Perhaps the manner in which to communicate what apathy is, is to share what apathy isn’t…
Apathy is not… the typical triathlete who comes in to swim at the LA Fitness where my wife and I swim.
The typical triathlete comes into the pool area wearing their Ironman flip flops, carrying their Ironman backpack over one shoulder and Ironman towel over the other. If they could come in wearing their Ironman finisher medal around their neck, they probably would… but unsure of leaving their precious medal while training, they figure all the other items with Ironman logos should suffice to show that they are indeed an Ironman finisher. The attitude they communicate through this rooster type of posturing is that they believe themselves to be a better athlete than anyone else in the pool, and perhaps even a better human being… because… well, let’s face it… they finished an Ironman and the rest of us have not. Point being in their mind… anyone who is anyone is someone who has completed an Ironman.
Once their Ironman bag, flip flops, and towel are hanging, they walk over to the lane they plan on swimming in to drop their training bag – also emblazoned with an Ironman logo – onto the pool deck where they sit themselves down to put on their Ironman swim cap. They take the time to put on their swim cap so again, everyone in and around the pool are sure to see the Ironman logo which they do with the intention of communicating to all that… attention… I am about to start swimming, please stand back, watch and learn as all you lesser human beings who aspire to be [like me – an “Ironman”] can see how its done.
And with that… they start to do what they call swimming which is little more than trying to beat up the water in front of them as if they were Mike Tyson boxing for the heavy weight title and championship belt.
As is often the case, these athletes are taken aback when my wife swims past. Worst of all is when my wife is completing a kick set as part of her training and passes one of these athletes while they are swimming; all of a sudden… the horror of that event can be felt throughout the pool area. An individual who firstly is not wearing an Ironman swim cap and secondly and worst of all is doing what no triathlete ever does when swimming – training their kick – has the nerve to pass… an Ironman finisher! You can feel the horror they feel by following their head: they change their breathing pattern to keep an eye on this threat, on this swimmer without Ironman swim cap who dares to pass them, who dares to show them up on their turf!
My wife will carry on with her workout, kicking, training through her list of stroke drills, working on her technique, swimming with or without equipment… but these triathletes once scorned, do not let go of any opportunity to ‘win’ in some way in hopes of regaining what they feel they have lost… their position as ‘alpha’ athlete in the pool. Often these triathletes will start to race my wife, try to beat her to the wall or at the very least out touch her as if they were Michael Phelps finishing the 200 FLY (which like kicking they would never attempt) at the Beijing 2008 Olympics to out touch László Cseh at the finish.
One time, having ‘competition’ which threatened their fragile Ironman ego, one triathlete changed their workout in that moment just to see if they could try and keep up with my wife. When that fails, the fall back solution for these athletes whenever threatened or whenever they need to put on a spectacle of power to reassert themselves is to put on pull buoys and paddles and go to beating the water ten times harder than they did without.
They exhaust themselves within a few meters.
They exit the pool as if to escape the reality of what just occurred… someone without an Ironman swim cap beat them!
This is not apathy.
This is the opposite of apathy.
For these ‘threatened’ athletes every workout is a competition, and if it isn’t a competition by default (like someone showing up without an Ironman swim cap and swimming faster than them at the pool) then the goal is to make the workout a competition with someone somewhere anywhere… especially a competition stacked in their favour, a competition they know they can win so that they can reinflate their ego. And this is what most today call “training”. This is why social media sport platforms like Zwift & Strava have taken off… its not because they are training tools, its because these platforms offer a solution where deflated egos can go, find themselves someone they can beat, so that they can feel better about themselves.
What? Did you think that everyone magically matures beyond elementary school taunting just because elementary school is over? Hah!
On the other hand, my wife is the example of an athlete who doesn’t give a rats ass about what any other athlete is doing in the pool. My wife goes to the pool with her own workout, and trains at her own pace. What happens in any other lane is irrelevant. My wife understands that training is as it sounds… t – r – a – i – n – i – n – g time, not racing time.
She is apathetic to what anyone else is doing, and entirely invested in what she is doing, what she needs to do in order to move herself to the next level of performance that she has set for herself as a target. Spending any time ‘caring’ what anyone else is doing, is time wasted, it is time spent not training, not moving herself towards her targets.
To move from living and training in a state of threat, in a state of intimidation or worry requires that you STOP caring what anyone else is doing, how fast and how far anyone else is going and you have to START caring about yourself and only yourself. Be apathetic to the world, and be fully focused on yourself is the first step to moving towards living and training in a relaxed state, a state that can lead to the state of FLOW.
Boredom – like apathy – is likely not what you think it is. Boredom is not literally being bored because you have nothing to do; boredom in this context relates to the withdrawal symptom when one removes themselves from constantly ‘caring’ what everyone else is doing.
Go back to the typical Ironman triathlete described above in the section on apathy.
Think what it would be like to be that athlete and instead of seeking someone to constantly race to make ‘training’ sessions spicy, they instead head to the pool and whether there are others at the pool or not is irrelevant because they are there to do what they need to do.
Wow! That sounds just riveting doesn’t it!
Well, to someone like my wife who already trains like that… well, yes.
But if you go back to the typical triathlete whose constant metric of how they are doing is based on how they are doing relative to random other people they have found on Zwift or Strava or Facebook or whatever social platform then yes… this is the most boring type of training in the world. In fact, this is why these athletes typically do not train either on their own, or when the gym is quite, when the roads, or track, or wherever they train is quite… because they want, no they need someone else in order to measure how they are doing. Since they are too smart to seek a coach, they believe that training is no different than racing… you just need to go as hard as possible for as long as possible and that makes you better.
Real training to those accustomed to making a spectacle of themselves is boring because it is nothing more than repetition, repetition, repetition.
Think how many times a musician has to rehearse a song so as not to mess up on stage. How many times do they have to play the song on their instrument to ensure that they play every note in key, in sync with the other musicians, in sync with the artist singing the song? How many times does a performer have to sing a song that they want to deliver on stage to thousands of fans without messing up a single note, a single word, a single anything? Countless times is the answer! Now think how many times groups like the Rolling Stones have performed songs like ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’; a song which they released in 1965.
Meanwhile show the typical triathlete a modification to their swim technique, their cycling stroke or running stride… they repeat it 5x over maybe 100m and they act like they have it mastered.
It takes thousands upon thousands of repetitions of any single simple action before the brain can code that action into a motor program that can be downloaded into the spinal cord so that the person doesn’t have to ‘think’ when they want to execute that action (i.e. motor program). Now consider sport and how many discrete actions by various muscles has to occur in order that a ‘simple’ movement such as lifting a leg to take a step as part of a runners stride, or the finish of a swim stroke involves and consider what training effect really occurs if the athlete is spending all their time ‘racing’ some stranger in the pool two lanes over?
Eventually when the withdrawal from ‘caring’ what everyone else is up to dissipates, boredom gives way to a state where you finally give yourself permission to be you, and to be ok with who you are as just… you. You realize that the you today is not stuck and by focusing fully on yourself, the today you can learn, can train, can develop, can progress to becoming an entirely new version of you… a better version of you, with the goal being that you become the very best version of you that you can possibly be.
Where this starts though is with acknowledging where you are now (in the FLOW pinwheel), and if you are living and training in a perpetual state of anxiety, anger, worry, frustration, regret, intimidation, of threat, then the journey begins with disconnecting from caring what everyone else is doing, returning to caring about you and you alone. In this world of technology it is not easy to disconnect knowing that the rest of the world is still online, and the fear of missing out grips you, tugging for you to return and check your online avatar status just one more time… you know… just to make sure that the online world hasn’t forgotten who you are.
What if they did?
What if you stopped caring what the online world – which doesn’t know you or give a rats ass about you – was doing?
What if you were free of them, thus free to be you, free to start exploring who you are, and who you are capable of becoming, of being.