Thoughts on Free Will

My friend Chris Sparks says: “When it comes to creating your environment, assume you have free will. When it comes to living in it, assume you have no free will.”

Here’s an example: I lost my love of working out during the pandemic. Before it started, I worked out at a nice, high-energy gym in New York, where I was motivated by committed people with beautiful bodies. The closing of gyms forced me to work out at home. Within weeks, I dreaded my daily workout. 

I thought things would get better when I moved to Austin, where I found a basic local gym. An average person would have called it heaven because it was so empty. Some days, I was the only person there. But my mind and body were disconnected. No matter how much my mind wanted me to be fit, my body couldn’t find the energy to push itself. 

I escaped my slump when I visited Oaxaca, a small town in southern Mexico. I found the most intense gym in town. It was a converted warehouse with squat racks, more machines than I knew what to do with, and larger-than-life photos of bodybuilders on the walls. Everybody I saw was committed to sculpting their bodies into a Greek statue. The energy was intoxicating. In my life, I’ve never seen a higher percentage of people sweating at the gym. Without realizing it, I rediscovered a love for working out that I lost during the pandemic. I read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book: The Education of a Bodybuilder. Now I’m poring through his biography. 

When inhabiting my environment, I assume I don’t have free will. I assume I’m a lazy bum who will copy everybody else around me and follow the path of least resistance. 

But at the same time, I have the free will to design that environment. 

I accept that I’ll never be 100% self-determined. Not even close. I’ll become just like the people I surround myself with. Instead of fighting my nature, I lean into it. Like a glass of cold water that warms up to room temperature when it’s placed on the table, I know that the pull of entropy makes me act like my surroundings. I have a finite amount of drive. Instead of mustering the motivation to push myself on my own, I use my free will to architect environments where I can accomplish my goals by being in sync with my surroundings.

Cover Photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash