The Top Flaw in Human Existence (And Why it Matters in Fitness)
Lately, I've been thinking a bit more about the overarching themes and characteristics of a successful life, or more specifically, successful individuals. What is it that makes it so that some people never become better, while others seem to always be making steps in the right direction?
Instead of continuing with a long-winded introduction and trying to paint a vivid picture like I'm Hemmingway, I am just going to get right to the point.
The number one flaw in our lives is our inability to be wrong.
More specifically -
Our most notable failure is our avid willingness to decieve ourselves into believing that we are right when, in fact; we are incredibly wrong.
This presents itself in our lives in a few major...and debilitating ways :
1. We convince ourselves that our current efforts are good enough, and that we couldn't possibly be the cause of our downfalls. Accepting full responsibility for our actions would require us to in admit that we were, are, or could be wrong. Self-deception essentially removes ownership from our lives.
2. We refuse assistance or advice from others who may have traveled similiar roads and acquired knowledge that would absolutely help our situation. Our refusal to be helped stems from the twisted belief that accepting advice would serve as an admittance that we had been previously doing it wrong.
3. When we are blatantly and obviously wrong in public we attempt to weasel our way out of it by passing on blame, attempt to over-explain our miscue, or become aggressively defensive about our shortcoming. Our fear of showing weakness shines through as we cannot allow others to know that we are wrong.
4. Our inability to think critically and accept other lines of thinking causes us to curate our information intake, which limits our ability to diversify, and thus educate ourselves further. Hearing counter-points to our way of thinking becomes annoying instead of being a tool we can use to fine-tune our thinking.
This is known as Self-Deception.
Self-Deception is the process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. This is done without knowledge of said deception by convincing oneself of a truth (or lack of truth).
For more on self deception here is an excellent paper on the issue.
The long and short of it is that we will not subject ourselves to things that make us look, feel, or be wrong.
Now, before I dive into how this way of existence disallows us from seeing our true potential in terms of fitness I'd like to discuss a controversial, and specific example of how self-deception limits our ability to succeed.
Oh God, a fitness trainer is about to discuss politics on a blog that is supposed to be about health, nutrition, and corny one-liners. He isn't qualified for this....
He must be a Trump supporter, or wait, he has to love Hillary...or maybe he feels the Bern...
There is no greater arena to witness self-deception than when someone engages in a political discussion. Most especially, when they are in the comfort "of home" where everyone in the conversation shares similiar views. The constant application of partisan fodder leads to a rapid, and uncontrollable dissemenation of incorrect information among the group. This information is often gathered from partisan websites, newspapers, or TV stations that profit heavily from fueling public opinion on specific matters.
Now, this is a fitness blog and we don't need to dive into any specifity as it relates to political issues, or partisan view points. The reason I bring this up is that most of the American population identifies as either a Republican or Democrat, and votes as such during elections. However, if you take a look at the last 4 elections you'll see that popular voting was very close to 50% for either party. This means that are virtually split down the middle when it comes to our political affiliations. Plain and simple.
Graphic - U.S. Statistics
Yet, find yourself a proud Republican, or a staunch Democrat, and you'll find yourself an individual who believes that what they feel is right, and everyone feels the same, and "it was on the news"....There is NO WAY they could be wrong.
Attempt at all to make any points that oppose their view and you'll quickly find yourself raising your voice. Look no further than social media during the debates. The comments will range from absurd and innaccurate to thoughtful and tempered. The thought process is often "I feel this way; therefore, I cannot be wrong". Yet, our feelings are filtered through our intellect, and sadly many voters are incredibly uneducated on the issues they are speaking on. Again...not diving into any specifics...but you shouldn't have to think too hard about someone mouthing off without adequate information.
Fitness - as a Trainer and Coach
In fitness there is a whole mess of individuals in the industry who are hell-bent on arguing everything that doesn't align with what they do. From paleo and Crossfit, to Barre classes and gluten-free everything...this industry is polluted with individuals who are incapable of seeing things any other way.
"Crossfit is the most superior workout, and has the best athletes"
"Barre makes muscles burn, which makes them long and lean"
"The only diet that works is Paleo, which is how our ancestors ate thousands of years ago"
"Gluten makes people fat"
All of the above statements have a critical flaw in them. Crossfit is in fact, a great workout, and is home to some impressive athletes. However, Crossfit is also known as a launching platform for injuries, rhabdo, and cult-like feelings that disallow an individual from hearing, or feeling, anything different.
Moreover, we have scientifically proven that gluten intolerance is not nearly as prolific of a "thing" as the food industry would like you to believe. History has shown our ancestors did in fact eat grains; just not in the form of freakin' Oreo cookies. Lastly, no one's muscles get longer unless you detach the darn thing and reattach it further down a bone. These are proven facts.
Yet, there are individuals who are paid...LOTS of MONEY...to lead individuals who make these same bogus claims, and others. No amount of science literature published, logical arguments made, or anecdotal evidence will convince these people to be different. Profit is proof for them. Money and followers must mean that they are doing it right.
Even on a micro-level there are blatant examples of self-deception in every gym. A client doesn't achieve results and they get blamed. The trainer feels that they designed a perfect program, and rock as a coach, so there is no fault there. (To note: this relationship goes both ways. There are many clients that will work out once a week and eat and drink the other six and still blame the fitness professional).
What is worse is the trainer who throws their client on a treadmill to "warm-up" for ten minutes while they text and hang out. Then, 35 minutes of some sort of metabolic conditioning and a fifteen minute stretch complete the session. The client gets hurt and doesn't see results, and yet, the trainer blames the client, the gym, Tom Brady...and just about anything else but themselves.
No one sums up bad personal trainers quite like Bret Conteras in the following video - give it a watch for easy LOL's
Self-deception occurs in us all.
Fitness - For Yourself
Stop me if you've heard any of these before:
I'd be as big as that guy, but I don't want to do steroids, I don't want to live in the gym, I have a social life, I have real responsibilities...etc.
That girl is too skinny...she should put some meat on her bones. No body wants to see all those muscles. Real women have curves, she looks like a man...etc.
Any of the above statements are examples of the first tragedy of self-deception. Instead of admitting that they lack the drive to achieve exceptional results; they choose to belittle someone who is successful.
Failure logic: That other guy is to blame because he succeeded, whereas I can't be blamed for drinking every weekend and working out my chest and arms twice a week.
We deceive ourselves into thinking that any effort in the gym is worthy of applause. We check-in we arrive at our local Planet Fitness and tell the world we are about "that sweat life", and then spend half the time texting on the leg press and grab four tootsie rolls on the way out.
There are so many excuses why we don't look the way we want to look -
I went to the gym today...so I deserve this pizza -- Ugh, you walked in and bounced on an Elliptical for twenty minutes, so no you freakin' don't.
I get bulky when I lift heavy...I'm a girl -- The bag you take on the metro everyday weighs more than those three pound dumbbells, and you haven't grown facial hair yet...so I'm sure these 8's will be fine.
Those are just a few satirical examples. Let's be more specific with our science though with these next two examples:
Running and Weight-loss
Take a look at the running population. More specifically, let's look at the non-competitive running circuit. AKA - those using running as a means to lose weight.
They run for days, weeks, months, and years. Nothing else. Knee, hip, ankle, and back injuries continue to present themselves. The weight doesnt' come off, and often times; the body fat goes up overtime due to the atrophy of muscles. Mile after mile they decieve themselves into thinking they are doing what is appropriate for their goals.
Tell them that they'd benefit from weight training protocol and they look at you like you told them you are "the Batman". There is no way that they have been wrong, and if anything it is their diet, or that they don't run far enough, often enough. They might try to do weights with you, but soon enough they are back on the treadmill or beating the pavement desperate to prove to everyone that they were right.
*Note - this is not to say that running does not work or does not present value in a exercise program. I am more focused on serial runners who do not entertain other means of exercise.
Bodybuilding and Joint Pain
Find me a bodybuilder in his late thirties or forties and I'll find you someone who has joint pain. Sore shoulders from bench pressing heavy, sore elbows from the heavy bicep and tricep work. Knees tired from bad squatting, and a sore back from sloppy rows and hinges.
Bodybuilding as a sport is about maximum muscular hypertrophy and minimum body fat. Get huge and show it off. Workouts are intense and often lead to bigger muscles and lower body fat. Yet, years of doing the same movements without care for the skeletal system, ligaments and tendons, and fascia leaves a lot of older bodybuilders broken.
Often times form is sacrificed in bodybuilding workouts in an effort to boost muscle activation. Many bodybuilders squat to less-than-depth in an effort to build the quads, which stresses the knee joint. Many bodybuilders bench press two or three times a week without taking proper care of the rotator cuff, labrum, and thoracic spine. Internal rotation and sore shoulder joints aplenty!
Show them some yoga, or foam rolling, or mobility and you'll be met with - "I've been doing this for longer than you've been alive, don't tell me what I need to do". This effect is even more overwhelming if you aren't presenting a massive physique yourself. Simply put, many old-school lifters equate your knowledge with your bench press.
No amount of advice to guidance will keep this guy from benching on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He'll still spend thirty minutes wrapping his knees, putting on his belt, wearing his wrist wraps, and pop two motrin just to walk on the treadmill...but he knows what he is doing.
*Note - this is not to say that all bodybuilders lack prehab and rehab knowledge and don't make efforts to take care of their joints while training just as hard.
What it All Means
Self-deception is a quick and easy way to short circuit your progress in everything you do in your life. From your job to relationships, politics, sports, fitness, and addictions; everything is on the table when you can't admit you are wrong.
"I work hard and I'm smart, so I deserve this promotion" - No, you are ten minutes late everyday and you don't work well with others...you do not deserve more responsibility.
"That quarterback sucks, I could do better" - No, you are 5'6 and overweight and can't throw an empty beer can into a open garbage can...stay on your couch.
"My workout is flawless, I just don't have the genetics" - You text more than you lift, and you haven't tried anything new in years...you just haven't challenged yourself.
"I don't have a drinking problem, I just have a lot of friends" - You drink 6 nights a week, and think about drinking on the seventh...you have a problem.
It all leads to coming up short versus the goals we set for ourselves. I firmly believe that we all set similiar, optimistic goals that are meant to challenge us to do great things. The difference then, is whether or not we apply the appropriate effort to achieve them, and more importantly, whether or not we are honest with ourselves about the effort we applied.
We must admit when we are wrong and look to those around us to correct us. Look no further than the science industry that we all depend upon to advance our civilization forward. Whether it in the field of medicine, technology, engineering, or exercise science...the goal of any study is to prove the hypothesis wrong. When you can't prove it wrong...it is right...for now.
We must adopt this way of thinking. Navigate the world as though you are wrong with everything and that others can help you find right. Your life is a big longetudinal study that will prove and disprove thousands of hypothesis' before you pass on.
We know a lifetime of endless drinking and smoking is unhealthy because we've seen years of it lead to cirrhosis of the liver and lung cancer, which can cause an early demise. Just the same we know a lifetime of healthy living and clean eating can help you live longer and happier for many years.
Sure, maybe you feel good about your political views and think anyone unlike you is wrong. Sure, maybe you think you know what you are doing in the gym and you need no one to help.
Sure, maybe you think you know everything about everything, and that's everything.
Or maybe you are 100% wrong about it all. One day you'll know.
Wouldn't you rather that day come sooner than later?
The Best of Us Must Sometimes Eat Our Words- JK Rowling