Going into the new year, I’m counting down, in no particular order, some life lessons I’ve learned in the gym. These lessons have less to do with how to do pushups or which kind yoga pants to wear, and more to do with the kinds of things one can only learn by “diving into the abyss and staring into a mirror”.
Disclosure: I’m not some enlightened yogi that you should be listening to. In fact, every evening I lay my head on my pillow having swiped at and missed the brass ring of enlightenment. But every morning I get back to the fair to take another ride. So perhaps there’s some value in that. Proceed at your own risk.
In this lesson, we explore the benefits of stupidity.
When training, on any particular exercise, in those moments getting close to momentary muscular failure (“MMF”), folks often become fortune tellers with predictions such as “This is my last one,” “I’m only good for one more,” “Let me stop here cuz I’ll never get that next one.”
I would like to first acknowledge that it is a well trained mind that is able to make linear or cause/effect connections or to reach reasonable conclusions about whatever future crap might be rolling down the hill. We survived as a species because our higher than average powers of logic and reasoning allow us to analyze a situation, compare and contrast with similar situations, draw logical conclusions, and implement action for a more favorable outcome. Great inventions, successful scientific experiments, and even rewarding explorations have all begun with a clairvoyance, a hunch, an all-consuming knowing of what is going to happen next. So that kind of learned skill has obvious benefits.
But what if the premise is flawed? What if you can keep going? What if all you “know” is that when the going gets to a certain level of tough, you really, really, really want to stop, and you have “learned” that when you do, it turns out okay, the discomfort leaves. What if that’s all you know? What if you have never actually explored your potential? What if I stop asking questions and move on?
Each of us is so much stronger than we can ever predict. How many times have you read about some small-framed person who did an extraordinary feat in an emergency such as lift a fallen car off the mechanic or catch someone falling out of a burning building, or carry an injured brother for long distances over hostile land? Many of those things defy logic, yet in those moments, strength is magically available.
Where’s the line between our known strength and that mysterious and elusive super strength that comes out only in dire moments? Wouldn’t it be hilarious if all this time you only thought you were training hard, but in fact, your own mental limitations kept you from achieving a better workout? After all this time, it kinda would.
Stop knowing. Stop judging. Stop giving into the lie that you have hit your potential.
Instead, take a moment before the exercise to get control of your breath and remind yourself that the discomfort of training is transient. When underway, keep an open mind, be observant and curious and explore your potential. Keep your mind on your muscle and don’t stop until you are satisfied in your soul that you have achieved some heretofore unattained level of effort. Why not? If you’re doing HIRT, you only have once or twice at bat each week. I figure as long as my form is great, my movement controlled, my breath supporting, my mind is in my muscles and my demeanor is nonplussed and accepting, and spontaneous amputation is just something I made up in my head, the only thing stopping me from going to calmly MMF is … me.
So why is that a life lesson? Like any other Earthling, I’ve experienced my share of stressful situations. I have on occasion heard myself in my own head or telling others “I can’t take it anymore.” Well hell. I train. I know what to do when I think I’m done. First I remember to breath. Then I try to open myself up to all possibilities, not attaching myself to any one outcome, regardless of what I “know.” And from there I just keep going. Limbs won’t fall off, discomfort is transient. The only thing that can stop me from breaking on through to the other side is … me.
One day I’ll get it right.