In Act IV of Shakespeare’s Henry V, the new King is about to go into battle ill-equipped, outnumbered, likely to lose and probably die. So he does what any Shakespeare character would do and puts on a disguise to see what his troops are saying about him behind his back. It’s in this disguise that he realizes the pending battle is not all about him and that while King, he is still only a man. A man who needs help from the people around him.
One of the most important and powerful tools that people looking to change their health and fitness lives have is the people around them. “You are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time,” the old adage goes. But as John Romaniello points out, “then you’re also 1/5 of the equation for each of those people, and anyone else in your immediate orbit.”
The person I grew up spending the most time with was my brother Drew. We were 2 years apart in rural Georgia enjoying the same things: movies, TV, and copious amounts of Cheez-Its. Diet and exercise were not a high priority for us and by the time we became adults we both struggled with health and fitness.
Like clockwork, we decided to change our lifestyles about two years apart. By that time for Drew, I was personal trainer and what would seem to be an obvious brother-in-arms. Except unbeknownst to him, I was in no shape to even support myself. The official diagnosis was “achilles tendinosis,” painful microtears that caused the back of my calves to swell and be excruciating to the touch. However it was my doctor’s prescription that was unbearable. “No running. None. Not for at least six months. And when you do start again, nothing faster than 8 minutes a mile.” 8 minute miles? After all I had worked for, that was going back in time. He might as well have said, “move back to rural Georgia and eat Cheez-Its all day.”
The instrumental work of Dr. Martin Seligman (former head of the American Psychological Association) and the Positive Psychological Movement has shown that much of people’s well-being is rooted in something as old as Agincourt: a sense of purpose. Helping other people, contributing to something larger than yourself, and positive relationships with others is a universal human good. For Henry V, the sense of purpose is outlined in his famous St. Crispin’s Day speech, that “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother.” For me, helping my brother get started was exactly what I needed to get started in my recovery. I found weight training as an alternative to running and more importantly a passion for coaching.
Everyone needs help when they need to change. Whether those habits are nutrition, fitness, sleep, or stress, we are most likely to do the hard things in life when we do them for a greater purpose than vanity. And that help goes both ways. Henry V does not convince his troops to risk death for him. He convinces them to risk death with him, their brother. My brother and I found new habits and meaning with a relationship of mutual accountability. Whenever we talk, we talk about the activities we enjoy and the foods we love to eat. As Seligman’s studies found, this very purposefulness is addictive and begets more motivation to endeavor in even more purposeful choices and to “stand a tip-toe when the day is named.”
Help begets help. So if you are struggling to make those healthy choices, reach out. Reach out here on these forums and in these comments to the people who are struggling just like you, and simply say, “Hey. I’m here, too. How can I help?” You might just find a happy few who will reach back.
Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, has a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.