
#1: "First, what's right with your body? What are you okay with? What can you enjoy, admire, and even celebrate?"
#2: "Next, reflect on what things might be like if your body didn't possess these positive qualities. What if they were taken away? How would this impact your life?"
#3: "When it comes to fitness, or virtually any positive quality that you'd like to emulate, express, and embody, who do you admire? What do you admire most about that person? How do they live, act, speak, and behave that makes them so impressive? Can you adopt those same behaviors and mannerisms in your own life?"
#4: "What do you want right now? Comfort? To take the night off from the gym? To spare yourself the embarrassment of other people at the gym knowing that you're a beginner? Now, what do you want most? To be healthy and fit? To feel fantastic in your own body? To feel alive? Are you willing to give up at least some of what you want now in order to move closer to what you want most?"
#5: "What are you willing to sacrifice in order to get what you want most? How much pain, discomfort, and uncertainty are you willing to take?"
#6: "What's the price of the success you seek? Are you willing to pay it?"
#7: "What are the various types of resistance - fear, desire for comfort, etc. - you face when trying to follow through on your fitness plan? How can you plan ahead of time to make these roadblocks and desires irrelevant?"
#8: "What kind of implementation intentions (Key Idea #5) can you set up that will help you achieve your fitness goals? What kind of physical activity will you commit yourself to? Where will you work out? For how long? With whom? What do you need to plan for ahead of time to make sure that all this happens as it's supposed to?"
#9: "Who can you enlist as support to help you sustain your new commitment to health and fitness? Can you keep each other accountable on a daily basis? Can you make each other stronger than either one of you could be on your own? Can 1+1=3?"
#10: What ideal are you moving toward? What's the clear vision you have for this strong, fit, capable, courageous human being you're becoming? Who do you want to be?"
"Judge a man by his questions, rather than by his answers."
So you've finished reading. What do you do now?
Reading for pleasure is great, and I wholeheartedly support it. However, I am intensely practical when I'm reading for a particular purpose. I want a result. I want to take what I've learned and apply it to my one and only life to make it better!
Because that's really what the Great Books all say. They all say: "You must change your life!" So here, below, are some suggestions for how you can apply the wisdom found in this breakdown to improve your actual life.
Please commit to taking massive action on this immediately! Acting on what you've learned here today will also help you solidify it in your long-term memory. So there's a double benefit! Let's begin...
#1: Drill Down to Your Deepest WHY
Often, what we think are the reasons we have for doing or wanting something aren't the real reasons. Or, at least, they're not the deepest, most visceral reasons why we're motivated to start a new fitness habit or buy some particular thing, etc. There's some other reason, perhaps just a little bit below consciousness awareness, why we actually want what we want.
I may be making it sound more mysterious than it actually is, but an effective exercise to help you access those reasons is to keep asking "why" questions until you get to the very bottom of it.
So, what's your "why" for fitness? Why do you want to get in shape, get healthy, etc." Why do you keep showing up?
At first, you might say something like, "Because I want to look better."
But then, if you ask "why" again, you might say, "Because then they'll take me more seriously at work."
You can keep asking "why" again and again until you come to the deepest possible reason you can come up with for why you actually want to prioritize your health and fitness.
You might come into this thinking that you were doing it for more "superficial" reasons like looking and feeling better, but then discover that for you, it's actually about living longer and experiencing a greater quality of life, one where you're able to keep up with your kids when they're playing in the backyard.
There aren't any "wrong" answers here, but just keep asking "why" at least 3-5 times until you come up with something that can help keep you going when it gets tough. And it will get tough.
#2: The Seven-Day Sacrifice Challenge
Getting better at fitness is all about getting better at sacrificing. We have to sacrifice for what we want; we have to give up at least a little bit of what we want now, so we can have a better chance of getting what we want most.
The good news is that sacrificing is a skill, and we can get better at it with practice.
With that in mind, consider taking on this seven-day challenge:
Day 1: Sacrifice a little bit of your comfort and warmth by taking a 5-minute cold shower in the morning.
Day 2: Sacrifice your sloth by waking up at least 15 minutes earlier.
Day 3: Sacrifice your afternoon brain fog by going without caffeine for a day, especially not within 12 hours of going to sleep.
Day 4: Sacrifice some of the toxic chemicals floating around in your bloodstream by avoiding highly processed food.
Day 5: Sacrifice a few of your addictive neurochemicals by going on a digital detox and limiting your social media consumption for a day.
Day 6: Sacrifice your lethargy by doing an hour of low-to-moderate cardio.
Day 7: Sacrifice your ignorance by reading a book for an hour.
Every time you give up something that feels good in the moment for something that will make you feel good about yourself for a lifetime, it gets easier to do. You're unlearning slavery to your automatic drives and impulses and learning about freedom and achievement.
#3: The Warren Buffett "2 List" Strategy
There's some controversy about whether Warren Buffett ever actually offered this advice or not, but he's since heard that his name was attributed to it and said that it wasn't a bad idea! So here's what you do:
You make a list of the goals, projects, opportunities, etc. that you'd like to pursue, trying to keep it to 25 items. Then you pick the top 5 that most excite you and that you think will make the biggest positive difference to your quality of life, and then you place them on a separate, second list.
Now, take that first list of 20 less meaningful goals and aspirations, put it away in a drawer, and never look at it again.
Next, expand on your top 5 and write out why they're most interesting or meaningful to you out of all of the things you listed. You may have to ask "why" several times, as you did in the first Action Step above.
After that, you're going to write down three of the biggest obstacles that might get in the way of you achieving these goals. What might make them hard to achieve? What might you have to sacrifice?
If, after soberly evaluating all the positives and negatives surrounding each goal, project, priority, etc., you're still fired up about them, great! Review what you've written down every single day of your life from this day forward and never lose sight of these precious goals.
Naturally, you can change or edit them as you see fit, but it's very important that you limit yourself to just a few opportunities, establish why you want to go after them and what they mean to you, and hold onto them with everything you've got.
#4: Create Your Own Action Items
Review each of the goals, projects, and priorities you've identified previously, and write down the next actions you need to take in order to make them real, including what-when-where statements for each of them. Implementation intentions!
Next, write down one potential obstacle that might get in the way of each action item and formulate a plan for overcoming it. Then, find an accountability partner who will help keep you on track and who will help you up when you fall down.
Going forward, at the beginning of each week, specify the next actions you will take within the next seven days to get you closer to your stated goals. Repeat until wildly successful in life.
#5: Develop a Meaningful Fitness Mantra
Never say anything about yourself that you don't want to become true. How we speak to ourselves is incredibly, insanely important, and so what we want to do is learn how to be our own biggest supporter, instead of our own most dangerous enemy.
This happens by strengthening our self-talk and empowering ourselves with how we use our internal voice instead of weakening ourselves. It also helps to have a mantra on hand to refocus ourselves on our greatest reasons for getting moving and keeping the promises we've made to ourselves in the beginning.
It doesn't have to be too complicated or involved; you could even take the deepest "why" you've identified in the first Action Step and make that into your mantra, something you repeat to yourself at those moments - and there will be many - when you want to quit.
"The path to success is to take massive, determined action."
About the Author:
Mike Matthews is the #1 bestselling fitness author in the world, with over 1.5 million books sold, as well as the founder of the #1 brand of all-natural sports supplements, Legion.
His simple and science-based approach to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy has helped tens of thousands of people build their best body ever, and his work has been featured in many popular outlets including Esquire, Men’s Health, Elle, Women’s Health, Muscle & Strength, and more, as well as on FOX and ABC.