Becoming a superhero
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
– Bill Gates
What if I told you that you can become a superhero? Yes, just like the one from the comics and movies we’ve all come to love since the childhood years.
“The Amazing Spider-Man”. “Batman, the Dark Knight”. Or even a man of steel — Superman. Characters with extraordinary superpowers, fighting the good fight against villains of the night.
I’m here to tell you that you can become one of them. Yes, you, my dear developer. You, who spend a good chunk of the day in front of the monitor.
“But how is this possible?” — you ask me.
“Have you completely lost your mind? Spent a night too much in the debris of a code, perhaps?”. “Obviously, the superpowers are called extraordinary for a good reason — not everyone has them. And the entire concept of superhuman — aside from being a silly fairytale — is definitely about extraordinary specimen; not the real human beings. We just don’t have the superpowers, capabilities of such sort, no matter how much we wish for them”.
You got me there. I think I’ll just have to come straight out and admit that I lied.
You actually won’t become a Superman. Or even a Spider-Man. Sorry. But don’t close this tab just yet, as I do have a point here.
So we can’t have an amazing ability to create spider web in seconds. Or to fly through the skies with the speed of light. Then what is this nonsense I’m talking about?
Something I’ve come to realize over the past few years is that superhuman is hidden in all of us. We just don’t know about it, or don’t care about it, or never try to unleash the potential. When I talk about superhuman, I don’t mean the above-mentioned comics abilities, but physical and mental abilities as compared to an average human being.
“Superhuman hidden in all of us?” — I hear your laugh — “Is this one of those deep, motivational quotes you found on Pinterest?”
The dictionary defines “superhuman” as “having or showing exceptional ability or powers”. Can we achieve exceptional abilities as compared to an average human being? Of course! And guess what. To that same human being, those abilities will come off pretty damn close to superpowers. How is that for a superhero?
The sad state of affairs these days is that an average person is so physically out of shape, that the difference in what we are and what we can achieve is mind-blowing. In programmer circles situation is even worse, since our lifestyle — coupled with our lazy nature — takes its toll; and the gap becomes even wider. A regular computer-facing-on-a-daily-basis person has incredibly low levels of physical strength, endurance, mobility, speed, and work capacity.
There’s no reason for this and it has to stop.
This is certainly easier said than done, so I’d like to share something with you. I’d like to show you my outlook on things, and tell you a couple of ideas that will help unleash those super abilities hidden within you. As weird as it might sound, becoming a better you can actually be fun, and here’s how.
Gaming the system
When I was 12 years old, a friend of mine introduced me to my very first computer game — Baldur’s Gate. A fascinating role-playing adventure, set in a Dungeons & Dragons universe. Just like in any game of such kind, you start with a character. A weak and unskillful, pale version of what you can become. As you travel through the mysterious world full of dangerous monsters, the character “grows”. It becomes a better, stronger, faster version of itself; learning new skills and improving the existing ones. Turning into a superhuman machine — powerful and dangerous to any opposing force on its way.
For some reason, this “character growing” aspect has always fascinated me. Yes, the story is engaging and the fantasy world is amazing on its own. But there’s nothing like reaching that new level, learning a new skill, or becoming a slightly more powerful version of yourself. Even if it’s all happening in a virtual world.
Have you ever felt the same about your game character? Ever caught your heart beating faster when you’ve found new spell in a Skyrim world? Or finally got that Fallout perk?
So here’s the fun part — that character can be you. Few months of proper physical regime gives +1 to your strength. Practice some acrobatics skills — +1 to agility. Engage in long-lasting activity — +1 to endurance.
“You’ve got to be joking!” — you say. “I have a project to finish, and there’s still IE testing to be done. And you want me to start practicing acrobatic skills? I get enough by juggling DOM quirks in my mind. This is seriously the dumbest idea ever.”
Why is it that we’re so good at perfecting virtual things, yet fail so much with our real-life self?
The idea is this: gaming aspect could be a huge motivation. Try treating yourself as a game character and it could do wonders. Don’t care about games? Treat it as a pet project. Just like that library you released few months ago, carefully planning and thinking through the API, adding a thorough documentation, making sure there are unit tests covering all functionality; there’s always new stuff to add, things to improve, polish. The very same principle could be used to make a better you.
Leveling up on steroids
Unlike in games, there’s almost no level cap in real life. Well, technically there is, but it’s so far, it will likely take you years and years to reach it. When I realized this, it shocked the hell out of me; made me feel absolutely empowered. No more reaching maximum level 40 and losing interest in a game from not being able to improve.
We’re talking about life-long leveling up here. And the possibilities for growth are endless.
You can work on strength, speed, power, agility, endurance — you name it. Or all of them at the same time, slowly reaching extraordinary levels in all of them. Now that’s superhuman.
Before you dismiss all this as some silly games, think about health benefits and aesthetic improvements that come along, just in case you happen to care about things like that.
Of course you care about things like that! We all do. Great physique increases confidence and good health makes the rest of your life more enjoyable.
But here’s the cool thing: focusing on performance does wonders for both health and looks. Focusing just on looks or health usually does little for performance. Yes, those two goals are great on their own, but I can’t repeat this enough — if you focus on performance, looks and health will follow.
You get the best of all worlds.
It’s all about starting
As geeks, we possess OCD-like features, which is what probably makes gaming aspect so effective. We’re also smart about what needs to be done. But we’re lazy. So the biggest thing preventing you from becoming a better you is just… starting. Once you start, it really doesn’t take long to see the progress; to feel the “leveling up” aspect. And that’s fun. Instead of new spell you’ll be thinking about new achievement of doing 10 pull-ups. Instead of increasing strength point, you’ll plan for squatting your bodyweight. Instead of speed boost, you’ll aim to run an 8-minute mile.
With all this gaming talk, I just have to bring up Fitocracy — a social network and a tracking tool that brings gaming ideas to the world of fitness.
I’ve been using it for the last 2 years, just for fun, and while my motivation comes from the obsessive head, I can see the kind of boost it gives to hundreds of people on a daily basis.
It’s one of the reasons I know that gaming works. If you’re lacking some motivation, I suggest you give it a try. It might just be that perfect push. And it keeps things fun; points, achievements, badges, levels — it’s all there.
Where to start?
So now that you decided to give it a shot and become a superhero version of yourself (right? right?) Where should you start?
One thing to keep in mind is that fitness world — just like web development one — is often
dark and full of terrors full of misconceptions and ignorant advice. It’s good to take things with a grain of salt, and always use common sense.
There’s few ways to get started: whether it’s bodyweight training or running or sports or weight training — each has its own benefits. I have my own ideas of self-improvement focused around strength, speed, mobility and utilizing both free weight and bodyweight training. But that’s a story for another time.
Two of the best resources I can recommend:
T-nation articles are some of the highest-quality you can find online, although they’re more advanced (don’t pay attention to horrific images used on the site, and occasional advertisement; the content is written by the top coaches in the world and is always legit).
There’s also been few excellent books that reinforce the idea of “less is more” and an “easy”, accessible, non-intimidating physical progress:
- Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline
- Enter The Kettlebell! by Pavel Tsatsouline
- Easy Strength by Pavel Tsatsouline and Dan John
Everything I said above was about becoming a better you. But if you’re asking yourself — “Who is this poor delusional bastard? And why does he think he can become a superhero?” — I owe you a quick explanation.
Ten years ago my physical shape was close to zero. I couldn’t run without getting out of breath, couldn’t do a single pull-up. Just one of those chubby kids who would rather play another game of Warcraft than go outside for some basketball. The kind of physical shape I’m in today would be absolutely superhuman to my 10-years-back self. If I was told back then that I’d be able to squat with 300lbs on my back, run 5km, easily perform 20+ pull-ups, 50+ pushups, or overhead press my bodyweight, I would think I ended up in some kind of professional sport. Or spend hours every day in the lame gym instead of doing more fun things by the computer.
But the truth is that I still spend most of my time by the computer, enjoying the wonderful world of front end. And while I do hit the gym, it’s only 3-4 times a week and not more than 1-1.5 hours each time.
The amazing capabilities of our bodies can be developed to great effect without huge effort or time investment. Just by doing the right thing and “sticking to it”. You’ll be amazed at what becomes possible in few years.
Am I somehow special? Definitely not. Any of you can achieve the same, and likely more, if you only make it part of your routine. Become a superhero for yourself, for your kid or your spouse; become the best version of you.
So join me in this wonderful journey to an ultimate self. And good luck.