Photo of Spartan by Kit
Harness the power of identity to adopt a more disciplined lifestyle and overcome life’s challenges. While I choose to create my own personalized workouts, which focus on strength training and short cardio sessions, I found Joseph De Sena’s Spartan Fit! Very inspirational. I have incorporated some of the workout ideas into my training. Spartan Fit teaches you what it means to become a modern day Spartan. You learn how to eat, train, and live a more Spartan lifestyle.
It was fascinating to learn that the Spartans were not always renowned for their discipline and toughness. Sparta was unremarkable from the other Greek city-states; before the Lycurgus Reforms. Lycurgus imposed many reforms that helped create a disciplined, warrior society in which the individual was secondary to the state. Children were raised by their parents until the age of seven, then they were raised and educated by the state in the famed Agoge until the age of seventeen. The role of each man was to win in battle or die in service to Sparta. Unlike the women of other Greek city-states, Spartan women were encouraged to learn, exercise and display bravery, so that they could pass these characteristics onto their children. Producing the next generation of Spartan warriors was a woman’s primary role in Spartan society. The only citizens that earned a headstone in Spartan society were men that fell in battle alongside their comrades and women that died during childbirth.
Arguably one of the most impactful reforms was the creation of common messes in which all Spartan citizens, including the king, would share a common meal. Each member of the mess would contribute food, including any game they had hunted, to the mess. Each new member had to receive the unanimous vote of the mess. Lycurgus’ justification for the creation of the mess was to ‘prevent them from spending time at home, being waited on by confectioners and chefs, fattening up in the dark like gluttonous animals, and ruining themselves physically as well as morally, by giving free rein to every craving of excess.’[i] It sounds like the ancient Spartans had to contend with many of the same temptations that we grapple with today. Plutarch says these messes lined a common road in Sparta. Boys also ate at the mess to learn how to speak and conduct themselves like men. [ii] Everything the Spartans did was organized to create a fearsome fighting force. Spartans were taught to fight as a unit because as a unit they were much stronger. No man should break the ranks. They should fight side by side. The purpose of their shield was to protect their brother beside them, as much as it was to protect them.
His reforms didn’t immediately produce the well trained and disciplined soldiers that would make the famed Battle of Thermopylae possible centuries later, but they are universally credited with creating the system that would eventually produce the elite warriors for which they were renowned. After instituting all his reforms, Lycurgus visited the Oracle at Delphi, who said that by adhering to the laws he had created, Sparta would enjoy a brilliant reputation. Lycurgus made a decision to starve himself to death to inspire his people to adhere to his laws. His sacrifice would not be in vain. His laws would endure for more than 300 years. All the ancients agreed that the Spartan way was best, but few wanted to implement the reforms necessary to adopt the Spartan system.
The Spartans believed that they were direct descendants of Heracles. Identifying themselves as descendants of Heracles would strengthen their belief that they innately possessed superior skill, strength, and toughness than their adversaries. This empowering identity would be used as one more weapon on the battlefield. Identity is powerful. Some of the most powerful words you will ever speak follow the words, “I AM.” What you place after those two simple words will have a huge impact on who you become, and what you invite into your life. Be very careful about what follows those words. Choose those words wisely. Exert control over your thoughts to ward off all the negative influences of your environment so you can choose words that empower you. If you are a former soldier, athlete, or anything else that required physical toughness, you can make your journey easier by reconnecting with that identity. A former soldier, might think of themselves as a retired Spartan, reconnecting to the old disciplines in order to regain their strength and toughness so they can defend their family and be an example to them. So they can be their child’s hero. How you see yourself influences your attitudes, behaviors, and decisions. Small shifts in your thinking can produce profound impacts over time.
How you see yourself can give you that little extra push you need. When I am running, I like to think of myself as a machine. I am just pumping my arms and legs like a machine. I feel no pain, no fatigue, I am a machine. When I begin my day, I have found it helpful to think about the person I need to be in order to get everything done, instead of the tasks themselves. It is a subtle shift in mindset, but it really makes a difference. I see myself as a discipline person, focused on the task at hand, knocking it out as efficiently as possible. Again, I am a machine. I work. I focus. I get it done. Empowering identity and disciplined action lead to massive success.
Discipline pushes us, motivation pulls us, but intentional habits keep moving towards our goals. Change your habits, change your life!
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[i] Joe De Sena, and John Durant, Spartan Fit!: 30 Days. Transform Your Mind. Transform Your Body. Commit to Grit.; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (August 2, 2016).