Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Looking the Fool

The Road Not Taken - by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.


I’ve started my article with this poem because I think, one of the views of this poem ties in with the theme for this article.
Some have said that, one point Robert Frost was trying to make with this poem was that, when he chose to take the path that was less trodden (more grassy and wanted wear) he was simply taking the decision not to follow the crowd. To not worry what everyone else would say, suggest or think about his decision to go in a different direction to them.

As I sat in the gym the other day, gasping for air after my first set of Push-up – Burpee – Shoulder Press combinations, I glanced at a whiteboard that had been erected in a corner of the gym to record times and scores for a variety of challenges.
As someone had cleverly removed all oxygen from the gym at that time, I was able to spend quite a few minutes whilst gulping in chest aching amounts of in-effective air, to make some observations on the times that had been posted for one particular endurance concept rower challenge.
What impressed me was that there was a wide range of times posted on the board, by various individuals in the gym and, quite clearly, those with the relatively poor times were still prepared to post their names for all to see.

It was quite a refreshing sight and one that made me pay more attention to other activities around the gym.

I point out that this pondering and musing wasn’t just to gain more valuable minutes of recovery time before my next set of killer burpees, honestly!

My observations then moved on to spotting certain individuals who I have noted, return to the gym to carry out the same exercises day in and day out, never varying their routine and only performing the weight lifting feats that are obviously their favourite and the ones that they can impress the other gym-goers with.

I’m sure we’ve all fallen into the trap at one time or another where we avoid the pull-up bar when the gym is busy as we know we can only heave out a disappointing and possibly embarrassing two or three complete reps. Or we favour the benchpress that we’ve been mastering for years and wow the onlookers by lifting up weights that are heavier than small planets.

These two observations couldn’t be farther apart.

On one hand we have people prepared to post their name against a time for all to see, that is most likely the best they can do but in a different league to their competition. Then we have the individuals who will only experiment with their least favourite exercises when no-one else is watching.

I would suggest that the issue here is something of an ego battle that doesn’t want us to look the fool.
“Looking the fool” may be a bit harsh I agree, but my point is this.
The moment we become concerned with what others may think of us in the gym, is the moment we stop learning and stop growing.

I have written in the past about going back to being a white belt in a new martial art and the message is the same. The moment the 5th Dan is not prepared to don a crisp new white belt and get on the mat in a completely new club, with a completely new system and then get thrown around, tapping more times than Michael Flatley, is the moment we stop learning.

If you are terrible at pull-ups and you worry about what people will think of you when you try and fail, then you will never jump up and grab the bar. If you never grab the bar you’ll never get good at it and this applies to everything.

In order to learn, we have to be prepared to fail, and in addition, we have to be prepared to allow others to watch us fail.
NB: I will write more about this in the future as Failure doesn’t actually play a part in the learning process in my opinion

I think this message can be carried – assuming you can lift the weight of course – out of the gym and into every other aspect of our lives.

The moment you worry about what other people think is the moment you will stop doing anything for yourself. You will stop trying new things, you will stop living your own life and you will become a puppet of those around you.

Gertrude Stein said, "let me listen to me and not to them."

The irony is that those around you are too busy getting on with their own lives and worrying what others are thinking of them to really be caring about what you are doing and looking like anyway.
So I say, jump up, grab the bar and give it a go. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be reaching the reps, the times, the scores you aspire to. Letting your perception of what others may think of your initial attempts is just as bad as having them hanging on your legs and stopping you from reaching your dreams.

So if you ever get the feeling that you might look the fool, or you won’t live up to what people expect of you, that is the time to do it. That is the best challenge you can find as the progress in the given exercise will be a mere by-product. The real benefit will be the battle for self-control won over your own ego that was the only real thing standing in your way in the first place.

Thank you for reading
Stay Safe and Have Fun

Al x

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