Friday, April 15, 2011

Stop obsessing, start doing

“Anticipation is a killer.   It can lead to fear.  Fear that you won’t perform as expected on your heavy days.  Over time, this can lead many lifters to slowly be less and less motivated to come to the gym on those days.  And even when they do, they are so anxious that they have a worse workout than they could have had.”

“This should be a positive motivation, one that drives you toward attempts, the journey of lifting, not the possible outcomes of those attempts: makes or misses.”

“Yes, goal setting is great.  Writing up routines that are designed to help you to reach those goals is often a good idea.  But, we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture.  You only get better if you keep moving forward.  Even if you fail, you’ve moved forward, because you’ve attempted it (my friend Maria and I call this “Failing Forward”).”

“Stop obsessing, start doing”

First off I need to thank Lyle McDonald and Matt Perryman for bringing to my attention Nick Horton’s Iron Samurai website.

Nick Horton, the Iron Samurai
Secondly, I am amazed by the article from which I have stolen quotes at the beginning - The Death of Heavy Days: How To Do More Work with Less Obsession. It pretty much addresses the issues I am dealing myself, both professionally and personally.

We are obsessing with the goals. Fixating on goals and forgetting to enjoy the ride. This can lead to emotional burnout and injuries. 

Journey ~ Destination

Again, it is complementarity. We need both. The problem is that we keep emphasizing one part of this complementarity.

I trapped myself by obsessing myself with things, from reading certain book, to eating certain food and training, 
hitting certain percentages, hitting PRs, spending certain time reading/learning, doing certain number of sets, doing more reps, increasing weight, giving my best performance and the list goes on and on. Having high expectations is bad as having none. The truths is somewhere in the middle, in the shades of gray. If we have low expectations we will suck and give up, and if we have high expectations we will burn-out. We are forgetting to enjoy the ride by fixating (obsessing) on the goals.

As Anthony De Mello said (if I am not wrong): Life is the thing that happens while we are obsessed with other things.

All of these high expectations gave me migraine, and my neurologist said it hits migraine-like people. I wonder was I born that way or I was made that way, and can I change. Probably both. I am obsessed with details and purpose (goal).

This reminds me of the tip my chiropractor gave me when I injured my back couple of years ago. Imagine yourself driving in beautiful countryside. Instead of enjoying the ride and sigh-seeing while maintaining safe ride, you are speeding to get to your destination. Slow down, and enjoy the ride he said.

You still need to have expectations though. It is shown that athletes, for whom coaches show no expectations and thus demand less, also perform less and improve less. Again, shades of gray.

All this talk goes well with Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. Fixating on the goals and improvement might seem like Growth Mindset, but I think it is actually not. As Nick Horton said in the quote above: “This should be a positive motivation, one that drives you toward attempts, the journey of lifting, not the possible outcomes of those attempts: makes or misses.” This is true Growth Mindset. Enjoying the ride; enjoying the hard work; enjoy the failures.

I have made a lot of mistakes that have cost me emotional burnout and injuries, along with abusing pre-workout stimulants. I have put too much obsession into training. “I need to try PR today.”; “I need to give my best at the workout”; “I need to improve today”. This have led others thing to suffer among constant stagnation in training and actually missing my goals because of inconsistency due injuries or emotional burnout. Yes, you need to make sacrifices, but not that much so they impair you; so much that they impair your normal life as a human being.

Philosopher Seneca use to say that people get angry and disappointed because they have high expectations. When you go to work you expect no traffic delay. When you go to the post office you expect no waiting line. When you go out you expect to have good time and pick up some hot chick(s). When you go to the gym to do hard day you expect to hit those damn weights and hit PRs. We need to embrace the shitty workouts. Dan John wrote wonderful article on this. And he is right on the bat. We need to stop obsessing with goals, outcomes and start enjoying the ride, enjoying the attempts, enjoying shitty workouts, enjoying failures, because this is actually going to move us forward. Because, this will actually make us reach our goals. Because, this is the true Growth Mindset.

But is all this Positive Thinking? Is this Law of Attraction? New Age Zen crap? Nope. I am being Optimistic Realist. Problems will always be there, the question is how we are going to react to them – reactively or proactively. Having high expectation is a problem too. Burn-out is real. Injuries are real. You cannot force adaptation no matter how much positive thinking you have. You can push it a little bit, but you cannot force it. No matter how much you believe in The Secret. No matter how much your coach yells at you. And actually, this approach is being realistic (and if you are having fun along the way it is being optimistic realistic). Sometimes you are tired from all night sex (haven’t happened to me lately though). Sometimes you are time churched. Sometimes your soccer players drained your energy and you feel like shit. Sometimes it is the stupid public transportation. Life happens. 

The point being taken here is that we are proactively changing our mindset to be more reactive to our biology and immediate training responses. This is the whole basis of auto-regulatory training. Mike Tuchscherer bases his Reactive Training System on RPEs. Sometimes 235kg will feel like 8. Sometimes 200 will feel like 8. You are not going into the gym to hit certain weight, but to hit certain attempt (expressed in terms of perceived exhaustion). Even percent based programs can utilize similar auto-regulation. Take Wendler’s 5/3/1 program for example. Instead of doing a top set with 85% 1RM for 5(+), you can attempt to see how much reps you can do with that weight. No expectations. Just attempt to do your best with the certain percentage. You did 2? Who cares, as long as you have enjoyed trying. This will keep you consistent, injury free and without emotional burn-out. Consistency over long-term doing the basics leads to improvement, leads to expertise.  

So, stop obsessing and just give it a try. See how it goes. Just do the warm-up and see how it goes. Lower your expectations.


  1. Cool story broski. I hope this new mindset helps you reach your goals, hit your PRs, etc. ;)