Is constant connectivity chipping away at your humanity?
Tuesday, December 12 2017
Is constant connectivity chipping away at your humanity? Boxing may be a good way to get it back
"Rhythm is everything in boxing. Every move you make starts with your heart, and that's in rhythm or you're in trouble." —Sugar Ray Robinson
In January of 2008, I was stuck.
I was an analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York City. As advertised, the Wall Street culture was demanding. Although I loved the people I worked with and gleaned invaluable experience — I’d equate it to 4 years of drinking out of an information firehose — I rarely got home before 11 p.m. By then, I was too exhausted to do anything else besides sleep. I began to feel like a robot.
This work-related fatigue is common in the finance sector, but isn’t unique to it: a 2017 survey conducted by Kronos and Future Workplace found that 46% of HR professionals blamed burnout for up to half their staff quitting each year. A major cause of burnout is the obliterated boundary between work and life, as 24/7 connectivity and a society used to instant gratification has led to unfair expectations. Many knowledge workers are expected to handle business matters at any time or place, whether it be at a friend’s birthday party, their kid’s baseball game, or on a date night with their significant other. Thanks to an onslaught of evening Slack alerts and weekend emails, the opportunities to disconnect are getting increasingly rare.
Back to me, and my slow, sleep-deprived descent into robothood. One night during that cold, lonely January in New York, after my third day in a row operating in a fog, I noticed a flyer in the boxing gym I sometimes went to. It advertised a charity event, where white-collar workers would train for a real, live amateur boxing match. Then, they’d duke it out, under the lights and in front of an audience. Right then, I said “screw it,” and signed up. It sounded crazy at the time, but here’s why I did it: It provided me a set goal and a set amount of time to do it in, a dive into the deep end, a more structured (and less anarchic) version of the rush the main characters in Fight Club got. I’d start to feel alive, I thought. Human. The best part? It wasn’t in a basement, there wasn’t any property damage, and it all took place under the watchful eye of trained professionals.
I’d hit the Goldman Sachs gym at 5 a.m., and also sneak out of work in the evening for a bit to hit the Trinity Boxing Club (which was near the office). Because I had committed to the fight — and knew I was going to get punched in the face in three months — I didn’t skip any days. It’s quite the motivation, knowing you’re going to be punched by another full-grown person. The training itself was slow goings at first. I had no footwork to speak of, and everything, from throwing hooks to slipping punches, had to be learned from scratch.The idea of training in a boxing gym was also intimidating. I was around professional fighters and decorated amateurs.
Soon, however, my days began to hum, and I found a cadence in the ritual of wrapping my hands and jumping rope that began to drown out the noise from work. I was learning a new craft — boxing, the sweet science — and it started to get into my blood. The thwap thwap thwap of the heavy bags, the smell of the gym, and the sounds of conversation began to blend into my days, injecting them with life. I was making new friends, too: fighters, trainers, other white-collar workers like me training for charity events. Slowly, I was building bonds with people, the types of unique connections that can only happen when you’re training next to one another, pushing yourselves and releasing endorphins in service of a common goal.
After training for three months, I got up in front of a packed house of nearly 600 people, under the lights. I never felt more naked in my life. The fight itself was a blur, a haze of gloves and headgear and crowd noise, but this much I can tell you: I won my fight. Winning, however, was almost inconsequential: I’d put myself out there. I’d signed on for a fight, trained my butt off, and showed up. I had been terrified, but I still did it. I was alive.
If you’re suffering from burnout, are dealing with stressful life events, lack a sense of community — or if you just need a new challenge — there are a number of great ways to battle those feelings back. Yoga, mindfulness training, and SoulCycle are just a few that come to mind. But if mindfulness training is the warm, soothing green tea to getting you back in touch with yourself, boxing is the turbocharged, espresso-powered counterpart for Type A personalities. Here are the ways pugilism can help you do a hard reset, and glean a better perspective of who you are.
You will be put back into your own body, immediately. Being in the ring feels like being naked: you are under the lights and stripped of excuses. You have no choice but to be completely present in the moment. If you’re thinking too much, there are consequences (like, say, getting caught with a left hook to the ribs). The external stimuli being thrown at you forces you to be present with yourself and to reach a flow state. It reacquaints you with what makes you human.
And on a less intense level, when your trainer is holding up pads and telling you what punches to throw, it forces you into a sort of reactionary state, kickstarting the neurons that connect your brain to your body. Your trainer will teach you to jab, and then to throw a cross, and then a hook, and before you know it you’re playing a very involved game of Bop-It: your trainer will be calling out for certain punches, and your brain-body connection will go into high gear. You’re training your reaction time, your physicality, and your neuroplasticity all at once.
The gains at work and in your personal life can be almost immediate. Boxing allows you to disconnect in a way that will provide fresh outlooks on your work in personal life. Sometimes, the daily stressors and shallow tasks we need to complete to keep the traffic in our lives moving — attending meetings, spending hours clearing out our inboxes, even taking too long to figure out what we want to order from GrubHub — can begin to clutter our decision-making, and distract us from larger, big picture things that will actually lead to us taking big steps forward at work and at home. Disconnecting is necessary, and boxing provides that. After a particularly hard sparring session, you may be surprised at number of times you have a breakthrough idea, simply because you’ve allowed yourself to completely untether from things.
Growth is achieved through being uncomfortable. You’ve heard it time and time again: run towards what makes you uncomfortable. But oftentimes, what makes us uncomfortable can be a vague, amorphous blob. However, I can tell you from personal experience that the idea of a fight — a confrontation boiled down to its most primal essence — makes people plenty uncomfortable. But through boxing, you begin to remove some of the air of mystery around fighting and conflict, which can provide some really nice psychological benefits. You’ll feel more at-ease in yourself: more at-ease in meetings, more at-ease when you walk down the street. You will have a better idea of how to handle yourself, and operating from this place of security can improve your daily decision-making.
I didn’t become a world-class brawler by going to a boxing gym for six weeks, but I got a newfound confidence, one that wasn’t based on my ego and the need to answer emails constantly or be attached to screens. The key, in the end, was that I became more confident while also becoming more humble, and this can be a devastatingly effective way to become a better creator, leader, spouse, or, eventually, a parent. I saw a see a better version of myself, and I allowed that better version to take the wheel.
Andrew Myerson is the co-founder of Haymakers for Hope, an official 501(c)(3) charity organization that gives everyday men and women the chance to train — and then fight — in a real live boxing match against an opponent of a similar weight and skill level. Participants help raise money to fight cancer.