Boot Camp? Really?

United States Army Basic Combat Training (“boot camp”) is a program with one purpose: to create soldiers. Soldiers for war.

The entire purpose of a war is to kill. The entire role of a solider is to kill.

Every system in boot camp is designed to turn ordinary United States citizens into killers. Efficient killers.

The schedules, the terminology, the clothing, the psychological games—the entire culture facilitates this transformation. It’s all designed to take a person with no innate desire to hurt anyone and turn him/her into a killing machine.

That’s a fact. Like it or don’t like it, it’s a fact. Boot camp is killing training. Let that really sink in.

Photo 137--Soldier Shooting a Gun

So here’s my question for the wellness professionals who run boot camps:

Is the ethos used to create efficient killers, the same ethos you want to use to help people feel great and live live long, happy, healthy lives? Really think about that.

How’d we get here? Who thought the attitude of boot camp was just right for helping people live with greater vitality, fitness, and wellness? Does the same mindset used to turn people into killers serve well as the mindset to help people live happier, healthier lives? Really, how’d we get here?

Imagine a few wellness professionals sitting in a park on a beautiful day drinking smoothies discussing how they could help more people. Perhaps they were (justifiably) burdened by the increasing rate of lifestyle disease in our society and wondering “What can we do about this?” Did one of them have an aha moment and say, “I’ve got it: boot camp!”

Is that really your best idea? I’m not a rocket surgeon, but I can’t think of too many things counter to wellness than mass killing. I also can’t think of a less-productive relationship between a wellness professional and a client than the kind of abusive and manipulative relationship between a drill sergeant and a recruit. But maybe that’s just me.

To me, words matter. The words we use affect how we think. When you go to boot camp, you’re expecting to be “whipped into shape”. You’re expecting a drill-sargeant-like figure to yell at you and insult you. Yelling and insulting, you’ve been taught, is what it takes for you to exercise and be well. This is based on the erroneous belief that your natural inclination is to sit on the couch all day and destroy yourself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Watch young children. It takes a drill sergeant to get them to sit still. Our natural inclination is to move. As soon as we can crawl, we love to move. This, again, is a fact. You can witness this in any home with young children.

So I say keep your whip. I’ll move around because I like it. In fact, I love it and always have. And really, how long do you think I’m going to put up with this yelling and whipping.

You see, free people like to make choices for themselves. You can force some people to do some things for some period of time, but never indefinitely. They’ll inevitably resist at some point. This is why the main portion of United States Army Basic Combat Training lasts only 10 weeks. It’s not sustainable for any longer than that. And that’s a big problem in exercise programs: sustainability. People start and stop exercise programs all the time. We need to teach people approaches to exercise they’ll do for the rest of their lives.

Boot camp also reeks of co-dependence. I come to you because I can’t get myself to exercise on my own. You make me exercise. But what happens when you’re not there? You’ve now made it even harder for me to exercise of my own volition. I need you to get myself to exercise. That’s co-dependence.

Here’s a different approach:

  1. Understand that people inherently love movement. Sure, if a person hasn’t exercised in years, they have some momentum working against them. But I haven’t met a client yet, that once they start to overcome this momentum, doesn’t start to tell me they look forward to exercise. Those who continue long enough all get back to the inherent love of movement they had as kids.
  2. Create cultures that foster sustainable exercise. Do this by treating exercise as fun and pleasurable and something to be done in moderation, not too little and not too much. Consistent movement throughout our lives keeps us well. Everything you can do to minimize starting-and-stopping and foster consistency is huge step in the right direction.

My sense is most people who run boot camps have good intentions. My sense is most are kind people. My sense is most aren’t abusive and manipulative like drill sergeants. But words matter. We can name our wellness programs with more inspiring, life-giving names associated with life giving, certainly not like taking away.



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