CrossFit can be frustrating: The more improve at something, the more you want to improve at something else, and when you do make gains at one skill, you still suck at 10 other movements. Factor in the inevitable weeks, months and even years where you feel like you’re plateauing and sometimes it feels like the easy thing to do is to give up and find another hobby.
Although it’s a cliche, one of our goals for all our clients is to help you realize fitness is a lifelong endeavor that must be approached with diligence and patience. We want you all to embrace the long-term journey in all its ups and downs (most particularly the downs).
One book that has proven incredibly helpful for many to learn to love the process is a book by George Leonard called “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.”
You can get the full book here, but here are some important takeaways that can truly help you be more successful not just at the gym, but in all areas of your life.
Leonard explains that whenever a person seeks to learn a new skill—be it a new sport, a new hobby, such as cooking or pottery, or even begin a new profession—it’s best to follow the mastery path.
He explained the mastery path looks like this: “Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it….To take the master’s journey, you have to practice diligently, striving to hone your skills, to attain new levels of competence. But while doing so—and this is the inexorable fact of the journey—you also have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere.”
In contrast, most people don’t embrace the master’s journey, Leonard explained. Instead, most people express traits of either a dabbler, a hacker or an obsessive.
Do you recognize yourself in any of the below characters?
Leonard explained: “The Dabbler approaches each new sport, career opportunity, or relationship with enormous enthusiasm. He or she loves the rituals involved in getting started, the spiffy equipment, the lingo, the shine of newness. When he makes his first spurt of progress in a new sport, for example, the Dabbler is overjoyed. He demonstrates his form to family, friends, and people he meets on the street. He can’t wait for the next lesson. The falloff from his first peak comes as a shock. The plateau that follows is unacceptable if not incomprehensible. His enthusiasm quickly wanes. He starts missing lessons. His mind fills up with rationalizations.
This really isn’t the right sport for him. It’s too competitive, noncompetitive, aggressive, nonaggressive, boring, dangerous, whatever. He tells everyone that it just doesn’t fulfill his unique needs. Starting another sport gives the Dabbler a chance to replay the scenario of starting up. Maybe he’ll make it to the second plateau this time, maybe not. Then it’s on to something else.”
I’m always suspicious I might have a dabbler on my hands when a new overly enthusiastic client shows up with brand new metcons or weightlifting shoes before he even knows how to squat….
Leonard explained: “After sort of getting the hang of a thing, he or she is willing to stay on the plateau indefinitely. He doesn’t mind skipping stages essential to the development of mastery
if he can just go out and hack around with fellow hackers. He’s the physician or teacher who doesn’t bother going to professional meetings, the tennis player who develops a solid forehand and figures he can make do with a ragged backhand. At work, he does only enough to get by, leaves on time or early takes every break, talks instead of doing his job, and wonders why he doesn’t get promoted. The Hacker looks at marriage or living together not as an opportunity for learning and development, but as a comfortable refuge from the uncertainties of the outside world.”
I have seen many hackers in my day as a coach; they’re frustrating because I often feel I care more about their development than they do…
Leonard explained: “The Obsessive is a bottom-line type of person, not one to settle for second best. He or she knows results are what count, and it doesn’t matter how you get them, just so you get them fast. In fact, he wants to get the stroke just right during the very first lesson.
He stays after class talking to the instructor. He asks what books and tapes he can buy to help him make progress faster. (He leans toward the listener when he talks. His energy is up front when he walks.) The Obsessive starts out by making robust progress. His first spurt is just what he expected. But when he inevitably regresses and finds himself on a plateau, he simply won’t accept it. He redoubles his effort. He pushes himself mercilessly. He refuses to accept his boss’s and colleagues’ counsel of moderation. He works all night at the office, he’s tempted to take shortcuts for the sake of quick results.”
Another common personality trait I have come across—while the Obsessive’s efforts are inspiring—he is the guy who often gets injured for letting his ego get the best of him.
So how do you move away from being a hacker, an obsessive or a dabbler and onto the mastery path?
You practice diligently, and you practice for the sake of the journey, as opposed to the outcome.
And instead of being frustrated when you’re on a plateau, you learn to appreciate and enjoy the struggle.
And the thing is, when you do this—when you learn to appreciate all aspects of the journey—you will get a lot further than you ever could have imagined.