I have long been interested in the psychology of bodybuilding. I’m probably more interested these days in the mindset underlying the muscles, than the muscles themselves, or the mechanics of achieving them—the training, the food, the supplements.
What drives somebody to pursue a goal endlessly, despite immediate pain, despite fatigue, despite a Spartan diet that the mind rebels at? Despite the hunger. Despite the social estrangement. Despite having to live the life of a Tibetan monk, only with no real promise of Nirvana to come after.
What the hell could explain this, intentionally adopting this way of viewing and approaching the world?
The non-great thinkers will proclaim, “Vanity! The pursuit of good looks at all costs!” The first time I knew I was onto something unique, was when one of these such people started questioning my motives. “You work so hard to look good, then you go and gain weight and get pudgy in the off-season. Doesn’t that make it hard to get girls?”
My response—if “getting girls” was what drove me, I would find a much easier way of accomplishing the task. I would learn to invest, or become a great comedian. But there are much easier ways to get laid, than having a nice chest or 6-pack abs. And for anybody getting into the game for those reasons, write back in two years, we’ll see if you’re still at it.
So what drives me? The idea of bettering myself, somehow, someway, step by step. The idea of “reaching my potential”, even though I have no idea what that is, or when it arrives. The idea of being in control—of myself, of my cravings, of my body, much like being a god and sculpting man in MY image, not as He intended me to look.
I am driven by spite—I love knowing I am putting myself through an exquisite torture that few others could ever hope to bear, before crumbling in tears, caving in, quitting. I am driven by the desire to be special and unique, coupled with the knowledge that “special” and “unique” is a choice we adopt willingly, not a birthright we are gifted accidentally.
I am driven by love—love for the sight of accomplishment, love of seeing others push themselves, better themselves, reach their potential, strive to be special and unique in their own right, rather than mindlessly sitting on the couch, flipping channels, stuffing chips into their faces commercial after commercial after commercial. I am driven by passion—the passion of knowing that I have purpose, that every minute of every hour of every day adds up into a totality that leads to an end product, an end goal achieved, through pieces, and that I am the one assembling the puzzle.
I am driven by pride—the pride of having my daughter scream my name while I am on stage, and knowing that I am her father; the pride of knowing that I truly overcame my genetics, and despite being dealt the fat-kid card, I threw it away and adopted the Superhero costume.
I am driven by demons, probably first and foremost. When I first started bodybuilding in 2003, I was worried about quitting and giving up because it was too hard. Little did I know that the “too hard” part was what I would fall in love with. I loved feeling the freedom to unleash those demons—all that anger, hatred, and rage that built up in my soul from my youth, all the blackness of coming from a crummy home, all the spite of looking at a world of mediocrities who chose to blend in, move slow, think slower, or not at all. I am driven by those demons, still clawing to get out even well into my 30s. I have the distinct feeling they may be with me for life, but somehow, are tamed when I am under the barbell.
And ultimately, I am driven by me—by knowing that I control my destiny, I control my fate, and I am responsible for building my own path. In my favorite book, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, the lead character Howard Roark is asked why he became an architect. To paraphrase, his response is, “Because I don’t believe in God”. When asked to expand upon his view, he says, “I long ago realized I don’t believe in God, and I don’t like the shape of things in this world, so I realized it was up to me to change them”. And to that same end, I am driven by me—nobody can change me, but me. And so, I do.
-David A. Johnston