We’ve just started the new year and many people have made all kinds of resolutions to change. I wanted to briefly share my experience with how transformations happen in life. Since most people want to transform their body in some way, I’ll talk about my own body transformation over the past few years.
I’ve always been extremely scrawny. My parents were scrawny, and growing up they always told me I had inherited this scrawniness from them. By the time I had reached my late teens, I was six feet tall and 120’ish pounds. I was skin and bones. When I’d take my shirt off, you could see my ribcage. I had no muscle definition and I hated how I looked. I’d even try to hide it by wearing baggy clothes, or wear several t-shirts, or try other things to make myself look bigger. I just thought that was how life is, and how it’d always be.
However, that was totally wrong. I didn’t have to be that way, and as I’m writing this right now, I’m 180’ish pounds, ripped, and look like a totally different person. In another year and a half, I’ll be reaching my goal weight, which is 200’ish, to 210’ish, and not fat, but muscular with abs. I will literally look like those guys you see on the covers of magazines. It blows my mind sometimes, but I look in the mirror and it’s happening. I’m 3/4 of the way there already.
I was eating dinner with my parents the other night, and as my mother put my plate down in front of me she said, “What have you done with my son?” She went on to tell me that I’m an imposter, a giant that’s took his place. At thanksgiving, I was over at my aunt’s house and an old family friend (a family from my parent’s church) came. She hadn’t seen me in ages. The woman came to up to me, grabbed my arm, looked at me dumbfounded and said, “Is that you, Jay?” She couldn’t believe it. I have these big muscular arms, big chest, v-taped back, strong legs, etc. She barely recognized me.
How did this transformation happen? It happened like any other transformation happens, I decided I was sick of being scrawny and wanted change. I didn’t know how to change, I didn’t know what I needed to do, but I said to myself, “If there’s a way to change this, I’m going to.” And that’s the first step: wanting to change. If a person doesn’t want to change, they won’t and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The next step for me was learning about the problem, understanding what was going on, and learning what steps I had to do to change the situation. In my case I started out reading some web articles and watching Youtube videos. Then I went on Amazon.com and bought some bodybuilding books, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “New Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding”, and spent a lot of time reading and studying.
As I gathered more and more information, all of the sudden a path opened up in my mind. If I do this, this, and that, consistently, my body will change in the way I want it to. In my case, I learned that I needed to intake a lot of protein, along with carbs and fat in roughly the right amounts. There were certain key foods that were best to eat, and I should focus on those. And I was to go to the gym, so many times a week, and do specific lifts. I was to do such and such weight, for such and such reps, and do it, over and over.
The basic story went like this. I followed Arnold’s advice, did the exercises he recommends, along with others my cousin (a body-builder) recommended, and I went to the gym five times a week, for anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours. I didn’t really know what I was doing at first, but I would watch Youtube videos of each exercise, and also over time I met a lot of great guys in the gym with a lot of experience, and they showed me how to do things properly. Over time I slowly acquired weight-lifting gear, such as straps, belts, and all that stuff. And now I’m stronger than most all the guys who were giving me advice when I first started.
It’s really a science. Your body is a machine. You put this fuel into it, put it under such and such a stress, and it will respond in very predictable ways. I learned that 90% of transforming your body is the food you’re eating. It’s much easier to just not eat something than it is to get on an elliptical machine or treadmill and work off those calories. Just learning how nutrition and the body works was an amazing experience to me.
Learning is an amazing thing. If lifts this darkness from you, and when you learn how things work, you look back on the ways you used to think, and things you used to do, and you just think, “Why did I do that?” But that’s how it is when you’re unaware. When you’re in darkness, you don’t even know you’re in darkness. You’re unaware of the fact that you’re unaware. You don’t even know what you don’t know. You just sort of flail around in stupidity.
There are millions of ways to fail, and you don’t have to fail. But in the past, I had tried to transform my body and failed. In my early twenties I had started weight lifting with my cousin and got nowhere. I worked my tail off, was sore all the time, lift and lift and lift, and I’d look back in the mirror and be like, “I’m still scrawny. Guess that’s just the way it is.” But want to know what my problem was? I didn’t understand how anything worked. I had just watched the Rocky movies, watched the training montage and just thought to myself, ok, I gotta get out there and run, and lift stuff, and then yeah, I’ll climb up some mountain and raise my arms in victory! I thought I just gotta have heart, and determination, and stick with it, and that sorta thing.
Well that stuff’s only part of the equation, unfortunately. There’s a lot more to success than the emotional hype. My scrawny self didn’t know that it doesn’t matter how hard you work in the gym. The body is a machine and it works a certain way. What are muscles made out of? Protein. How do muscles grow? You lift weights, create micro-tears in the muscle fibers, eat lots of protein (fish, chicken, protein shakes, etc), and your body repairs those muscles using the protein you just ate, and it makes them bigger than before so that they can withstand the stress you put them under during your workouts. And you have to make sure to eat enough so that your body doesn’t use that protein for fuel. You have to have excess calories in there. You just do this over and over, and then you become a buff dude.
What was scrawny, twenty-one year-old Jason doing? He’d work his butt off in the gym, then go home and eat a peanut-butter sandwich. Just one of them. How much protein is in that? Next to nothing. It’s almost pure carbs and some fat. And it wasn’t even close to enough calories. To build muscle mass you need excess calories so you go into an anabolic state. No protein + no excess calories = no muscle growth. I was just spinning wheels.
I’m sure lots of people are starting this new year wanting to lose weight. Once you understand how things work, it’s very doable. During my 2nd year weight lifting, I had gained a lot extra weight because I was eating too much. I wanted to keep my body in an anabolic state, so I kept eating and eating and eating. My strength went way up, but I gained a lot of fat. But I wasn’t scared of that. Why is that?
People started to tell me, “Uh oh Jason, you’re gaining a lot of weight. You better watch it!” I noticed that gaining 20-30 lbs of fat terrifies people. “How will I ever lose it?” In my case I was about 165 lbs of muscle with about 30 lbs of excess fat, so about 195 lbs total. I wanted to lose the 30 lbs of fat. What did I do?
I did a combination of things. I kept my protein intake super high, eating a lot of chicken and fish. That way my body wouldn’t cannibalize my muscles. I kept myself in a large calorie deficit, and also did a ton of cardio. I would wake up in the morning, hungry, and I’d hit the gym, doing sometimes up to an hour and a half of cardio each day (on top of my normal lifting routine, which I’d do that night). I’d cue up Netflix on my phone, watch a movie and do mid-range cardio the whole time. I lost all that weight in no time. I had acquired that fat over two years or so, and it only took me a month and a half or so to lose it. I did it, you can too!
I’m old enough now to know how all this works. You want some change in your life? It could be a better career, lose weight, gain muscle, better relationship situation, etc. There’s where you are right now, and then there’s where you want to be. To get where you want to go there’s some some obstacle, a bunch of stuff you don’t want to do. It’s probably overwhelming. You may not even know how to approach the problem. Here’s what you do. It’s always the same process.
Take it one step at a time, one day at a time. Most of all, you have to take action. You have to actually DO something. If you’re committed to change, and you’re consistently after the problem, constantly try to learn, evolving, etc., you can fix it. You can do it. And you don’t have to get it all right the first time. In fact, you’ll learn from your mistakes along the journey. I know it’s cliche, but just do it!
You want to change your career? Stop complaining. Stop whining. Enroll in school, enroll in some training program, whatever it is, get in there and do the work. Want to lose weight? Learn about it, get in there, and do it. Just like I did. Just do it. That’s not to say hard work will get you anywhere. You might enroll in some worthless degree program, work hard to get the degree, and it doesn’t do a thing for you but run up a huge bill. You have to be smart about what you’re doing, and have direction, but just do it. I don’t know what else to tell you.
I didn’t want to go to college. I can’t stand classes, grades, or tests. Who likes any of that stuff? I’ve never met anyone who does. But I wanted to be a scientist. So I started that journey back in 2010, and I’m now working on and finishing my PhD thesis. I’m at the end of a crazy-long road. It’s a been a helluva long journey, but now I can lift up that degree and be like, “I did it.” I had to take so many stupid courses that I hated. I had to sit through classes where I learned absolutely nothing. I had to spend so much money, money I didn’t want to spend. But are you willing to do what you have to do?
I’ve met so many people who see the obstacles they’re going to have to overcome and they just give up. Or they won’t try. Or they make excuses. Or they rationalize their way out of the situation, saying they couldn’t do it even if they tried, so what’s the use. They think it’s impossible. “The economy is my problem. It’s society’s fault I can’t get a good job.” Or here’s one I hear, “I can’t lose weight. It’s my genetics. I have a horrible metabolism. Lucky you.” Just whatever, excuses, excuses, excuses. I hate to sound cold, but I get tired of excuses.
Year after year, I see people whose lives never change. They have the same excuses. The same bad patterns of behavior. With some people, I don’t know how to snap them out of it. They’re in some rut they’ve been in so long, they’ve totally given up. And when they’re in that state, their mind sits there and builds up massive defenses, justifying why it’s others faults that they’re there, how they couldn’t change despite their best efforts, and how the world’s holding them down.
Just look at our society today. People would rather rationalize obesity, calling for an entire body positivity movement, instead of just reevaluating what they’re putting into their bodies and considering getting more exercise. They have diabetes, high blood pressure, their knees are in pain, and their back hurts them just to get off the couch and go to the bathroom, but they don’t have a problem. The rest of us just don’t realize that it’s actually a positive situation. In reality, they’re in a destructive, horrible pattern of behavior, and they’ve have chosen to unpack their bags there, set up shop, and try to make life work in the gutter. And you think why? But what can you do? If they don’t want change, you can’t change them. Only they can change themselves; they have to be able to envision some realistic ‘new them’, and get off their rear-ends and do what they need to do.
Some goals aren’t worth pursuing, and there are crazy pipe-dreams which aren’t reasonable, but you can improve your life drastically. Don’t let yourself fall into that situation where you hate aspects of your life but then just say, “Well, nothing I can do about it.” You’d be surprised if you only realized, hey, there’s actually a whole lot I can do to make things better. And that’s all you gotta do. Just makes things a little better each day.
Do something small at first. Just clean up the house. Clean up your bedroom. Then you look around, it’s clean, and it’s like, hey, this is nice. One small victory. Then do some exercise. You lose a tiny amount of weight. Another small victory. Be kind to your wife or husband, tell them you appreciate them, do something nice for them. They’re shocked but are happy about the change. Another small victory. You finally actually enroll in school, or join a gym, or whatever it is. You finish your first workout. Another victory. You do your first homework assignment. Another victory. And you just keep those victories coming. And guess what? Five years from now, ten years from now, those small victories add up to a massive transformation. It happened gradually for you, but to others they’re like, “Wow, what’s happened to you?” Like what happened to me with that woman. Grabbing my big arms and she’s like, “What is this?” She was grabbing lots of small victories over almost three years in the gym.
Who’d have thought I’d be a theoretical physicist, with a PhD, spending my days cranking out the mysteries of the universe, looking jacked, making good money, building better relationships with people everyday. When I was in the dumps after my software adventures took a nose-dive, I didn’t picture this. I had reached a point back then where I was so angry with the world, I just wanted to escape and would play World of Warcraft for the entire day. Nobody who knew me back in the day expected any of this of me. I wasn’t voted most likely to succeed, and nobody who knew me when I was younger thought I was “smart”. But I graduated from one of the top science and engineering schools with a 4.0 GPA, with a PhD in theoretical physics! If I can, so can you. Remember, the people who used to know you are not in control over where you end up.
I guess I haven’t shared with you guys what I do these days. My PhD research is on sending electromagnetic waves through the skull. I want to be able to send signals to and from the brain through the skull, noninvasively. It’s been proven that it can be done, but it requires advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning to modulate the waves just right so they pass through the skull without being absorbed. My dream is to build a helmet that you can put on and be immersed in full VR, like the Matrix movies, or self-induce crazy states into your brain to explore how consciousness works, or even use it for medical applications. When I invent it, and all of you can get one in the comfort of your home, and play video games, or watch fully immersive VR movies, you all can remember that some ordinary guy, living in a rural town in Missouri built that. Maybe I’ll write an entire post about my research sometime soon?