There is a popular, “woke” narrative that the reason more people than ever are obese and in chronically poor health is a failing fitness industry—the fitness industry has failed to save us from ourselves. I’d argue that as awful as many areas of the fitness industry are, it is actually better than ever, overall. There are more training options available—ranging from the mildest to the most extreme—more avenues for learning, better science, more good training videos, more extremely qualified experts giving great advice, and there is even more emphasis on relationships and customer-driven communication.
Sure, it is a problem that there are too many confusing, manipulative gimmicks in the weight loss industry. It’s a problem that there are too many unethical bad actors and unqualified trainers building clientele through social media. It’s a problem that there are too many overcompensating, judgy jerks at the gym. It is even a problem that there are too many options. The paradox of choice is that as we become overwhelmed by the abundance of possible exercise protocols and diet programs, most people become exhausted and are less likely to act.
Furthermore, it is a problem that the globo-gym business model is built on selling people gym memberships they won’t use. But it also isn’t entirely the model. It is reality. If a waterpark sells you a summer pass and you don’t attend, is that somehow the waterpark’s fault? Say I rent you my spare bike for $5 a month to use for local commutes, but you never use it. Am I to blame? Memberships are sold by gyms and personal trainers employed by those gyms are heavily incentivized to walk the floor, connect with people, get to know them and what makes them tick, and then offer an experience catered to their needs.
Tremendous progress has been made through efforts to understand what holds people back and empathize with their unique needs. Unfortunately, this can bleed into a culture of entitlement, victimhood, and excuse-making. The reality is that anyone can figure out how to get sustainably healthy if it’s important enough to them. Yet even as the fitness industry improves, people are less likely than ever to do so. We are always better off when we hold ourselves responsible for our own actions and when we’ve been empowered to strive towards solutions. Trust me, I loathe the bad actors as much as anyone, but the world is too complex to expect each industry to perfect itself.
Like every arena, things could be better, but the overwhelming issue is not that there is too much bad, it is that there is too little personal responsibility and too little capacity for discomfort. The issue is that the standard model values of the modern world promote comfort, convenience, entitlement, and victimhood. People have learned to make excuses for every arena of life rather than confront the obvious truth. Anything worth doing is hard and hard things aren’t easy. The reality is that the fitness industry is not the problem. You are the problem.
Likewise, we can all point to our smartphones and admit that our screen dependency is a problem. But what stops us from making the necessary changes isn’t the brilliant technological design that hacks our neurology to create addiction. This is easily circumvented by a few well-documented personal habits and settings shifts. What really keeps us from changing is that most people value convenience and comfort over growth, health, and self-reliance. The excuses are abundantly available. It is easier to be the victim of genius Silicon Valley programmers than to accept personal responsibility for our own lives—this is the problem. The modern health crisis isn’t caused by a failing fitness industry, but rather a failing value structure. The problem is culture and cultural values.
What Are Values and Why Do They Matter?
We all have values, whether we know it or not and, for most of us, they aren’t what we’d come up with in some team-building activity. Values are our operating system dictating millions of choices. A value system is simply a preference hierarchy. Do you want to go to Vegas or Yellowstone? Your decision indicates whether you prefer flashy lights, big cities, gambling, and parties or nature, solitude, connection, and self-reliance.
Say you are at Best Buy and you see some Bluetooth earphones that you want, but that is out of your price range. They are small and easily concealable. Do you take them? Most likely you won’t because you value something more than having these. It might be integrity, but it might also be freedom from the fear of being caught or conformity to social norms. It is likely a combination of the latter two.
People may profess to value hard work, resiliency, honesty, humility, health, and personal growth, but their actions indicate that these values are further down the hierarchy. Most value comfort, convenience, pleasure, and entertainment far more. None of these are inherently bad as experiences but, as overriding values, they are extremely unfulfilling.
According to author Mark Manson, good values:
- Engage with the world as it is, rather than how you wish it were.
- Are socially constructive.
- Whether they are met or not is completely under your control.
Being comfortable is not always under your control, but honesty and integrity are. Maturation is the process of growing better values. Changing values can be very difficult. It requires both reflection and action. For more help with this, I’ve distilled the processes and principles involved in creating actual value changes in my piece, Transformative Experiences: Changing Thoughts and Feelings Through Action.
The health industry isn’t failing people. Standard model values are failing people. Absent of a cause, the majority of people have determined that the meaning of life is pursuing pleasure and avoiding more pain. Health and a good physique are desirable within that small scope, but the process of getting healthy conflicts with those dominant values. Most people just don’t want to work out.
Claiming that the fitness industry is the problem is a convenient excuse. You may have had a bad trainer or gotten some bad diet advice. Nearly every consistent exerciser has. The reality remains that your health is still your responsibility. The world is not perfectible. I’d like to see businesses and governments become more ethical as well, but it is a little insane to expect every institution to become perfect all the while doing nothing to move in that direction.
I’m not saying you have to start with an extremely challenging CrossFit or Bootcamp environment. In fact, I still contend the 10 minutes per day morning habit is the best place to start. There is nothing wrong with deciding you aren’t that into fitness. Yet, like paying bills, understanding political issues, or self-educating, taking a little time for your health is an essential part of being a mature adult. If you don’t love fitness, adopt the habit of ten-minutes of daily morning movement. As simple as that sounds it is still easier not to do it. It requires overcoming impulse and choosing fulfilling values. The question is will you value improvement over short-term comfort?
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