It is impossible to do something perfectly AND learn from it.
If it was ‘perfect’, what have you learned?
And yet I see many lifters expecting to be able to do a new drill or a new weight lifting technique perfectly (or near enough) first time.
Chasing perfection basically means that you are trying to skip the entire learning process and jump straight to the end. Jump straight to what takes elite lifters years of practise!
Doesn’t that sound kinda arrogant? Entitled, maybe?
This is a big issue with adults learning new skills.
As children, we were learning all the time and everything was new. We were used to the learning process because that was all we ever experienced. It was just the way life was. Life was learning.
As adults, we finally reach a level of competence in certain activities. This might be a sport, it might be a work skill or a hobby. Maybe you are a good piano player or pretty handy with a tennis racket. Perhaps you are a genius with numbers.
We love feeling competent. The ego revels in it. It makes us feel safe, we can’t be judged or thought less of.
But when we come to learn a new skill as adults, often the ego will accept nothing less than complete competence.
And this means that anything less than competence is a disappointment and a frustration. Not doing something perfectly first time is seen as a failure.
Not necessarily a crushing failure, but a tiny failure. A small sense of disappointment that you didn’t get it right first time. Sudden doubt about your abilities: is there something wrong with me? Can I really do this?
I see it in the eyes of many people that I coach at the beginning of the process. The grim concentration on doing an exercise perfectly; the silent frustration when it doesn’t quite go to plan or they get some coaching feedback. The attempt once again to do the exercise perfectly. The disappointment when told that it is ‘better’ – interpreted as ‘not yet perfect’.
Fighting perceived failure like this is mentally exhausting. Learning can be exciting and fun (like it was when we were kids) if you just accept imperfection as part of the process. It’s in the doing, not the result.
I used to screw up lifts all the time. Even warm up weights well below my maximum. This would make me frustrated and I would miss again! And so the cycle would continue, getting more frustrated and missing again and again.
I would try to follow my trainer’s instructions, such as to ‘keep the back tight’ or whatever it was. And then my body would do the exact opposite!
Why does this happen? I believe it is because the mind is focussed not on the coaching point, but on completing it successfully. In others words, on the outcome, not on the process itself.
Our egos are very invested in success. We judge ourselves on how successful we feel, a lot of the time.
The solution I found – after years of frustration – was actually quite simple. I just changed what ‘success’ meant to me.
Before, success meant making the lift, getting a PB, improving on last week’s numbers. Now, success means putting as much focus and energy into the training session as I can. Trying my best to do the drills and exercises as instructed. And not thinking about or worrying about what anyone else is doing.
If I make the lift, or get the PB, or improve on last week’s numbers, that is a BONUS. That is a result of doing all the other things consistently over a period of time.
I know what you are thinking. What about those times when you go into the gym determined to get that PB! Surely then you have to focus on the outcome?
Well no, what you have to focus on is giving it your best effort and focus. Only then might you get that PB. Or you might not – who knows?
Chances are that if you have put in the work in over a period of time, and you give it your best effort, then you will get it. You’ve put yourself in a position to succeed, not by consciously trying to succeed, but by doing the work with your best effort and allowing success to come as a natural consequence of work.
So, when you are learning a new skill or struggling to perfect one, remember that it is all about your effort and focus, not on how ‘well’ you are executing the movement.
This makes success easy! It’s very difficult to get something right every time; it is much easier – and more enjoyable – to simply give your best effort in the moment.
Happy weight lifting!