Musings on Momentum, Boxing and Conquering Adversity

“Every action you take is a vote for the person you wish to become.”

James Clear in Atomic Habits

“Changing your nature is the hardest thing to do. But I discovered you can be who you choose to be.”

George Foreman in By George: The Autobiography of George Foreman

“Nothing you face today will be as hard as what we just did.”

Yours Truly, this morning post-swim.

Waking Up

Last week, my partner voiced a concern that I am being too hard on myself after I related to her my morning.

I had woken up at 5am, after an uncharacteristically short and poor night of sleep.

Under-slept and groggy, I reached for my phone and began writing a message to my friends, who over the course of the last couple of months have assembled to exercise and swim with me at the hairy crack of dawn.

“Shags,” I typed, “I’m going to give this morning a miss…”

The message looked back at me.

I did not like the person being conjured by this message.

A person who, after one bad night of – God forbid! – 6 hours sleep, thinks they can bail on their friends, who are bravely assembling well outside of their comfort zone to do something you have organised.

My partner voices a concern because she cares for me and wants me healthy and happy, bless her heart.

My concern – which I voice firstly for myself and secondly for anyone reading this who also feels that life is dizzyingly short, dazzlingly precious, each minute a gift, and not necessarily guaranteed – is creating momentum behind manifesting a coward, who retreats into the warm folds of his covers, rather than a conqueror, who leaps out of bed and, through the grogginess, smiles and is grateful for the blessing of another day, bounding and laughing over life’s “obstacles”, knowing them to be not problems, but opportunities to build character.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude can give you all the energy you need.

Turning Up

When I first started boxing, there would be days that the last thing I wanted to do was train.

When I first started sparring, I didn’t like it.

My boxing coach offered little comfort by saying I would eventually enjoy getting punched in the face.

If I wasn’t held accountable by a few things – teammates and my sponsorship – I would have probably packed it in, being generally more interested in drinking and smoking at 18 years old.

Through turning up, even when I didn’t want to, I discovered a truism of boxing and life: the days you aren’t ‘feeling it’ produce some of the best training sessions.

There is the in-the-moment tonic effect of physically doing something, getting that cascade of feel-good hormones, charging your mind and body.

Then there is the spiritual effect afterwards: I conquered that session. I conquered myself. I conquered the coward within me who willed the conqueror in me to stop. I am a conqueror.

It got to the point, eventually, where I would look forward to training more when I felt inner resistance, knowing I would feel that much more the conqueror afterwards.

(I had this just yesterday, in fact, turning up to boxing despite feeling tired and grouchy, and was rewarded by five of my youth club attendees turning up to train; beautiful chaos. After the session, as if to doubly emphasise the reality of this truism, I had a message from one of the amateurs my age, saying, “Thanks for pads dude. Keep on doing the good work, you give a lot to the universe.”)

When it comes to working with young people, especially those with tougher upbringings, the communication of this ethic is vital if they are to thrive and flourish rather than becoming just another statistic from a broken home. This is where boxing excels.

When I coach these young people, I relish the moments when their inner struggle starts to show. The arms start to drop, the legs turn to jelly. You can see and hear them dip into untapped reserves of mental and physical energy – where progress is made, from where meaning and magic spring.

“Let’s go!” I shout as their legs sag, keeping their guard true by clapping them with a pad, willing them to do more. Just when they are panting and primed to collapse, I slap them on the back and congratulate them, “You’re a beast/animal/conqueror”.

After voluntarily overcoming enough adversity to earn praise, they lap up the positive reinforcement, which young people without strong support networks desperately crave.

To become a beast, an animal, or a conqueror, that effort needs to be put in.

But if you don’t turn up, or you never start, you never get that chance.


Momentum is real.

Start with something small and sustainable. Progressively add to it.

The initial barriers of the mind and and body can be the hardest to overcome.

The mind is habituated to past behaviours, generating excuses and justifications for continuing with the status quo.

The body is a crystallised product of these past habits; adapted, comfortable, unwilling to change – not without resistance.

Mentally and physically, when you break old habits and build better ones, you adapt; your mind and body become stronger, even if it hurts at first.

You start reaping the feel-good physiological rewards of movement and improvement, of becoming more; refusing to be stagnant, insisting upon living life.

Then your spirit, your innermost self, starts to come alive and thrive and drive you harder toward things you know you should be doing.

Once that innermost self is aflame, you become a self-propelled object, with overflowing energy.

Having focused on and improved your self, you can share your energy and help set other spirits alight.

Setting Spirit Alight

A friend of mine has been rocking and rolling with these early starts of late.

He is at an almost-self-propelled stage of spirit, becoming even more of a force of nature than he already is.

I introduced him to boxing for the first time last week, in public, before going for a cold sea swim.

He works hard and does well, sweat beading on his forehead and chest. As he starts noticeably to tire, we finish up – when people are boxing for the first time, I am always respectful of fatigue (push it too hard, you can scare them off).

“Thanks for that man,” he said to me afterwards, “I would never have dreamt of doing that, sucking at something openly in public.”

Here I was, thinking it was the physical aspect that was most taxing, but it was more the mental. Both were conquered.

For a man once prone to being a recluse, hiding in bed until the afternoon, imagine conquering that, in public, in your bathers, for all to see, and jumping into the sea afterwards.

Strength of mind, fitness of body, and a spirit set alight.

This is what life is about.

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