How to enjoy getting thrown on your head

If my three main interests outside of writing and work – fighting, bouldering and heavy deadlifting – have anything in common, it’s that they’re tiring, difficult, painful, sometimes frightening and, after an early burst of improvement, prone to massive plateaus where you don’t seem to be getting any better. I love them all, and I love the challenges they present me with, but they aren’t easy. If you’ve got any sorts of aspirations above watching reality TV and slowly inflating, you probably feel the same about something. Finding a balance between getting things done and actually enjoying things is tough, after all. Being a type-A improver is all very well, but when do you actually get to have some fun?

Here’s my answer: you’re already having fun. You just need to act like it.

If you haven’t read any Kurt Vonnegut, start. He’s the sort of writer that makes me want to buy his books and hand them out in shopping centres, or swap them for Bibles in hotels. There’s a nice list of some of his greatest ever aphorisms here, but for my money, the best is the quote above:

‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’

Vonnegut – who, by the way, fought in WW2 and was in Dresden while it was being bombed to matchsticks – was probably talking about playing with his grandchildren or watching sunsets from a boat rather than heavy deadlifting or armbarring people, and that’s fine. I definitely think it’s a good idea to appreciate the quiet moments you get – whether that means having a drink with your best friends, getting a quiet moment with a really good coffee, or seeing the sun rise over that big weird hotel near St Pancras station. But that’s not the point I’m making here. The point is, if you’re at the gym or in the cage or on the wall, you’ve decided to be there. You’re instantly more privileged than the people who can’t do what you’re doing, because they don’t have the money or the opportunity or a body that’ll let them do it.

So that’s what I’ve been doing recently. When I’m trying to get my breath back between rounds of being crushed by people better than me, when even a relatively easy V4 won’t go and I keep plummeting to the safety mat, when it’s my third week in a row of not getting the reps I want, when it all seems pointless and stupid, I remind myself that I’m doing what I want with my life. In those pauses between efforts, in the time when the timer’s ticking down to the next round, in the oxygen-free haze after dropping a near-max weight, I remind myself that I’m hanging out with people I like, doing a thing I love, and getting better at it. If that isn’t nice, what is?

HOMEWORK: At least five times this week, find times to appreciate what you’re doing. That could be just drinking a coffee and reading an improving book, or it could be getting in a knock-down, drag-out scrap against the biggest guy in your gym. The point is that you appreciate it. Oh, and read some Vonnegut.

About the author


Editor and creator of Live Hard. Fighting enthusiast, steak lover and aficionado of all things self-improvement related.


  • “His situation, insofar as he was a machine, was complex, tragic, and laughable. But the sacred part of him, his awareness, remained an unwavering band of light.

    And this book is being written by a meat machine in cooperation with a machine made of metal and plastic. And at the core of the writing meat machine is something sacred, which is an unwavering band of light

    At the core of each person who reads this book is a band of unwavering light.

    My doorbell has just rung in my New York apartment And I know what I will find when I open my front door: an unwavering band of light.”

    Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions, 1973

    Love the Vonnegut, and quite agree about handing the books out and replacing Bibles in Hotel rooms (I can think of several things I’d replace them with…) The whole post echoes something I was reading just yesterday, which, in a nutshell, made the point that it’s us and only us that decides how we feel about something at any given time, and it’s our own responsibility how we react to things and feel about things, not someone or something else’s fault.

    The author put it a bit more eloquently than that mind you.

    • Yup, Breakfast Of Champions is great – maybe his best book after Slaughterhouse 5, though I’m also partial to a bit of Timequake. I’ve read something similar to what you mention in the last para as well – if you can remember what it was, chuck me a link!

  • Great post as ever. Got to take issue with the end though. It is never JUST drinking a coffee and reading an improving book. As a busy father of 3 with 2 jobs and a PhD I’m finishing, half an hour spent with a book I’ve chosen to read (improving or entertaining), that half hour is a golden moment, and one which I never fail to appreciate.
    Keep up the good work.

    • Good point Chris, the ‘just’ there actually undermines the whole point of the post a bit. I’ll leave it in, though. Good work on everything you’re doing, that’s living a lot harder than me.

  • Reading your post was my homework for today. I definitely appreciated it. Maybe that’s because you make a great point and your writing’s brilliant, or maybe it’s because too much Chinese translation has wrung out my brain and left me craving a bit of good English. I think it’s probably a bit of both. Looking forward to the next one.

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