People just don’t believe in themselves anymore. It’s disturbing and as a trainer and coach extremely frustrating. Spend enough time doing my job and you get pretty good at estimating a person’s ability for physical exertion. Sometimes it’s their posture, the way they walk, muscle tone, even their facial expressions. Often I’ll ask clients to lift a relatively light weight for a mundane reason just to observe their technique and form. One thing I notice more and more is that most clients just have no faith in their own strength and ability despite all evidence to the contrary.
I hear the words “I can’t” more often than any other reply when I ask a new trainee to attempt an exercise. It has in fact become the standard reply to every new situation for many people today and not just when exercising but life in general. I’ve come to believe that as a society we have become so afraid of failure and the perceived stigma attached to it that we would rather abstain from trying something new than risk failing at it. After all the “everybody wins” movement is in its second generation now and there are millions of young adults in the world who are missing a simple and very fundamental concept many of us learned at a very young age; not everybody wins, but there are lessons in losing.
As a kid I literally got knocked down on a regular basis. I was nerdy, slightly built and a natural target for bullies and those bigger and stronger than me. My parents took no pity though and provided a very simple formula for dealing with life’s adversity called perseverance. I was told to stand up to bullies; even if I lost it was the right thing to do. My mother was a true believer in the notion that life is not fair and requires certain strength of will and character to navigate successfully. As a child I felt like the world was picking on me and the odds were consistently against me. Looking back I realize I was being forged into an adult and learning to cope with all the realities that come with it.
It’s a common mistake today for trainees, clients, and students to judge their own ability skill and experience against my own or those around them. In a world of instant gratification and acknowledgement the years of training and most importantly mistakes that have built my ability are automatically overlooked or discounted out of hand. My skill is instead credited to genetics, luck, or saddest of all some notion of fate. People seem to forget that the results come from hard work and dedication, not from luck or some cosmic lottery. Most likely they were never taught the principal at all. They believe Navy Seals were born as elite soldiers instead of scared teenagers standing in front of an angry Drill Instructor. They see million dollar contracts for athletes and resent their fortune without recognizing the years of practice, pain, and sweat that went into it.
When you try something new for the first time you may indeed fail. You could also discover you’re able to do things you never thought possible. If however you approach each new situation with the attitude that you can’t more often than not it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. After-all the body achieves what the mind believes and no great achievement ever happened because someone believed they couldn’t. The greatest deeds in history resulted from an unshakable belief in “I can” sometimes despite the evidence against it. Thomas Edison once remarked that before he mastered the electric light bulb he failed 2000 times. Had he given up the first time where would we be today?
Nothing worth doing is ever easy but many times it’s easier than we make it out to be, the hardest part simply being the decision to try.