What We Can Learn from the Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda has to be the greatest video game series of all time, right?

If you’ve never played a single Zelda game in your life, allow me to quickly explain: you’re a young boy named Link whose only possession is a wooden sword, and you’re tasked with defeating the evil Gannon and rescuing Princess Zelda. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to relate if you have no clue what I’m talking about.  Just remember this: “a seemingly average kid sets out to become great, rescue the princess, and save the world.”

Think back to that very first game that came out in the 80’s, the one that started it all: the Legend of Zelda for the NES (bonus points if you had the gold cartridge).  Here are some important lessons about getting in shape that we can glean from this 8-bit masterpiece.

Be Wary of Shortcuts

After beating this game a few times, I came to the realization that entire levels can be bypassed! What kind of sucker goes through all of the levels in order when you can just jump ahead and use the shortcut, right!?

Well, I tried my hand at Level 8 with a wooden sword and a few hearts.  I got my ass kicked.

In the Legend of Zelda, all levels exist for a reason: You need to get stronger and build momentum off the early levels to allow you to survive in the later ones.  Sure, it certainly takes a lot longer to go through all the levels in order, but you’ll be far better prepared for battle and have a greater chance of success down the road.

  • If you’re building strength – Don’t be a hero and lift more than you should without learning the proper techniques first.  I spent a few weeks doing squats with just the bar to make sure I was doing them properly, and only then did I start adding weight (5 pounds a week).
  • If you’re losing weight – Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts, despite what you hear on TV and see in advertisements.  No magic pills you can take, no special machine to give you abs, no ‘secret diet’ that gets better results than others.  It’s hard work, healthy eating, and exercise.
  • If you want to run a marathon – Don’t just go sign up for one.  Try running a 5k first and see if you survive, then a 10k, then a half-marathon, and THEN conquer that full marathon (like Tony did this past weekend, congrats Endorphin Dude!).

Burn Every Bush, Bomb Every Wall

Back before the Internet and strategy guides, us kids had to figure out how to beat video games from trial and error. How do you kill that guy?  Turns out you had to shoot him in the eye three times with an arrow.  Did you know there was a secret heart container in a cave if you burned a certain nondescript bush?  How about that secret passageway if you bombed a hole in a specific wall that looked like every other freakin’ wall?

How did we learn about any of this stuff?

Because we TRIED IT OUT!

  • Before you go deciding you don’t like lifting weights, or that you think barefoot running is stupid, or that eating like a cavemen doesn’t make sense, TRY IT.
  • Before you make fun of Ultimate Frisbee, LARPing, or geocaching, TRY IT.
  • Before you tell yourself that it’s too hard or too far or not something you’re interested in, TRY IT.

Sure, you might fail, or you might fall down.  You also might LOVE it and succeed.

Only one way to find out…

Reward Yourself With Things That Can Reward You Back

I love the concept of awards and achievements. I’m not talking about eating a dozen cookies because “hey, I went to the gym!” either.  I’m talking about good rewards that actually help you push harder and live better.

Every time you beat a new level in a Legend of Zelda game, you generally receive a heart container (upping your health meter), a piece of the Triforce (which you need put back together in order to succeed), and a new weapon or item that allows you to advance further.

Add some real life prizes and achievements to your life, but make sure they’re prizes that take you closer to your goals, not farther away:

  • Once you lose 50 pounds, reward yourself with new workout clothes; you’ll feel better about yourself and actually WANT to go to the gym.
  • Once you complete 10 inverted rows for the first time, go buy yourself a pull up bar and work towards 10 of those.
  • Once you’ve completed your first 5k race, treat yourself to a new pair of shoes (or Vibrams) that will allow you to run faster next time.

Momentum is a powerful thing.  Enjoy each victory, celebrate your success, and use that momentum as stepping stone for your next goal.

The Impossible Is Possible

We play video games because they give us a chance to step into a fantasy world, doing impossible things like killing zombies and slaying dragons all from the comfort of our couches.

Put yourself in Link’s shoes for a second: you’re an ten year old kid with a crappy sword, and it’s your job to save the world and rescue a princess from an evil monster.  When I was ten, I played baseball and struggled with long division (that was 4th grade, right?).

So how did this little dude achieve greatness?

By putting one foot in front of the other.

Starting out, the thought of saving the world would be overwhelming to anybody, let alone a kid in a green tunic.  However, rather than concentrating on the big scary goal, Link focused on getting through the smaller ones, beating Level 1, then Level 2, then Level 3, and so on.  With each passing level, his strength and health grew, giving Link enough confidence to attack the next one.

Before all was said and done, this pre-teen from the forest was kicking ass and taking names, swinging the Master Sword and firing silver arrows like nobody’s business!

As Robert Heinlein famously remarked: “Everything is theoretically impossible until it is done.”

One day, I hope to attempt the Ninja Warrior course in Japan. It certainly seems impossible to me right now, but I know I can eventually get there if I take it one step at a time and stay focused.

What seems impossible to you right now? It might be 10 pull ups, losing 200 pounds, climbing a mountain, or completing a triathlon.  Whatever your “impossible” goal is, focus on finding smaller “levels” that you can conquer first.

What’s your “impossible” goal, and what’s one step you’re going to take today to get closer?



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