An 8-Bit Kick in the Ass

mega man running

Mega Man is going to blow your mind today.  

Well, him and dozens of his side-scrolling friends.

Last week, a friend of mine emailed me a link to a video that instantly made my day and almost brought me to tears (seriously).  If you’ve ever played an old school NES game, or grew up with a Sega or Super Nintendo, this video will take you on a nostalgic adventure down memory lane.

On top of that, if you’re anything like me, it’ll inspire the HELL out of ya.  

Now, if you’ve been reading Nerd Fitness for a while, you’ll understand my obsession with drawing thought-provoking life lessons from the most random of places (Underpants Gnomes, Shawshank Redemption, and Mike Tyson’s Punchout!! to name a few).

Today, we’re going to learn how to level up our lives from 8-bit video game characters.


If this isn’t the best 2.5 minutes of your day, you’re lying.  Make sure you watch it at least once, but preferably 10-250 times.

I’ll wait.


Great! Time to get educated by Mario and company.


Old school games ruled because they were deceptively simple.

A directional pad and two buttons.  Only one direction to run – right!

Take somebody with ZERO videogame experience, give him an NES controller, and put him on Level 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. – within a nanosecond he’ll start walking right, jump on a Goomba, pound the ? block, etc.

Now, hand that same person an Xbox controller and drop him in the middle of a Halo:Reach 16-player battle without any explanation, and they’ll probably tell you “this is stupid, I have no clue what I’m doing, I don’t want to play.”

I realize this makes me sound like a crotchety old grampa, but games will simpler back then!  Two buttons.  Two dimensions.  One direction to walk.  Up hill, in the snow, both ways, buck naked.

Wait, what?

Anyways, anybody with half a brain can figure out how to play a side-scrolling game very quickly.  No instruction necessary – just figure it out as you go along!

What does this have to do with real life?

Have you ever been had so many options that you instead decided to do absolutely nothing?  We call this “paralysis by analysis,” and it happens to the best of us.  Yeah, even Chuck Norris.  (Kidding, Chuck…please don’t hurt me!)

I can’t tell you how many emails I get from terrified people who ask “should I do 3 sets of 8 or 4 sets of 7 or 5 sets of 5?” or “is 2200 calories too many or should it be 2100?” or “if I do these 7 ab exercises will I get abs?” or “I eat 185 grams of protein but should it be 180 and how many ounces of water specifically and is four slices of apple enough or should it be five?”

These people drive themselves absolutely insane by wondering about every tiny little detail; they fail to see the importance of just simplifying everything and getting started!  They want to collect piles and piles of underpants because Phase 2 scares the crap out of them (inappropriate pun definitely intended, unfortunately).

Make your life 8-bit.  Stop playing Halo and start playing Mario – simplify!  Stop worrying about the small stuff, stop adding confusing plans and complex workouts and convoluted diet solutions to your problems.  KEEP IT FREAKING SIMPLE:

  • You don’t need a gym and a trainer and fancy equipment.  A simple playground will do.
  • Want to strength train?  Squats, Deadlifts, Overhead Presses, Push ups, Pull Ups, and Dips. That’s it.  No tricep extensions, no cable bicep curls, no calf raises, no ab-rollers.  Build an entire routine out of these few exercises, combine it with proper eating, and get ridiculous results – it’s how the Barbell Battalion operates in the Rebel Strength Guide.  Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s not effective or fun – ask Mario.
  • Want to lose weight?  Start eating right!  Don’t worry about diet pills, protein shakes, timed meals, exact portions, or any of that nonsense.  Learn to start eating real food!  The less steps your food had to go through to get from nature to your stomach, the healthier it probably is for you.
  • Want to change your job/start a business/get out of debt?  Think in two dimensions!  Decide how you can simplify the process down into just the key steps.  Forget everything else, and get started on the simple stuff that will produce the greatest results.

One step at a time

Kirby's Dreamland

When you play through Super Mario Bros the very first time, are you expected to beat Bowser right away?

Eff no, you’d get your butt kicked!

When you play Legend of Zelda, you’re handed a wooden sword and shield – are you supposed to march straight into Death Mountain and defeat Gannon?

Of course not, little Link would pee his pants if he had to do that!

Fortunately for these characters (and those of us that control said characters), video games are broken into different levels that increase in difficulty as you progress.

  • You don’t need to worry about the final level or last boss, all you have to focus on is the NEXT level and the NEXT boss.
  • You don’t need to worry about the massive gap at the end of the level you’re supposed to clear, just the NEXT gap.
  • You don’t need to worry about Dr. Wily yet, just get through BubbleMan, and then Air Man, and so on…

One level at a time, one step at a time.

Make your life 8-bit – If you’re trying to lose 200 pounds, your goal probably seems impossible.  So how do you do it?  One pound at a time.  One meal at a time.  One workout at a time.  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  Just focus on being better today than you were yesterday.

Stop worrying about the grand picture if that scares the crap out of you, and just focus on what you can change today.  As we’ve learned from Optimus Prime, a bunch of tiny changes, when combined in the proper order, can result in big transformations (see what I did there?).

Take it easy!  Focus on moving towards the flag/goal/end.  Focus on the next jump.  Focus on the next obstacle.  Hell focus on just putting one foot in front of the other.  Do this repeatedly and eventually you find yourself, completely leveled up, ready for a boss battle of epic proportions.

Suck less each time.

Super Ghouls'n Ghosts

You know what I loved about old school video games?

They were mercilessly difficult.

Dying a ridiculous number of times trying to clear a level, cross a particularly huge gap, and/or defeat a boss happened dozens of times in most games.   However, they were as well designed as they were difficult (the good ones, anyway): if you died, it was because your hand slipped, or you jumped half a second early or late, or you timed running past the lasers incorrectly.

You could scream and yell, blame the controller, blame the pizza grease on your finger that slipped on the A button, or blame the bad guy who inexplicably changed his pattern (he didn’t, by the way), knowing full well that when you died it was because you sucked.

When the screen says “CONTINUE?” you jump right back into the fray and try to suck a little bit less than before.

Life is no different.

When trying to acquire a new skill, you are going to suck…and you are going to suck a lot.  You are going to fail, and you are going to fail a lot.  Fortunately for you, the only thing that’s separating you and total victory is YOU.  Unfortunately this means that blaming outside sources for what’s gone wrong is a tremendous waste of time, energy, and resources.

If you’ve tried to lose weight in the past and failed, does this sound familiar?

  • “I was doing well until the holidays came around!”
  • “I lost a bunch of weight, but then got sick and couldn’t exercise and now I’m back at square one.”
  • “I was kicking but until work got busy and I had to stop.  When things slow down…”

As my buddy Tyler will tell you, “nobody believes your excuses except for you.”


This game of Life is freaking hard – nobody gets out alive.

Make your life 8-bit:   You might try and get in shape and fail a few (dozen) times before you succeed – you might have some success losing weight before putting it all back on!  That’s life, and it doesn’t make you a failure, or a bad person, or a lazy bum.

Those things are only true if you continue to “blame the controller” or keep trying to beat the same level in the exact same way that resulted in your “death” on the last time through.  

Your goal is to suck less each time.

We play videogames because of the tremendous amount of satisfaction we get from sucking a little bit less each time and getting a little bit further.  It’s fun to fail in different ways, trying different paths and strategies and tactics until we finally discover the perfect combination of buttons that allow us to cross the finish line.

Getting in shape is NO DIFFERENT – if you sucked at getting healthy last time, learn from it and TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT.  If you tried to count calories and starve yourself while running on a treadmill to get in shape and failed miserably, then attempting to get in shape the same way this time is the video game equivalent of running into that first Goomba in Mario and expecting the result to somehow be different.

Write down what you did last time and identify why it didn’t work for you. And then move onto the next option and track that one too.  Repeat as necessary.

Go right

Super Mario flying in SMW

Videogames can be brutally tough, but damn they’re fun.  

They test you, challenge you, frustrate you, and then have the audacity to dare you to try again.

And you do.

Every time you miss a gap, get clipped by a bullet, or accidentally jump half a nanosecond too soon, you scream every four-letter expletive you can think of before picking up the control and saying “THIS is the time.”

Start looking at your life in two dimensions.  You’ll face challenges that you probably don’t have a solution for quite yet.  You will get stuck on the same part of a “level” for days and weeks at a time.  You will set goals that make you think “I’m being incredibly unrealistic with this.”

Stop worrying about the next level.  Don’t worry about that final jump.  Who cares if you’ve “died” a million times?  Try again.  Try differently.  Try smarter.

Hit continue.  

Go right.



PS – Yeah,  after seeing “Go Right” I realized that I DEFINITELY ran the wrong way in my video.  Sigh.

The Last Fitness Program You’ll Ever Need

Workouts, nutrition guidance, and habit-building. Never wonder where you should put your limited time, energy, and effort.

Get our FREE Starter Kit with dozens of resources today!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.