Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? While the rabbit indulges in every distraction short of partying in Vegas, the turtle consistently plods along, and ultimately wins the race.
The moral is clear: be a tortoise. Whether you’re trying to change your body, break an addiction, show up better for your family, or, in Nick Bethke’s case, all three, slow and steady is the way to go. When Bethke, 33, a design engineer in St. Paul, MN, took on the Onnit 6 Challenge, it seemed to him like he was moving too slowly to succeed. But, with the help of Onnit’s private Facebook support group—the Onnit Tribe—Bethke learned that the real prize is progress, at whatever rate it moves.
Bethke spoke to us about how the Tribe and the Challenge helped him find perspective, and achieve the kind of results you just can’t rush.
Onnit: You were pretty ripped before you found the Onnit 6 Challenge. Why did you feel you needed our help?
Nick Bethke: I’ve been fairly active in the gym since college. A lot of my friends were very athletic in middle school and high school… I was not. But the weight room became one way I could stay in touch with them. Working out became my release valve for stress, and it has been ever since. I’ve always been a very goal-oriented person, in the gym and elsewhere, but when you have kids, you tend to give up on your goals and hobbies as your personal time shrinks.
At the beginning of this year, my wife had our third kid. Because I didn’t have a lot of time to train, I wasn’t really thinking about goals with my training, and without goals, my motivation to train at all was falling by the wayside. I was trying to stay in the gym, but I was having a hard time defining my fitness goals and surrounding myself with people who saw fitness as valuable. Many people in my personal life did not see fitness and eating properly as a significant part of being a better parent, or a better person.
I had heard of Onnit from Joe Rogan’s podcast, and [Onnit founder] Aubrey Marcus’ social media, and I saw an ad for the Onnit 6 Challenge back in January. But at that point, I liked the problem-solving challenge of figuring out my own workouts. Doing a fitness challenge hosted by someone else felt like cheating to me—I wanted to do it all myself. So I continued to struggle for another six months, until I saw that another Onnit 6 Challenge was coming up. My birthday was around the same time, so, in June, I asked my wife to buy me the Onnit 6 Kettlebell program as a gift, and then I signed up for the Challenge.
What goals did you set for yourself in the Challenge?
The funny thing is most of my goals were not fitness-related. I had four goals in all. I wanted to finish the whole program without fail, doing everything it asked of me. But I also wanted to quit chewing tobacco, be a better supporter of my wife, and connect with my kids.
Like I said, my wife had just had our third kid, and she was having a hard time getting her body back in shape. She had some body image issues, and I wanted to figure out ways to help her. And as far as my kids go, I just wanted to work on being a better dad. I have two sons—ages five and one—and a daughter who’s three. I wanted to find out more about what they’re interested in and get them involved in more things.
You said one of your goals was to quit chewing tobacco, which is notoriously addictive. Had you tried to quit before?
Yes. I’m from North Dakota, and chewing is a super common thing when you come from a rural background and hang out with farmers. Chewing is what you do. I started when I was 15. Apart from the gym, that’s how I dealt with stress and managed things. I was heavily addicted to nicotine.
At the height of it, within the last year, having two cans of chew every day for days at a time was not out of the norm. In the morning, I’d brush my teeth, have a chew, and from then on in the day, if I wasn’t eating, I was chewing.
I had tried everything to quit, and nothing worked. I tried setting goals with rewards, like, “If I can go two weeks without chewing, I’ll let myself do this fun thing…” I tried the nicotine gum and the patches. I had heard it was easier to quit smoking than chewing, so I was like, “I’ll just replace chew with cigarettes…” But it wasn’t long till I was smoking with a chew in my mouth and a patch on my arm! Then I thought, “OK, this seems like it’s going in the wrong direction.”
I even got a tattoo on the inside of my lip, only because I thought I wouldn’t chew during the healing process, and that that would lead to quitting. But I just ended up chewing with an open wound in my mouth that let the nicotine into my system that much faster.
Participants in the O6 Challenges often use the Onnit Tribe for support. What were your first impressions of the Tribe?
I’m very introverted, especially on social media. If I want to tell something to someone, I’ll just call them—I don’t need to tell everybody in my life what I’m doing. So when I joined the Tribe, I was hesitant at first to share anything. But I told myself that if I was going to do this Challenge, I was going to go all in on it, and that I would do it how Onnit suggests to.
I started by just posting my goals for the Challenge every Monday, and letting the Tribe keep me accountable. But it blew up into much more than I expected. I went into it thinking Onnit 6 was just a fitness contest, and that people would only be talking about the workouts. I also thought that this forum could just be another Twitter, with the same kind of trolling and negativity. But it didn’t take me long to find that the Tribe offered a level of support that I didn’t know could exist on social media.
The members talked about much more than fitness. Once they found out I had kids and I was trying to be a better dad, I got dozens of messages saying “Me too,” “I have kids the same age as yours…” It turned out I had a lot more in common with these people than I thought, and that shocked me. I suddenly had people cheering me on that I had never even met before. People who only knew I existed for the past two weeks! And they were honestly interested in how I was doing. I thought, “This is bananas.”
After two weeks, I was posting every morning, starting each day by checking in with the Tribe.
How did the Tribe help you work toward the goals you set?
The Tribe offers a lot of encouragement and helps you put things into perspective. I’m a perfectionist, so if I’m not doing something well, I tend to want to not do it at all.
After 15-plus years of chewing, those first few weeks were BUM-PY! I cut down on my use, but I was still chewing. I’d have really good days where I didn’t chew at all, and others where I’d have just one can. Even though I was doing better, my thought process was, “You wanted to quit, and you haven’t quit, so why are you even trying if you’re not going to quit.”
There were a lot of people in the Tribe who had been through the same thing, and they told me to give myself some space. They said things like, “See the progress you’re making, even if it’s tiny progress.” That helped me get over the all-or-nothing attitude. The Tribe was a constant voice, outside of the one in my own mind, saying that you’re doing good—you’re trying. “You had one can of chew, but instead of it lasting one day, it lasted you a day and a half. Just keep going. Get 1% better every day.”
With my kids, the Tribe encouraged me to sign my oldest up for jiu-jitsu, and reminded me that if he likes it, awesome, and if not, we can find something else for him. I realized that my just being involved with him more is a huge win. The Tribe showed me that trying your best, in everything, is just as important as succeeding.
And as far as my wife goes, there are a lot of women and moms in the Tribe, and they gave me a lot of great feedback on how to help her. I’d tell them about something that was going on with my wife, and they’d answer very politely, like a friend would do, every time. They told me to give her space, try this or that… it was extremely helpful.
The Tribe really helped me to understand the timeline of a woman coming back from pregnancy, and how important it is to be patient about that process. As a man, I don’t understand what the trauma to the body is like having a child. How long it takes to come back. No matter how hard I try to understand what it’s like being in her position, I’m never going to be able to fully relate to it, and that’s OK. I learned to give her time.
Did you get back on track with your own fitness goals?
Yes. The warmups and cooldowns in the program alone did more to keep me in the gym than anything else. I had been approaching my workouts up to that point like the 21 year-old I once was, but I had 10 more years of wear and stress on my knees and back, and I had to get smarter about my training. The structure of the warmups and cooldowns, the yoga and active recovery days, they really straightened me out.
I saw performance gains too. My resting heart rate was pretty low going into the program, around 45 beats per minute. But after six weeks, it got down to 40. My HRV [a measure of recovery] was much better too.
I started the program using 35-pound kettlebells, and I was using the 50s by the end. They selected me as a semi-finalist at the end of the Challenge.
That Challenge ended in July. How have you been doing since then?
My success inspired my wife to do the Onnit 6 Bodyweight program. She said, “You’re doing too good for me to not try this myself.” And I hopped right back on the Onnit 6 train by doing the Steel Mace program.
The workouts have really helped me be a better father. Just being able to be in the gym and make the most of that time has helped me be more patient and present with my kids when we are together. And I can see that they’re starting to learn about fitness and appreciate it through me. My daughter is only three, but she knows what a kettlebell swing is. In this country, these days, I think that’s so important—to be raising kids who appreciate fitness.
Quitting tobacco is still a fight for me every day. I’m doing leaps and bounds better than I was, but I haven’t quit yet.
You mentioned earlier that you had a lot of people in your life who didn’t support your quitting, and didn’t understand the whole fitness thing. Are those people still in your life?
Yes, but I’ve learned how to deal with them through the new people I’ve met in the Tribe. There’s such a large spectrum of people in the Tribe, and everyone has a different opinion about how to deal with people who aren’t supportive. You get all this great feedback, hearing how the members solved those problems in their own lives. I’ve learned that it’s OK to tell people I’m not going to drink, so don’t hand me one, and I’m not going to chew, so get that can away from me.
Any message you want to close out with?
For anyone reading this, know that no matter who you are, you can find a spot to fit into the Tribe. There’s space for everyone in there, no matter what you’re going through.