Master of None or Master of One
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.”
While there are issues with the validity of this quote (for instance, I’m pretty sure fish don’t have self-perception), the overall message holds value for everyone who trains: if you measure your ability by every exercise you do in the gym, you will have a distorted self-esteem. A lot of us tie our physical strength, performance and appearance to our overall self-worth, and to some degree, that’s a positive way to self-motivate.
But it’s important to return to return to your specific goals and your ‘why’ in order to keep you focused. If you’re homed in on your specific goals, you’re less likely to be discouraged when you don’t master everything you try. As coaches, we tailor your training programs to your specific goals – but that doesn’t mean that you are supposed to achieve perfection in all of them. In some instances, the benefit is in the struggle itself. For example – balance exercises are called balance exercises because of the struggle they entail. If you could balance perfectly, you wouldn’t need the practice. Your muscles grow stronger by struggling to stabilize. It’s discouraging to lose your balance and topple over, especially if it seems like you do so every. single. time. In situations like this, check and recheck how you’re defining success. If success to you means perfection, you’re going to miss the mark most of the time; but if success to you means getting stronger so that your specific goal is more in reach, you’re making progress every time you step in the gym.
It’s easy to get caught up in trying to be the jack of all trades or even the master of all trades. (And we all know that if you’re the jack of all trades, you’re the master of none.)
You can probably think of at least 1 or 2 movements in your current training program where you fall short of ideal, maybe every time you step up to the plate. Perhaps you leave a training session feeling frustrated because you bailed out of a front squat, or you’ve been working on your power clean for 3 weeks and you still can’t make that first pull feel quite right.
The good news is, unless you’re planning on competing in Olympic Weightlifting, you can walk away knowing that you got stronger even if your technique didn’t look like the guy’s on the platform on the other side of the gym. If your goals aren’t on the platform, you don’t need to overthink it or let it define your performance. Similarly, if you’re a triathlete or a cross country runner and you have box jumps in your program for general power/strength training, your inability to jump with ease onto the 36” box like the basketball player next to you doesn’t mean you’re any less of an athlete. Your goals and the demands of your sport are just different.
That being said, we should rise to the challenges of exercises we haven’t mastered. Not only should we rise to them, but we should embrace them, because often, the benefit is in the struggle.
But if you’re constantly leaving the gym feeling inadequate or bummed out, take 5 minutes before your next training session to write or think through these questions:
1) What are your goals? Are they specific enough?
2) For each goal, write out WHY you set that goal and how reaching it would impact you.
3) How do you define success in the context of each goal?
4) Is the movement you seem to constantly struggle with a direct reflection of your ability in terms of your goals? If it is, write out your next step to improvement. If it’s not, leave your frustrations on the page, get in there and just get stronger.
Setting specific goals – whether they are related to performance, mentality, habit formation, or weight loss – provides direction. If you don’t know which direction you’re aiming, how can you know if you’re on track? And if you’re not sure whether or not you are on track in a single direction, your self-perception is left vulnerable to being pulled in any and all directions.
Most people who train want to become the master of one thing, rather than the jack of all trades. And for many of us that don’t have specific performance or athletic goals, we are trying to be the master of our own selves – our bodies and our minds. Maybe that is why you train – and a big part of mastery over self is knowing your worth and controlling what you let influence your self-perception.
Sometimes It’s a matter of redefining success, sometimes it’s narrowing your goals, and sometimes it’s returning to your ‘why’ and remembering that the process, not perfection, is what makes us better.