On cheat days

Bodybuilders adhere to a strict diet in order to make as many muscular gains as possible. However, once every two weeks, many amateur / recreational bodybuilders reward themselves with a cheat day. They can skim a bit on their diet on their cheat day. That’s not to say that they eat an entire package of Oreos, but they might have a more fattening breakfast or dessert, or they might hit the bars with some friends.

However, the best bodybuilders do not use cheat days. In a world where one must take every inch they can get, a world where everything always counts, the hyper-competitive bodybuilding world — there is no room for a cheat day.

A lot of people rationalize laziness via cheat days. Didn’t practice my instrument? It’s okay, I’ll take a cheat day. Got lazy and didn’t go for a run? Cheat day. Didn’t brush my teeth this morning? It’s okay, one day won’t do any damage.

To be clear, vacations are not cheat days. Not everyone is Jiro. Vacations are planned activities. Likewise, emergencies aren’t cheat days. Cheat days are unjustifiable excuses. Cheat days are laziness.

Unfortunately, cheat days become addictive because laziness is the easy way out. Before you know it, one day a week of not studying for your programming interviews becomes two days becomes three days, because you had a long day at work and you’re too hungry to focus and your bed is so comfortable.

There are two ways to combat cheat days. The first is to adhere to a very strict schedule with sheer willpower. This is important for those menial tasks that you don’t want to do but really need to be done: mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, brushing your teeth. It’s incredibly hard to be passionate about doing the laundry, so one must brute force these tasks.

The other way is to be 100% passionate about the activities you are doing.

Paul Graham often writes that start-up founders discover themselves completely immersed in their company. It’s what they think about all day, every day. This makes complete sense; it’s hard not to take pride in your own labor. Start-up founders don’t take cheat days.

Since it’s not as easy to take complete ownership in other areas of life, passion is a must. When I was in high school, I had the lethal combination of the innate desire to learn as much as possible, along with the (very stupid) ambition of getting more 5s on my AP exams than anyone else. I studied for my AP exams every day starting in March. My girlfriend wanted to come over? Cool. We studied together until I felt confident about the material I had reviewed that day.

I knew I was completely passionate about self-pedagogy because I never had an excuse not to study.

Likewise, as my summer internship wraps up, I’m beginning to review my interview fundamentals again. It can sometimes be hard to convince myself to study after an 11-hour work day and a 7-mile bike ride, but I know it’s the right thing to do for me. I can’t and I don’t make excuses not to prepare.

If you find yourself making excuses for cheat days, perhaps you are participating in an activity that is not right for you.