Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mediocrity Manifesto

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

I remember a study where they looked at math test scores of 34 countries. The children of the countries that ranked the highest were very humble about their ability. The lowest scoring countries were the most unaware of their ability, including the Americans. They were over-confident.

This reminds me of the fitness attitude I see. You go to a gym, bootcamp, class, personal training, or even a gym for "badasses", and you see people constantly being told that there is greatness in mediocrity. You hear people say, "oh I know I'm good at this", or "I'm really strong", when they're not. Though there are no advantages to being cruel, there are also no advantages of feeding egos.

Peeing yourself, throwing up, going to the hospital after working out is not showing your strength, it's showing your weakness. Compromising your form to lift really heavy is not being strong, it's training weakness, if you really could lift it, your form wouldn't falter. So maybe you should pick a lighter weight before you break your back.

“We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.”

― Winston Churchill

Or the opposite end of the same ego-driven cowboy attitude. Telling someone how strong they are when they've been lifting the same 8lb dumbbell for the past 6 months, or how good their form looks when their plank is as crooked as a dog's hind legs, or when a trainer tells a client how great they're doing even though they aren't living up to the expectations that both parties initially agreed upon.

Some people will actually get upset or take it personally when a trainer does a movement assessment and tells them all their fitness inefficiencies (but isn't what they're supposed to do, find and minimize weakness?). Many are not used to, nor do they want to be corrected. They just want to be told what they should do, or they want to tell the trainer what to do, and the trainer counts and tells them how great they are. Not point out their flaws. If they say lifting heavy will make them fat, even though they're wrong, the trainer nods their head and agrees, they agree when the client tells them green smoothies cure cancer, crystals will heal "aura," whatever that means, the trainer agrees with everything. They just want to get paid.

There are phone apps and Youtube videos that could do that.

I have had to ask people who had previous trainers: you really worked with a trainer before? And this was acceptable to them? You picked your own diet and I'm just supposed to tell you it'll work and how brilliant you are? That's what your last trainer did?

This constant feeding or want of rewards is exacerbating the problem they came to fitness in the first place for, their problem with food. Through words or through food, they're trapped in a vicious cycle and many fitness professionals are just feeding into it.

My trainer said I worked out so hard, I am so strong, I am so good, so I know I can reward myself.

Now telling people how awful they are is just as bad. It's the opposite end, which is still working on the same thing, playing with your value of yourself. I should punish myself with food, I suck.

If it's correct, it's correct, if it's par it's par, if it's not correct, it's not correct. It is what it is. I remember a martial arts instructor coaching one of his girls at a tournament, she was soundly getting beat, but instead of telling her what to do, he kept telling her how great she was doing, amazing effort, and just keep having fun.

You know what's worse than being harsh? Giving up on someone and no longer believing they could do better.

Feeble minded - obsolete, irresolute and weak-willed.

Someone asked him why he wasn't correcting her. The instructor said, you see that smile, she's having fun, that's whats important. He had no belief in her that she would win, and I guess neither did she.

And the moral is, she never got better. She smiled yes, the next day she was sad, depressed. She never competed again. She kept losing even at the academy. And he promoted her to the next belt. Now she no longer trains. It wasn't fun and she wasn't getting better.

You know what's more fun than being patronized or ridiculed? Getting better at something.

This is why people never stick to anything. They don't get better, they get rewarded not to get better.

Running is hugely popular right now. The form of most avid runners, to put it nicely is inefficient and problematic for long term safety. You ask them and their form is great! People have told them so.

Or their form sucks, and it can never get better. Eventually people get to a point where they say, I used to run, I should do that again.

We have to stop dangling the carrot or threatening them with a stick. We have to remove the ego and act like grown ups. Set expectations, if they don't meet it, they don't meet it. If they do, they do. It's all part of the learning process. Being data driven not judgment driven. Even compliments are a judgment.

Let me leave you with this. My martial arts instructor posed this question to our class. If you're only motivated by belts, what will keep you training once you get your black belt? And for many they don't. They stop, get out of shape, and talk about the good old days.

Mastery by definition means goalless practice


It's the same idea, without little goals, little rewards, or once the deadline passes, what's to keep you going? For many it's a cycle of getting there, losing it, trying to get there again, maybe getting there or almost there, losing it, rinse, repeat, give up.

Forget motivation or rewards or punishments for that matter. Do things every day persistently and consistently to always make yourself better. You have no goal, you just have a purpose. And a purpose can keep you going indefinitely, and others around you will pick up the torch once you're gone.
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Sam Yang from an early age has been obsessed with connecting the dots between martial arts and efficiency, health, mindset, business, science, and habits to improve optimal well-being. For more info, join his newsletterYou can also connect to All Out Effort on Facebook and Twitter.

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