Getting Off the Path
by Steven M. Ledbetter
5 minute read
When I start working with a client, my job is to find Point A, Point B, then the fastest route between them. Dan John calls this “Intervention” and I stole the entire system from him. For the client, the job is the Path; they just need to stay on it and keep moving forward. I present this strategy from the very first session and warn clients that even though the steps will seem easy, and that I will be there to help steer them in the right direction, everyone gets lost or loses momentum from time-to-time. Even me. The Path
I often describe the process of reaching Point B as a “serial accumulation of habits.” The difference between the person you are now and the person you want to be, is that the person you want to be does the things the person you are now finds difficult automatically, masterfully, and gracefully. The “lean you” makes the healthy food choices you struggle to make unthinkingly. The “strong you” goblet squats the 24kg as easily as you squat the 12kg. And the way you get to that place is by slowly accumulating the habits you need to embody those qualities or skills. In the case of strength, this path is simply
in our squat example:
learn the squat pattern, addressing movement restrictions and imbalances.
squat every day
squat the 12kg every day.
or more simply
squat a lot often
Squatting is a skill. You get better at a skill with deliberate practice. Those practiced skills become habits that you do automatically. My clients see this path and think it’s easy. And they’re right (it’s called “Even Easier Strength”). Most of them think it is too easy. And they’re right. In fact, it’s because EES is so easy that nearly everyone struggles with it. Even me.
Lost in The Wilderness
One day three weeks ago, I woke up and didn’t work out. I didn’t work on anything. School had started up again and I just couldn’t budget the 2 hours I told myself I needed to get on my bike, get to the gym where I practice O-Lifting, lift, then bike back. I did my school work, then dicked around telling myself I was busy with school work. The next day, the same thing happened. Then another. Before I knew it, I had been 17 days without training. Anything. No squats. No pull ups. No mobility stuff or soft-tissue work. I told myself that it I had no time to O-lift, but really I had failed to remember my own razor: something always trumps nothing. This statement serves as my personal Mission Statement. It’s also my North Star. So when I forget, more than my training suffers.
In “Intervention” Dan John talks about The Compass: Work. Rest. Play. Pray. You can expand all these areas of your life, but only in balance to one another. My Dad always told me, “The more you do, the more you do.” Well, the opposite is just as true. By forgetting my razor, I started to write less. I still wrote every day, but I couldn’t finish a damn thing (like blog posts). I read less. I cleaned my house less. I wasn’t Working, Resting, Playing or Praying more. I was just going through the day looking for distractions. I was distracted from everything worth doing by the most trivial internet articles or opportunities to go for drinks with friends. I had some personal issues that needed working out, but I can’t say I was really dealing with them until recently. More than anything I was using it an an excuse to stay out in the wilderness. You’re only lost if you have someplace you’d rather be.
Five Pull Ups
Last week, like that guy at your party who keeps checking his watch, I remembered I had someplace better to be. I was sitting at my laptop, struggling to finish anything I started to write. There six open windows staring back at me, and I was habitually swiping over to chrome. Then I just got the urge to do a pull up. I’d love to tell you it was more than that, like an inspirational story from a client or a new fitness goal, but it wasn’t. I just wanted to do pull ups. So I hopped up, walked over to my pull up bar, and banged out five of them. At my best, I have done 32 dead-hang, USMC-style pull ups. Since 2009, I estimate that I’ve done close to 40,000 of them. Pull ups are extremely evocative for me. The physical act of doing one, even just the sensation of my hands on a metal bar over my head, brings on a flood of patterned movements and emotions. They are an exercise, an assessment, a ritual, a test, and an old shoe. In five pull ups, I felt more about my body, my mind, and the state of my soul than in those three weeks of aimlessness. In the wilderness, those pull ups were a familiar landmark. A breadcrumb back to my own Path.
Just Go with It
Motivation is a complicated phenomenon. It’s never as simple as “I did X because of Y.” It’s dynamic and multidimensional. The test I use to measure people’s motivation to exercise, the BREQ-2, measures independent levels in six different qualities of motivation. And these levels change from session to session, day to day, moment to moment. I never judge why my clients work out, as long as they are making the choices that are going to get them to their fitness goals. When they get stuck, I help them find a new reason to keep moving forward. Just keep making the right choices for them, keep practicing the habits. When it came time for me to do the same thing, I just went with it. I don’t know why I wanted to do those pull ups, but I didn’t get down on myself for only doing five. I didn’t pout that it was the only thing I did that day. I just did them and was thankful for the momentum. Then I sat back down and finished this blog post. I’m not out of the woods yet, but at least I know where I’m at and where I need to be going.