I’m currently experiencing some cognitive dissonance. You know, where you thoughts, beliefs and actions are not in harmony. Usually this is done after-the-fact, like the old fable of the fox and the grapes. The fox wanted some grapes, but they were hanging from too high a branch. The fox could not reach them, so he shakes his head. “Meh, they’re probably not ripe yet anyway,” and so he slinks off.
Incidentally, that’s where we get the phrase ‘sour grapes’ from.
My current problem has nothing to do with grapes, sadly. No, it has to do with my life goals. Being somewhat of an optimist, I have a lot of life goals, some big, some small, some life-altering if fully achieved. I want these things, and not in a wishy-washy, only-sorta-want them type of want. This is more of ‘give me a magic lamp and I’d wish these into existence almost instantly’ type of want.
If you ask me what I want to accomplish in this life, I could give you a pretty neat list, and I 100% mean it. Really and truly. It’s strange, then, that I’m not doing anything to inch closer to any of these goals.
I’m not alone in having this problem, by the way. “I need to lose weight,” a person might say, meanwhile not making any changes in diet or lifestyle. We can change that to, “I really need to lose weight,” or even, “If I don’t lose weight I’m on the fast-track for heart disease, diabetes and death,” and only some people make changes.
It’s strange, is it not? We want something, and we know to get it. There’s rarely any mystery with losing weight, or even anything else. We know what to do, or at least where to go for advice on what to do. Losing weight is the easiest, because we all know the magic ingredients: eat less, exercise more. We know this. There’s no doubt. You could take a test on it and get 100% every single time… and still we don’t do it.
My goals have nothing to do with losing weight, but the structure is the same. I want to get in the best shape possible, I want to get the splits, I want to be a writer, I want to be a chess master and a poi spinner and a karate expert and the list just goes on and on… and in every case, a roadblock, either real or imagined, but definitely halting progress.
I feel like a Balrog in the mines of Moria.
Chess may be the best example. I love chess. I can talk about it or write about it or play it all day. It’s perfect, just a perfect game. I used to get upset about certain things, usually opening choices by my opponent, but as I’ve improved those concerns have faded. I’m inching closer to my goal of mastership, and when I analyze the games of GMs and other top players, I can find the right move 80% of the time and the other 15% I’m close. The last 5%? Well, that’s why I’m not a master yet.
I have a roadmap to get there. GM Smirnov has a course Self-Taught GM, which is a complete training plan. Do that and I’m master level, more or less. Cool… so why aren’t I doing it? Why aren’t I studying? Why am I washing the dishes, cleaning the house, making grocery lists, writing trivial things and just plain doing everything else but this?
“Hey, Smithy, do you want to be a chess master?” Yeah! “Then let’s go study.” Meh, I’d rather not. “But don’t you want to be a master?” Definitely, just not this exact moment. Or later, apparently, as I keep finding ways to not study. True, studying isn’t very fun … but actually, that’s not true. Sometimes it’s great fun. Sometimes it’s dull. All the time it’s work, and that seems to be holding me back. Consciously or unconsciously, I don’t want to do the work necessary.
For the record, that nearly always separates the top performers from the rest, the ability to do the work necessary. Not that you want to do that, but that you do it. Do the work, you get the results. Do more work than average, get better than average. That’s it, that’s the secret. Applying it, though, isn’t that easy.
My poi spinning is very similar. I like doing it. I really want to get better at it. I have a training course, plus multiple DVDs, all showing various progressions and practice habits. I have a wonderful park just down the street with ample room to practice. I have literally no excuse … but I somehow keep putting it off. For some reason, practicing more (or even at all some weeks) is an incredible struggle.
And nothing with the flow arts should be a struggle.
In both of these cases, chess and poi, I want to get better but I’m not willing to do the work, or more accurately, I’m currently avoiding all the work. I know what I need to do, but I don’t do it. There’s also the opposite happening with my fitness training: I’m putting in my time but getting very little benefit. Rather than change something, though, I just keep doing the exact same thing.
I have two competing ideas battling inside my head. I want to get strong. That’s it. I’m already lean, I’m in great shape, I can run forever, I have agility and speed for days, but I’m not strong. I’ve never been strong. I was the scrawny kid, and arguably I still am. Starting high school, I weighed less than 100lbs. I finished at 140lbs … and over six feet tall. I gained 40lbs and somehow looked skinnier.
I want to get strong, but there’s a problem: I don’t like lifting weights. That’s because lifting weights is hard and makes me feel weak. I’d reach for a 20lbs dumbbell for some curls and struggle to even hold it. Meanwhile a regular guy not six feet away is using twice as much for his warm-up set. Lifting weights are hard work, and I felt so weak while doing it. Better to do anything else.
I embraced bodyweight training, which is interesting because many bodyweight moves are harder than lifts. It’s easier to do lat pulldowns than a pull up, or weighted squats rather than one-leg bodyweight squats aka pistol squats. I didn’t feel weak while doing these, though, and I soon followed various different bodyweight fitness programs.
All of them have worked for a bit … and then they stop working. I then look for a different bodyweight program. I found a good one, one I really liked, one that promised to lead to the promised land … but the last six months have been zero progress. I’m in the exact same spot, but rather than changing anything, I keep plugging away. Okay. I think that’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing but expecting, magically, a different result this time.
I want to get strong. Everyone knows how to get stronger: lift weights. That’s what works. What I’m currently doing isn’t working. The obvious choice would be to drop my current program and start lifting weights. That’s what this logic suggests, and I continue to do the opposite. Why? Because I don’t life lifting weights.
But I did it for an entire week once! I’m clearly an expert on it!
With chess and poi, I know what I need to do. I just don’t do it. With this example, though, it’s even worse, because I know what I need to do and am actively doing the opposite. I make a whole bunch of excuses, like how I’m already pretty strong relative to my weight (all 165lbs of me, so strong), or how I don’t want to get big anyway. Remember that fable from the beginning, with the fox and the grapes? That’s me but with lifting weights.
I need a mindset shift. I need to stop viewing things as what I want to do or like to do but as things I just do. I’m not sure how I do that yet, but I’ve got some ideas. I’m going to brainstorm more, then I’m going to test some, and then we’ll see how things go. For now, though, I continue to wallow in my cognitive dissonance, at least for a little while.