Surviving vs. Thriving

This month, I’m very excited to feature the following guest post by Preston Sprimont on KineSophy. Preston is a former teacher and a book nerd turned fitness nerd (and still book nerd). He is currently pursuing his Master’s in Kinesiology and spends his time coaching, writing, studying, and training to compete in Olympic weightlifting. His blog, Heart, Mind, and Swole, explores various aspects of training and how the pursuit of physical fitness connects to a lifelong journey of self-improvement. In the future, he plans to get involved in Kinesiology research and to continue to work with athletes of all calibers to help them reach their goals. The following article “Surviving vs. Thriving” offers a great preview of what he offers on Heart, Mind, and Swole.

A quick look at what’s on our food labels, at what a visit with a medical professional generally entails, or at public standards of “health” reveals something troubling: the way the general public seems to think about and measure health and wellness is overwhelmingly based on mere survival.

Our food labels tell us (often somewhat erroneously) about how much of a particular nutrient we should consume in a day to not take a step closer to the grave. Visits to medical professionals are usually based around something like, “Doc, I can’t feel my left leg anymore,” or “Doc, I’m in excruciating pain most hours of the day and I can’t bend over to pick up my kid,” or “Doc, I haven’t pooped in two weeks and my gut feels like it has a school of hungry piranhas tearing my bits apart.” Most people don’t seek out a medical professional or pursue self-education and improvement when they have trouble falling asleep at night, when they feel low on energy and their performance in the gym or at work is declining, or when they have unexplained aches and pains in half of their joints, because all of this is considered “normal.” So many of us don’t even think about the fact that we are in a dismal state, dragging day-to-day, until our bodies start sending us really loud and clear signals saying, “Hey, we’re starting to die here! A little help?”

It’s good to survive, of course—no argument there. But should that be our standard? Should we all be leading our lives with “not dying today” as our primary goal? That’s like saying that pulling a solid D- in Pre-Algebra is good, or that having your kids grow up to only be petty thieves and not serial killers qualifies as good parenting—it means you probably managed to show up some of the time, and that’s about it. The human body and mind have such enormous potential, yet most of what the public qualifies as acceptable and normal equates to “not dead yet.”

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

~Maya Angelou

I’m of course not arguing that we all ought to live our lives like Olympic athletes—that sort of lifestyle, while it does embody pursuing the limits of human potential (or at least human athletic potential) to the fullest, requires immense sacrifice in other parts of life, and is often not ideal for longevity. Rather, I’m proposing that our standards ought to be based in thriving, not just surviving. We ought to seek pleasure and accomplishment in our existence. Instead of settling for not quite dying today or tomorrow, we should establish feeling alert and energized every morning, thinking clearly, performing well, sleeping easily, and improving consistently as our standards of living.

It is ironic also that a lifestyle with mere survival set as the standard often falls short of its own goal. Modern lifestyles focused on survival essentially ask the question “what is the least amount I can invest in myself and still manage to drag my tired ass out of bed tomorrow morning?” It should be no surprise that doing the bare minimum does not lend itself to longevity or health. Sure, modern medicine can keep us (more or less) alive for longer than ever before; but spending the last decade of life as a semi-conscious and physically incapacitated sack of meat being kept alive by various machines is about the farthest we can get from thriving, and barely even hits the survival mark.

So what is thriving? What does it look like?

Thriving is an exploration and pursuit of what the body and mind are capable of. It is embracing human existence and seeing what we can achieve. It is constantly seeking self-improvement.

Sometimes thriving takes work, and sometimes it is pure, unadulterated pleasure. But thriving is always satisfying and rewarding. Many of the details of thriving are rather intuitive. We know, deep down, that our bodies crave movement, crave fresh food, crave having fun and being outdoors, crave human relationships, crave mental challenges, and crave rest and relaxation.

Surviving vs. Thriving

Thriving is a conscious and intentional pursuit. It is a decision that we can make for ourselves and it embodies a lifestyle. Surviving can happen by accident; thriving cannot. Thriving requires a commitment to and a grabbing hold of your life, and it takes effort and discipline. But ultimately, the rewards far outweigh the effort, and often the “effort” that goes into thriving is itself pleasurable. Eating fresh, homemade food, getting quality sleep for 8-9 hours per night, leading an active lifestyle, enjoying time with loved ones, reading good books, and taking time off from work to de-stress and get away from the hustle and bustle don’t sound like tortuous efforts to me. And yet these simple changes can have profound effects on how we live, and can be the difference between thriving and just surviving. So, what’ll it be?

In Heart, Mind, and Swole I explore the pursuit of strength and fitness in the gym and how it connects to self-improvement and growth in all aspects of life.

Follow me on Twitter @PSprimont and on Instagram @PSprimont.

Stay swole.