The objective of a coach or writer who encourages you to fall in love with the process is trying to create a sustainable mindset for growth. This is a noble intention. But my own experience, both as a coach and an athlete, has led me to believe that it falls short of its intended outcome. For me, and for many of the athletes I have observed or coached, the process is inextricably linked to the goal, and so falling in love with the former is only one degree removed from the latter. The result is that often, when the complications of life interrupt the plan, both process and goal fall apart.
This is the reality behind so many unclaimed marathon bibs and event t-shirts are relegated to the floor of the closet. The process is powerful, but only while you’re in it.
By Pete Hitzeman Via www.breakingmuscle.com
What do you do when you find yourself off the wagon?
When Life Knocks the Wheels Off
I provided myself with a stunning example of this systemic failure a few weeks ago, when I was unexpectedly called out of town for work. My process, at the moment, is a six-month buildup to some late spring endurance bicycle races. At this phase, it entails hours every week devoted to increasing leg strength and cardiovascular capacity, using the modalities of weightlifting and intervals on the trainer, respectively.
The Sunday morning call to grab a bag and get out of town threw a wrench in all that. I resolved to make the best of it, of course. I threw several sets of workout clothes in my bag, planned to lift at least twice while I was away, and grabbed my running shoes and watch so I could get some interval work done on the track. I wouldn’t be able to adhere to my plan to the letter, but I could at least satisfy the intent.
Murphy’s Law had other plans for me. My work days ended up stretching toward midnight every night, and the one evening I managed to get off early, a freak winter storm shut down all the gyms. I even wore my gym clothes to work one day, with the intent to steal away at lunch for a quick squat session, but it wasn’t to be. The result was that for a week—an entire week—I accomplished zero training sessions, drank an inordinate amount of coffee, and generally felt terrible, physically and psychologically.
As I drove home through the West Virginia mountains, I made two observations. First, when I don’t train regularly, I’m not sure when I’m supposed to shower anymore. Second and more important, when my process gets interrupted, I need to develop a more robust fallback plan than growling at my coworkers.
A Personal Root Cause Analysis
In the weeks since, I have applied that same scrutiny to my everyday life. Why am I in line at Piada again, instead of eating a prepped meal I brought from home? Why am I on the trainer at 9pm, instead of crawling into bed? Why do I only get in two or three sessions of meditation per week, instead of doing it every day? Why did I end up with this unplanned rest day, when my body felt ready to go? To be frustrated at these things is understandable, but it’s unacceptable to do nothing about them.
Life is chaos, to be sure. Life with a full-time job that requires short-notice travel, several side hustles, and ambitious training goals is an absolute pandemonium. But I understand that there are many people far busier than I am, who accomplish more impressive things than I do. Busy is an excuse, and a particularly pungent one.
Part of the answer is that I don’t plan well enough sometimes. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to carve out a few quiet moments in the morning to read a book over a cup of coffee, those moments also carry the potential leave me stuck at my computer, well past bedtime, editing a podcast. I can moan about the fact that I’m 15lb over race weight, but if I’m not packing responsible meals in my bag every day, and sorting out the editorial calendar over a beer every night, I don’t have a valid complaint.
But the root cause of my failure isn’t planning, it’s my love for the process. I love to train, to work hard toward a goal, and to see the incremental progress over time. I love to grind, to get in the gym or on the bike, and to compare this effort to the last one. I even have a perverse fascination with my limitations and injury history, and how to work around them.
The trouble with plans and processes is that they are finite, and the chaos of life is not. Sometimes your plan B, and C, all the way down to G, get thwarted. Sometimes that continues for days or weeks at a time, and maybe you don’t have the mental capacity left after all that to make another plan. The phenomenon where perfect becomes the enemy of good can extend to your process, becoming the enemy of your 60 Year Fitness Plan.
The Strongest Plan Isn’t a Plan
The irony, of course, is that the solutions to these issues literally stare me in the face, every day of the week:
- My wife (the most wonderful woman in the world and a far more dedicated athlete than I am) carries not one, but two gym bags in the back of her car every day, so she’ll be prepared for whatever opportunity for movement that presents itself.
- Jocko Willink spent an hour trying to get it through my head that the solution to chaos is structure and discipline.
- Shane Trotter has given me a concrete method to make progress in my weak areas, three minutes at a time.
- Tom Kelso has made it abundantly clear that a single rep of a single exercise is 100% better than no reps at all.
- I myself have expounded on the virtues and necessity of getting some work done on a daily basis.
These principles are philosophically true. The trick lies in their application, and for me, that means I need to fall out of love with the process, to an extent. It means I need to view daily movement and rigidly responsible eating habits as personal values, not just means to an end. It means I need to be okay doing things just for their own sake, not as part of any larger plan for athletic greatness. It means that in 12 minutes, I need to step away from this keyboard, walk the nine feet from my office to my workout room, pick up a light kettlebell, and execute 20 perfect goblet squats.
The practices that will maintain my health and performance for the rest of my life must become habits and lifestyle, not just training plans and processes. This will be the next step forward for me, and like every change I’ve made, it won’t be linear or easy. But also like every change, it will be worth the effort.