(Un)common Sense: Simple thoughts for complex people, or the Importance of doing.
This series, which I like to call “(Un)common Sense: Simple thoughts for complex people” will foray into various topics seeking to mend mind and body. As much as I love science and how we can apply research and anecdotal findings to better ourselves via nutrition, supplementation, and exercise, there is no doubt a psychological and philosophical aspect to bodybuilding and fitness.
Sadly, it’s become dogma that anybody in a gym with a good amount of muscle must be a complete dufus on an intellectual level (i.e. bodybuilders are inherently “meatheads”). Maybe I’m just an exception to the rule, but some of the most intelligent and interesting people I’ve met in my life have been because of my interests in exercise and nutrition. Yes you will run into a few muscle-bound hunks with the personality of a rock, but trust me many bodybuilders and weightlifting aficionados are propelled by their mental prowess.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to inundate you with some Zen Buddhist wisdom while telling you to bust out the yoga mat, sit cross-legged, and start belly breathing. Rather I would just like to provide insight into the psyche that I feel comprises individuals that are internally driven to meet their goals in life.
These insights won’t just apply to those looking to improve their physique, but rather they will have implications in most all facets of life. My hope is that, no matter who you are, you will walk away with some encouragement and food for thought to better your body, mind or better yet, both.
Stop Overanalyzing and Do
”Nothing works unless you do”—Maya Angelou
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “do” simply as a transitive verb meaning, “to perform or execute”. Seems like quite an elementary concept yet it’s magnitude seems to elude many of us. A few years ago I retracted to my parents’ humble abode as I was taking time off from school and having no luck finding a job. I was always a bit irked when my father would come home from work and vocalize the same, seemingly mundane, question, “What did you do today?” More often than not I would find myself rendered silent.
It wasn’t that he was inauspiciously delivering the inquiry or a vibe in his tone that put me off though, it was that each time I couldn’t think of one thing I did that day it further reinforced how much I was stagnating in life. Naturally, I would become defensive and give him an ad hominem retort, “I don’t know, haven’t had any luck with the job hunting.
What did you do?” His reply was always appropriately terse “I worked. I put food on the table and a roof over our heads.” I had nothing to say because it was the blunt truth; he was doing things that were productive in his life and conducive to providing for his family. I wasn’t.
I realized more and more each day I couldn’t legitimately respond to that simple 5-word question (what did you do today?), that it was simply inaction holding me back from having an answer. I was facing the dreaded paralysis by analysis conundrum that many can relate to when looking for ways to progress in their life’s endeavors. I would sit behind my computer looking for the perfect job opportunity or the best paying position I was qualified for when the reality was I just needed to do something. No matter what job I was working, it would be better than sitting at home.
Granted this is a website dedicated primarily to fitness/bodybuilding, you are probably wondering what the aforementioned anecdote has to do with improving your training and health goals. Reality is that it actually has quite a bit to do with ANY part of your life. No matter what your goals are, you cannot achieve anything without doing something.
The Currency of Life: Time
“You may delay, but time will not.”—Benjamin Franklin
Before we delve into the dos and don’ts of doing (nice sentence structure eh?), I want to make clear that we all understand what time really is. The concept of time is elusive because, well, it stands still for no man. Beyond time being an arbitrary number derived from the Earth’s axial rotation and orbital revolution around the sun, it is also the life currency that you can never regain after “spending” it.
Those who accomplish their dreams in life understand this concept better than anybody, because they are the wisest barterers of their time. We are all allotted a certain amount of time in our lives, and it is those who spend it doing things they are passionate about that will achieve those aspirations.
Be thankful for every second you are given, tomorrow is never guaranteed, so do what you can today to better yourself and let the chips fall where they may. Ask yourself this question, “Is what I’m doing right now worth my time?” If you were told today you had 3 months to live, would you be content with the things you’re currently doing? If not, hopefully the rest of this exposition will spur a change in your actions. You’ve been given the time, use it wisely.
Have a Plan, But Don’t Overanalyze
“A good plan violently executed today is better than a perfect plan executed in the future.”—General George S. Patton
I briefly alluded to the paradox of paralysis by analysis earlier; this is all too common amongst people when mapping out the road to achieving one’s goals. While having a plan is of the utmost importance on your quest to achieving goals, it is also the most dangerous pitfall for an easily swayed mind. Most people won’t begin an exercise or diet program until they know that what they are going to embark on is the absolute best way to go about it. 99% of the time these are the individuals who either never commit to a plan for more than a few days, or they just never take action at all because they figure they will keep searching for a better way to do things.
Now, I’m not saying you should just go outside, start mindlessly dancing in circles and thinking, “Hey, this will get me to that bigger bench press because I’m doing something!” Unfortunately that isn’t how it works. Part of the planning process is also outlining how you are going to do the necessary actions to achieve your goals.
Just saying, “I’m going to work hard to increase my muscle mass” is not a plan. Something more along the lines of “I will lift 3 times per week, increase my max lifts by 5lbs every week, and eat 500 calories above my basal metabolic rate everyday” would be a bowdlerized example of a plan conducive to muscle building.
You Must Learn to Walk Before You Run
“The only source of knowledge is experience.”—Albert Einstein
You may be thinking that I’m endorsing ignorance and you shouldn’t be open to learning and trying new things, or finding out what works for others, but that couldn’t be further from the point here. I’m not going to be arrogant and claim that everybody will have optimal results with some cookie-cutter program because there is no one-size-fits-all diet or training regimen.
What I’m suggesting is that you will benefit infinitely more from acting on a basic plan today than you will by idly waiting for the perfect methods indefinitely (because at the time of this writing, they aren’t out there, trust me). Doing the basics and learning the fundamentals provide the foundation for the rest of your life’s endeavors, no matter if its in school, work, relationships, exercise, diet, anything. Get good at the basics today, and worry about improving and revising the next time.
I’ve been fortunate to assist a fellow PhD candidate (Casey) with his lab research over the past few months. While it has been invaluable experience with laboratory techniques and data analysis, it’s become quite lucid to me learning from the trials and errors of one’s actions provide insurmountable knowledge. I can’t even begin to count how many samples and assays Casey and I ran over the past year that amounted to inconclusive data. Not once did I ever see him hang his head or second-guess himself; he just busted his hump, revised a few steps, and kept doing.
From dusk to dawn, rain, snow, or shine he was as chipper as they come, the lab was practically his domicile and he was passionate about his research. There was nothing inconspicuous about it; he knew that it wasn’t about some magic formula or that he had to reinvent the wheel to finish his thesis. He knew his plan was cogent, it was just a matter of putting in the time and effort with and dealing with the failures as ways to learn and improve for the next trial.
Ultimately, this boils down to the fact that with action comes experience, and with experience comes the wisdom to know what works for you and what does not. Wisdom opens your mind to doing new things, and dealing with failures as lessons of how to improve next time. If you never do anything, how can you gain the wisdom and experience necessary to improve yourself? I assure you it is not possible. You must do if you want to achieve your goals. It’s such a simple concept that we guile humans make much to complex.
Avoiding Fads and Extremes
“Fads are the kiss of death. When the fad goes away, you go with it.”–Conway Twitty
In the bodybuilding and fitness world, people are always looking for what the “best” diet is, what weight training program builds muscle and strength “fastest”, or what cardiovascular modality provides the “most” fat loss (note the superlatives). This is because a large proportion of physique and athletic enthusiasts are inherently extremists.
Ask most anybody in a gym and they will tell you they want the “biggest” biceps, “smallest” waist, “lowest” body-fat, “strongest” bench press, “widest” lats, etc. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that these personalities will tend to sit behind their computer and search endlessly for the “best” way to get to their desired goals.
Ironically enough, most of the time these are the same people that look like they have never wrapped their hand around a barbell. They’ve become paralyzed behind their computers, magazines, or whatever medium they choose to research through and never commit to doing much of anything!
Now combine this type of extreme personality with an industry flooded with fad diets and training protocols and you have a recipe for disaster. I honestly can’t recall one individual I’ve met that has had lasting results on a “fad” diet like Atkins, Nutri-System, South Beach, SlimFast, etc. Maybe there are some Atkins devotees out there who happily wake up and roll to Burger King to snag a Double Whopper (extra cheese, extra mayo but hold the bun of course) and like to think that they’re on the perfect plan.
If you enjoy restricting yourself to such nonsensical extremes such as eradicating certain food groups or macronutrients completely from your diet, then by all means keep up your masochistic ways. Just realize that a large majority of individuals obtain the same (if not better) results by just following a balanced diet and tweaking their calorie intake to fit their goals (I wont go into specifics here as the topic of nutrition deserves another whole series of articles itself).
The same pitfalls occur with gimmicky training programs; my theory is that the more wildly erudite sounding the name of the program, the more likely it’s bogus. Sure, some newbie weight lifters will get results doing pretty much anything as long as they’re actually doing it, but that doesn’t mean their time wouldn’t be better spent on a tried and true protocol for building muscle and strength.
In direct contrast to my aforementioned theory about fancy-named programs, most basic weight training programs (that many pro powerlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes have built their successes on) have simple, unexciting aliases: Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength”, Jim Wendler’s “5/3/1”, Mike Mentzer’s “High Intensity Training”, Lyle McDonald’s “Generic Bulking Routine”, the list goes on.
Sure these don’t sound as awesome as “P-90 alpha-T-myofibril-hyperplasia-adaptive-gene-expression training”, but they are programs that have stood the test of time and will bring exceptional results if you just stick to them and don’t overcomplicate things! This brings us back to the point that a good plan executed well will always be better than the fanciest plan put forth half-heartedly.
Why People Do Not
Answers to Your Excuses from Historical Figures
The expeditions in my life have allowed me to confront various well-renowned people who were apt to doing. During tumultuous times we can always think of one million excuses not to do things we are passionate about, so I took the opportunity to present these ever-so-common (and rather lame) excuses to these folks. Here were their answers:
- Me: “Henry, I’m passionate about my goals but what if I fail?”
- Henry Ford: “Failure is the only opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
- Me: “I know you’ve overcome a lot of adversity Mr. Oates, but I’m not smart, strong, or talented enough.”
- Wayne Oates: “Everything you need you already have.”
- Me: “No way Ralph, I’m too afraid!”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”
- Me: “President Lincoln, I’m not in the mood right now, I’ll do it tomorrow.”
- Abraham Lincoln: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading them today.”
- Me: “I don’t know Mr. King, that sounds like its too challenging.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
- Me: “Give me a break Newt, I’m burned out and too tired to do that.”
- Newt Gingrich: “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”
- Me: “Don’t worry Mr. Marden, I’ll do it when the best opportunity arises.”
- Orison Swett Marden: “Don't wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them.”
- Me: “I can’t promise anything, Yoda, but I guess I’ll try.”
- Jedi Master Yoda: “Do or do not, there is no try.”
So there you have it, the choice you have should be quite clear by now: you’ll either find a way to do the things you are passionate about or you’ll find a way to make excuses, it’s your decision.
Acta non verba.