Thursday, May 23, 2019

Crystal Balls Do Not Exist

When I was in college, I had a professor with a background in play acting who liked to tell us:
If you want to make it to the high levels in this industry, you can't just show up every day. You have to show up.  Every day.
In his mind, there was a difference between showing up and showing up. Showing up is just walking through the door and existing in your office, punching the time card. Showing up is actually being there, putting on the best show you've got in you - as in, showing up the competition.

Put a pin in that.

A long time ago I watched a show (which Google tells me is called Sports Night), and there was a line in an episode that stuck with me because of what my professor said.
Casey: Technically, I have a plan.
Dan: What's the plan?
Casey: It's Napoleon's plan.
Dan: Who's Napoleon?
Casey: A 19th century French emperor.
Dan: You crackin' wise with me now?
Casey: He had a two-part plan.
Dan: What was it?
Casey: First we show up, then we see what happens.
At the time, I thought this combination was profound and I still sort of do. Just more in a quiet, respectful nod sort of way and less in a scribbling this on my trapper-keeper sort of way.

The actual quote attributed to Napoleon, as it turns out, is even better - On s'engage, et alors on voit. "We commit ourselves, and then we see."

Fitness forums are under a constant deluge of questions like this, from people who need the Wisdom of Napoleon.
  • I made a bet with my friend that I could bench 225 before the end of the year. Can I do it?
  • How much muscle would I gain if I did AwesomeGrasshopper's PAPAUALAPALAAA routine? (The A stands for Abs)
  • How quickly can I get abs if I do Wrathlete-X's $300 Ab Massacre routine?
  • What would happen if I took Arnold's Basic Blueprint and did 5/3/1 percentages for half the lifts, GZCLP for a quarter of the lifts, Conjugate for the remaining quarter of the lifts, and then also added Brian Alsruhe's conditioning on top of it?
  • Will it be effective if I add pull ups every other day?
  • Can I look like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys if I fast for four days a week and do keto the other three?
There are two answers to these questions, and they are the same for every one of them. The first is "Try it and find out". The second is "Fuck you".

MythicalStrength is fond of saying that most questions about training are really just asking for permission. I think it goes beyond that - I think they want to be able to say that someone else is responsible if they fail. If they fail, they don't want it to be "I made the decision to do this, and it was not a good decision", they want it to be "I got bad advice". (That's why Answer #2 is "Fuck you".)

And the reality of all these questions is that Crystal Balls Do Not Exist.

Questions like this, which amount to asking other people to predict the future, need to be answered with Napoleon's Strategy. You need to show up, then see what happens. Commit yourself (to trying something), and then see.

You can't know in advance "what's going to work". It might be the perfect plan... for a teenager with infinitely disposable time. It might be incredibly effective... but you hate it so you never work hard enough at it. Everyone I know who is strong and been at this for a long time says the same thing - They've tried a lot of different things. Some of them worked, some of them didn't. They liked some, they hated some. Some stopped working. Some didn't start working until later on.
Anything I've ever attempted, I was always willing to fail. [...] You can't always win, but don't afraid of making decisions. [...] You can't be paralyzed by fear of failure or you will never push yourself.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

With training, you have to be willing to commit to something without knowing in advance what's going to happen with it, really work hard at it, and find out what the results are - even if the results are "failure".

The other side of the coin here is that you actually have to show up. You can't just bleh your way through the thing. The "see what happens" part doesn't have any value if you don't try. We don't live in Waterworld where you can piss bad effort into a training plant and get delicious, muscley water out the other end. If what you put into your training is piss, you're just gonna get pissed later on.

Asking silly questions and being afraid of not getting it right the first time you try is a strategy for L7 weenies. Use the strategy of a conqueror. Show up, and see what happens.

Definitely don't think about how he ended up making a really dumb tactical decision, got his army frozen to death, and ended up imprisoned on an island though.

Beginners: Think Less, Not More

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