Sunday, August 6, 2017

Who Are You? The type of person who exercises?

You hear it all the time:

I'm no good at maths
I can't run
I'm no good with computers
I can't do this or that
I'm no good at learning languages
I'm not that type of person
I'm not a gym person
I'm more of a .....insert here what you believe you are... type of person.

Only yesterday I heard a guy in a coffee shop tell his friend he didn't have an ear for languages. And yet, he had learned one language fluently, the one he was speaking. He then told his friend he had an A-level in French. Despite this he had decided he was the type of person who was not good at learning languages.

At what point did you decide that was the type of person you were?
At what point did you decide there was a certain skill set you did not posses or there was a certain skill set that was your strong point?
Were you a child or a teenager? At what point did you think this is me?
And how many times have you changed your mind as an adult?

People adopt a series of habits and patterns and rituals and they become them.

Professor Michael Puett in his book The Path, about how we can apply some of the lessons of ancient Chinese philosophy to our modern lives, states

"What we in the West define as the true self is actually patterns of continuous responses to people and the world; patterns that have built up over time. For example, you might think, I'm just the type of person who gets annoyed easily. On the contrary, it's more likely that you have become the kind of person who does get irritated over minor things because of how you've interacted with people for years. But that's not because you are, in fact, such a person." (p.43)

A bad experience with maths or PE at school and that's you for life. Suddenly you are the type of person who doesn't like exercise or running.

Also, its easy, if that's who you are, then you never have to change, its just the type of person you are, its not your fault, you don't have to try new things.

Now this doesn't mean you have to try everything new thing in the world, every new activity. You don't have to be 'good' at everything and 'like' everything. For example, I'm never playing golf or watching Britains Got Talent.

Also, I'm not saying you have to be excellent at everything. There is a lot of ground in between saying 'I can't run' and being Mo Farah. And if you're not 7 foot tall you're probably not going to play in the NBA but you can still enjoy basketball.

However, don't dismiss activities because they may be hard or push you out of your comfort zone.

How many people leave school and never learn anything new? The pattern is set. It congeals and rusts.

You learned a series of habits and rituals and you accept them, you greet people in a certain way, in the West you use a knife and fork to eat, you drive on a certain side of the road - these were all learned - they are not you.

"We cling to a fixed idea of who we are and it cripples us. Nothing and no one is fixed." - Pema Chodron (2001)

There is no core self. It changes all the time. In the words of Chuck Palahniuk

But this means at any time you could start to choose something else, pick different 'china patterns', sit in a different place, brush your teeth with the wrong hand, be the type of person who buys a bicycle and cycles to work!

Was your view on the world and personality set by 16 years old by a few teachers, parents and friends. It doesn't mean you have to reject all this, and form a whole new personality, but don't be limited, build on this.

As a kid you learned the most complex things possible - how to walk, talk and read. And then at certain point many adults think, well I'm an adult now, I don't have try things that I may fail at or make me look 'bad', I will not push the envelope, I will seal it up and stay inside of it.

And if you only perceive the world in a certain way, and have already decided that you are not the type of person who takes up cycling or goes to a yoga, where does that leave you?

"But remember that who you think you are - and especially what you think is 'you' when you are making decisions - is usually just a set of patterns you've fallen into." (Puett & Gross- Loh, 2016).

And before you know it you never push out of your comfort zone or try something new.

Learning new things is fantastic for your brain health, learning new languages and new skills makes your brain form new connections. And the other thing that is good for brain health is exercise.

And this is where exercise rears its head. So many people like the idea of say running or being 'fit', but no, I can't do that, I'm not fit enough to go to a gym (cue flashback to running around a field in the snow at school while half the class hide behind the cricket pavilion for a smoke).

Its not easy.

Even confident successful people can crumble when faced with a new skill. Only the other day I was showing a lady around the gym, she was confident in herself, knew she wanted to get fit, she went on the cardio machines no problem, a few resistance machines no problem. Then we tried a goblet squat with a kettlebell, we were standing in the dreaded freeweights area. Her technique needed a bit of work, she couldn't get it straight away like she had on the machines. She was pitching forward a bit, had a bit of knee collapse. I gave her a bit of coaching, said not to worry, it was a new movement, just practice a bit and she would get it after a few sessions. But no, for her this was disastrous.

The next session in the gym she was adamant she did not like the goblet squat, did not want to do it again, despite the fact at this point she had probably only done 20 reps total in her life, and spent 2 minutes on the exercises. But because she had not grasped the technique and skill instantaneously she did not want to continue.

I have had a similar thing even on cardio equipment, a cross trainer that's a bit different to what people are used to, you say you just need to do this and this, and the technique needs a bit of work and next thing they are saying 'I don't like this machine I want to get off', after 90 seconds. This is code for 'I didn't come here to learn a new skill, or feel like you are judging me, or to look like I can't do something, I am adult now, I don't need anyone to teach me anything'.

What they expected and reality don't match and their brain doesn't like it, the ego kicks in, fear kicks in.

It is hard to break habits, set new patterns and learn new things, as Anders Ericsson says in his book Peak

"Getting started is easy, as anyone who has visited a gym after New Year's knows. You decide that you want to get in shape or learn to play the guitar or pick up a new language, and so you jump right in...Then after a while, reality hits. It'd hard to find the time to work out or practice as much as you should... you start missing sessions. You're not improving... It's why gyms that are were crowded in January are only half full in July. So that's the problem in a nutshell: purposeful practice is hard." (kindle edition of the book)

But as adults, its easy to duck out, no one is making us go back to school or go to the gym. The television and social media feeds are waiting to anaesthetize us as the end of another hard day.

My friend is learning to play guitar, its hard, he's an adult with a job. I can explain and show him things on the guitar which are easy to me, because I learned them when I was a teenager. Conversely, this same friend is a very good rock climber, he has been climbing for years. I'm trying to be better at climbing, but compared to him I'm terrible. He can free climb something in his flip flops which looks like El Capitan to me. But we are both trying to push out of our comfort zone, willing to fail and let go of that ego a little bit.

Ericsson talks about practice

"The hallmark of purposeful or deliberate practice is that you try to do something you cannot do - that takes you out of your comfort zone - and that you practice it over and over again, focusing on exactly how you are doing it, where you are falling short, and how you can get better. Real life - our jobs, our schooling, our hobbies - seldom gives us the opportunity for this sort of focused repetition..."

Fitness is a skill, many people perceive themselves as time poor, I don't have time to learn these exercises, I just need to get fit and lose weight. This is missing the point. They don't want it to be a skill or a process, they don't really want to change anything.

The future is wide open.

Something inside us likes the world to be stable and fixed, but if you never explore new things you may never find parts of you that you never knew existed. You go to a zumba class and suddenly find out you love dancing, you avoided swimming your whole life because you lacked confidence, you get a few lessons and suddenly you enjoy going for a swim to clear your head and like using the pool on holiday. You get the idea.

As coaches, it is up to us to show this to clients.

In 2009 I walked into a book shop in London and bought a book by Christopher McDougall. It was about a sport I hardly knew anything about; ultra running. Then a few years later I saw one of the lead protagonists talk in London. A couple of years after that I went to Leadville and run a 100 miles in a race that seemed mythical and for super humans to me 5 years before. If I had a fixed idea of who I was none of this would have happened.

Its funny how things end up.

So the final word to that person I saw talk in London, Caballo Blanco. During the talk someone asked him 'Can anyone run 100 miles?'. He answered 'If they want to'.

Can you be the type of person who exercises?
If you want to.

Can you change?
If you want to.
This applies to all things.


For my tribute to Caballo and my thoughts when I went to see him talk

On why it is hard to form a new habit and how to do it

On how habits are embedded in your memory and how you become them

On habits and choices

Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh (2016) The Path.

Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool. Peak, Secrets from the new science of expertise. Kindle edition quoted.

Pema Chodron (2001) The places that scare you.

1 comment:

  1. Exactly. You gotta be prepared to take the hits and keep moving forward!