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Exercise will change your body. That’s human physiology for you. Ironically, if physical change is the only real reason for what you do, that change may never happen. Instead, your relationship with it will only ever be an exchange of services. One dollar for one token. One compliment for one favour. One minute of sweat for one calorie. This is a type of relationship for sure. But it’s more like the one you have with a cashier at a department store. It’s brittle and it’s transactional. The second it stops serving you, you stop paying into it.
If you’re looking for more than a casual fling, this article is for you. This is for the folks who want to put a ring on that finger and make things work no matter what.
Secrets of the successful (til death do us part)
I’ve watched many people develop the practice of movement over the years. The most successful ones have a few things in common.
* Emotional regulation (they accept setbacks and modify their approach when necessary)
* Social support (they built relationships within or related to the exercise community)
* Coaching (they got some kind of professional support and accountability)
* Knowing that facts are better than dreams (accurately assessing what they’re capable of in the present and not getting stuck on what they think they should be able to do).
* High consistency (their training practice is just as integral a part of their schedule as working or sleeping).
* Time in (real change does not happen overnight)
There’s one more key ingredient:
For our purposes, we’ll define deliberate practice as the ability to take tasks in the present and then organize and relate them to larger goals. In other words, understanding what the small milestones look like along the path.
Your goal may be to deadlift 500 lbs. But what does that mean in today’s training session? It may be as simple as doing some general meathead work. Or as specific as accumulating 25 reps at a weight you could only do 20 reps with a month ago. Even if that weight is nowhere near your goal! Either way, the short-term fits strategically into the long-term. And you know what the next milestone after this one will be.
There’s something else that’s essential to deliberate practice:
You will know if you did it right
If you can’t tell the difference between good and poor execution, it’s not deliberate practice.
So, while you will want to be able to relate today’s training session to next year’s goal, there’s more. You’ll also be able to shrink things down right into the current moment. Whether it’s a rep, a stride, or a position, does this single moment fit into the bigger picture?
This might seem intimidating. But if you ever feel overwhelmed, just do a truly terrible job with something. On purpose. Make it so awful that there is no doubt in your mind that it is poor execution. And then do something better. IF you can’t do that, you have simply chosen something that is (for the moment) beyond your ability or awareness level). So decrease the challenge a bit and repeat. Ego schmeego. Just make it work for yourself.
There’s one more thing I have to tell you about deliberate practice:
It’s never boring
Do you think of yourself as the kind of person who believes that they need a lot of exercise variety to keep from getting bored? I respectfully submit that you haven’t discovered how to engage in deliberate practice yet. This approach is interesting – at a minimum. At the best of times, it’s playful and fun. It allows you to be curious and then indulge that curiosity in ways that build your own expertise.
“What does deliberate practice have to do with my booty goals?”
Nothing and everything.
This perspective gives you a break from tallying up calories and poundages. But it keeps you engaged in the process (and developing more and more expertise and insight as you go). And that, in turn, gives you one amazing gift. The ability to continue to do the work – day in and day out – in for the long-haul. Without that, being amazing is impossible.
Progress is never linear
You don’t just lose fat like clockwork. Or gain muscle on a fixed schedule. There will be dips. There will be long plateaus. The higher you climb, the more of these you’ll see. And if your only metric is what exercise DID for you today, you will be frustrated. You will be bored. And you will question what the point of all of this is anyway. When you have a transactional relationship with exercise and it stops paying out, you will want to give up. And nobody could blame you.
Tying your identity to your physical results is a heaping bowl of anxiety. We’ve seen this mess with far more people than it’s helped. And we know that there’s a better way.
But learning is fun
Being engaged in an emerging, evolving, and rewarding practice is all any of us can ask for. Many of us find those wonderful moments within our hobbies. And that’s why those hobbies persist even when we get stuck for a long time. We still find ways to explore and deepen our understanding. Your relationship with exercise can be like that. But that all starts by focusing on what it reveals in the moment and worrying less about what it’s done for you today. Start there and see where it takes you.
Wishing you, above all else, a good time.