Thursday, July 11, 2019

Leprosy of the Mind

[Damage to the nerves caused by leprosy] can lead to the loss of parts of extremities from repeated injuries or infection due to unnoticed wounds. An infected person may also experience weakness and poor eyesight. (Wikipedia)
I think most successful people would agree that one's mindset is one of (if not the) most fundamental "make or break" factors in pursuing a goal. And yet, I see so many trainees building castles of obsession about their training split, macro split, exercise selection (just do literally any kind of goddamn curl it's fine), water intake, salt intake, protein bioavailability, and every other possible factor except the entire laboratory of drums covered in Mr. Yuck stickers that are just rolling around in their heads, spilling everywhere.

There are ways of thinking and feeling and behaving that are poison, and these are some that are at the top of my list.

Needing to fall in love or have fun

Somebody once said, "It's called working out, not funning out." I thought this was funny.

No matter how many times somebody stumbles off the reservation with a trying, pedantic critique of an analogy, it will not dissuade me from my love of analogies. Here's one now - I have a number of pets, and two of them are cats. Because cats are sophisticated, they shit in a box instead of just kind of wherever they want outdoors. But Arm and Hammer lied to me, and there is no technology that makes cat shit stop smelling. Cleaning litter boxes is something I find unpleasant, and there is nothing that can make me love it. But I do it anyway, because something I do love is my house not smelling like cat shit.

If you want to fall in love, websites exist for that. Assuming you have some actual training goal (see: Mark Rippetoe's Training vs Exercise), the need to enjoy your training is something you must discard, much as I (with annoying frequency) must discard cat turds to keep my house from being disgusting. The thing to look for love, enjoyment, and satisfaction in is the results of your training - the ones you see now, and the ones you can anticipate in the future.

I am confident in saying that you do not love your job, and even if you do, you don't love it every day nor do you love every part of it. But you don't stop showing up for work, because you love a lot of other things instead - such as you and/or your family not starving or living in a stolen grocery cart. I feel it is important for long term success to be able to treat training as "just another thing I am doing today".

There's a great quote from a now deleted weightroom account on this subject that you would do well to read:
Getting good at pretty much anything involves doing boring shit over and over again to make progress. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you want to get good at playing guitar because you love performing on stage you still have to run scales, train your ear, learn music theory, learn that crazy song that your drummer likes even though you hate it, and do various exercises to improve your technical abilities. It doesn’t matter if you find it boring. If you want to be good, you have to do that stuff so you can do the really fun stuff well. And you have to do it in some capacity every day whether you feel like it or not.
If you have genuine training goals, you cannot allow your commitment or effort level to be at the mercy of how much fun you're having in the moment.

If you want to exercise and love it, you should do that separately from your actual training. Join a local sports club of some kind, pick up a physical hobby, or have days that are just solely about having a good time and forgetting how they contribute (or don't) to the results that you are trying to get out of your training.

Having casual means but a hardcore mindset

Some people have a disparity between how hardcore they try to be and how hardcore their life allows them to be. You can often find such people justifying their attempt to earn a PhD in The Minors with such phrases as, "What's wrong with trying to get the best results possible?" I'll tell you what's wrong - You are misusing your time masturbating over minutiae that will have a minimal, mostly marginal impact on your results, because the baseline of what you can manage is too meager for marginal improvements to matter. A very simplistic analogy is improving 10lbs by 10% is only adding 1lb, but improving 1000lbs by 10% is adding 100lbs.

But, they say, what is the harm? The harm is in the return-on-investment for the time you spend majoring in the minors and the additional cognitive load (and sometimes the money you spend on supplements or whatever) - it's bad. That time is better spent elsewhere, and that load on your cognitives is better borne by something more useful or productive than eeking out a 2% gain on a 30 minute workout.

Here's an example of a question that I think is next level absurd. This is not made up. This is a real question that a real person has asked.
How can I maximize my strength if I can only work out for 30 minutes twice a week?
The answer is you can't. The way you maximize your results is to take all that time and effort you're spending on researching optimal intra-workout carbohydrate intake and asking silly ass questions on the internet, and figure out how to find more than an hour a week to train.

Another example of this is, and again, this is a real question:
I have only $15 a week that I can spend on food, what should I buy to maximize my muscle growth?
MythicalStrength once said something that I absolutely love - that being big and strong is a luxury. Now, I'm not about to descend into something as dickheaded as saying that "poor people don't deserve to be fit", because I'm not living sewage, but there are certain realities about being impoverished with regards to what you can accomplish in training because of how heavily it restricts you. You can budget all you want and find the cheapest foods there are, but eating big so you can get big costs money.

These are just examples to help clarify what I mean when I say "casual means and goals with a hardcore mindset". Don't come at me about them. The overarching point is that you've got to be able to look at your life situation and accept how it restricts you in the most important foundations of training - your equipment access, your training time, your recovery time, your eating - and not throw time and energy down the toilet trying to find out the most scientific way to squeeze water out of stones.

Being afraid of imperfection

Surely, everybody has heard the phrase "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good". Another way of describing this that I like a lot is The Nirvana Fallacy. If you expect perfection from yourself, you will be disappointed. Instead, you must look for "good enough".

Sometimes, this manifests in the "deload and work on form" meme advice that so many strong people I know are engaged in an endless war with. There is a subset of mostly novice trainees that have been sold on the idea that form must be P E R F E C T with all lifts, at all times, or your spine (it's always the spine) will explode and you'll never lift again and you'll die. Look, it's true that you shouldn't just YOLO that high intensity deadlift rep off the floor, but you also need to dial it down a bit. Even setting aside the fact that the concept of "perfect form" is silly to begin with, high effort is going to result in some imperfection. And this is the danger of fearing to be imperfect - It will make you sacrifice effort, which will impair your results.

But the fear of imperfection goes beyond this. A far worse way that it manifests is when a trainee, expecting perfection of themselves, gets completely derailed from their plan and their goals when their imperfection inevitably rears its head. In this case, the need for perfection turns any instance of imperfection or deviation from a plan into a huge production. This is the "I keep trying to exercise and I make it for 3 months and then it's Christmas and I eat pie and it all goes down the toilet" story that so many have to tell.

I recently told someone who had this problem:
What you are doing to yourself is equivalent to stumbling a bit on a stone and going AH FUCK AGH MY LEGS ARE BROKEN AGH I'LL NEVER WALK AGAIN FUCK. 80% adherence for a year is better than 100% adherence that turns into 0% adherence after a few months.
Another useful perspective on one's inevitable stumbling is something my first martial arts teacher was fond of saying:
It's not a bad thing to lose your balance practicing and training and sparring. Even with the Masters, it's not that they never lose their balance. They've just learned how to recover their balance more quickly so it doesn't throw them off as much.
This all applies to so many different things - bad training days, getting sick, going on vacation, sleeping poorly, splurging on a piece of cake. On and on and on. Imperfection, and forging forward in spite of it, needs to be part of the plan.

Training ADD

I got this term from Jim Wendler and I think it's brilliant. Previously, I had sometimes used the classic word "fuckarounditis", but it doesn't really convey what I'm going for anywhere near as well. This is about changing, or considering changing, your training plan with too much regularity.

Being able to commit to a singular, cohesive plan and see it through over a reasonably long period of time is useful. Evaluating the results of and iterating on your plan is also useful. But there is a kind of person who can never stop tinkering - always making "tweaks", trying to "optimize", encountering new information and questioning what they're doing. This is not useful.

My favorite example of Training ADD is something that happens every time Joe Rogan has somebody on his podcast that talks about anything related to exercise (to be fair, it happens any time anybody with a large reach says something about exercise, but Training ADD and JRE listeners seem to have a very tight knit relationship). r/Fitness is bombarded with people who ask some version of this question:
I have been training using XYZ method for about two months now and I've been seeing great progress. But I was listening to the Joe Rogan Experience and Firas Zahabi (writer's note: it's always Firas Zahabi for some reason) talked about training in a different way than what I've been doing. Should I stop everything I'm doing and completely change how I'm training?
No. You should not immediately slam the brakes on something you've been doing, that has been working, just because you've encountered new information that is different. This is Training ADD.

Training takes time to produce results, and those results are a cumulative adaptation to the stimulus of training. Even further, sometimes, because of the nature of a given training method, there will be a large gap between times where you actually measure the results (5/3/1 Leader/Anchor methodology is a good example of this) of your training. For this reason, I feel it's important to be willing to give what you're doing, whatever it is, sufficient time (within reason) to produce results (or not) before you look to make changes.

This applies to training methodology, specific routine within the methodology, exercise selection, and even dietary protocol. The Fear Of Missing Out is an albatross that must be discarded, because it will sabotage your ability to be consistent. The adage to remember is "Rome wasn't built in a day", and also sometimes "Many roads lead to Rome". Just because someone else is taking a different road to Rome doesn't mean you need to immediately abandon the one you're already on.


There's a few more of these, but each time I start to write about what's left I find I have no steam for it and start thinking too hard for things to say. That's my cue that I'm trying to force it, so I'm just gonna bullet point them and call it a day.

  • Overestimating how unique you are
  • Treating training and goals like cramming for a test in college
  • Being afraid of experimenting (which I've said more than enough on in Crystal Balls Do Not Exist)
  • Needing to understand the "why" or have scientific backing for everything you're doing
  • Being excessively risk and discomfort averse
  • Letting fleeting "motivation" dictate action

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