The best investment
A while back I stumbled upon a Hacker News thread where a young developer entering the industry posed a question to veteran tech professionals: "What advice would you give to your 20 year-old self?"
I believe he was looking for solid career advice: "Work hard", "Hone your craft", "Learn better inter-disciplinary communication skills", etc. And there were a few of these tidbits scattered throughout the many responses, but the vast majority of seasoned tech professional's advice? Take good care of your health.
This seems obvious. We all know the benefits of regular exercise, from living longer to better mental clarity. However, it is notoriously difficult advice to digest, especially for someone in their early 20s who hasn't even experienced a real hangover. The gist of the advice being that money and career success will come if you work at it. But prioritise your mental and physical health and your day-to-day work will improve. It's much easier to stay in shape than it is to stagnate and rebuild your fitness. Your 40 year-old self will thank you.
For a long time I've know this to be true. During periods of consistent exercise I've had more energy and mental clarity throughout the day. My personal outlook on life is generally better as well. Not to mention that outdoor activities with friends are more accessible and less daunting. Despite this, it has still always been a struggle to stay consistent.
A wave of "habit fetishism" has swept through the West in recent years with books like Atomic Habits regularly topping the best seller lists. It's a tantalising concept as it sells an easy way to "live the life you've always wanted".
It may work for some, but very few people who try these techniques actually "live the life of their dreams". What keeps fit people going to the gym on a regular basis isn't wearing their running shoes to bed at night. It's discipline and accountability.
This brings me to the best investment I've ever made: A personal trainer.
My trainer, Chris, is awesome. He's great to chat with between sets, professional and knowledgable in his craft, and has an enthusiasm for exercise which is contagious. And best of all, every Monday and Wednesday at 10am sharp he's waiting for me.
I've tried training with friends as a means of holding one-another accountable but realised (after a few failed attempts) that this has 2 points of failure: Me and my friend.
Having a trainer has a better set of incentives. Firstly there's the loss-aversion of having already paid for the session. Humans are irrationally motivated by loss-aversion and regularly succumb to the sunk-cost fallacy. We may as well use it to our advantage. And secondly there's the social contract. I can't not show up to my session. That would be rude and Chris is a busy guy. He's got better things to do than wait around for my lazy ass.
Another important factor is that trainers are professionals. They help you progress (or start) at a rate that is manageable yet pushes you out of your comfort zone. I know Chris pushes me harder than I would push myself if training alone, so my hour spent working out is all-the-more effective. They're also trained in injury prevention and recovery (doubly important if you're doing resistance training).
And yes, personal trainers do cost money. But that's why they're an investment. My thinking is that I spend about half as much on a trainer as I do on rent, but I spend significantly more time in my body than I do in my house.
It's been about 3 years since I started training with Chris and I am without a doubt the strongest and fittest I've ever been. When I hit 60 I plan to be that ripped old guy who 20 year-olds look at and think "Dayam, maybe ageing isn't so bad" and then make a TikTok or something (🤷♂️).
My self-confidence and self-perception have grown as a result as I've had mild body dysmorphia from being unreasonably skinny throughout my teens and early twenties.
I've also passed the threshold of exercise feeling like a chore. It's now something I enjoy and even look forward to. This took over a year to achieve but it does happen, I promise.
Best of all, I've delegated the responsibility of the most difficult part of training: deciding to train. I don't have to make the choice any longer. It has been made already, and Chris is waiting.
If you’re in the Cape Town area, Chris runs classes most evenings. Here’s a 3 class pass if you’re interested.