This realization illustrates the importance of a training-appropriate psychological strategy that is efficacious. Without such a strategy, the mindfulness and discipline demanded by a training program can not occur, and the synergy generated by independent variable manipulation is lost.
Frequently, in life and in training, suffering occurs. In life, sufferings come resulting from attachments to things, people or ideas. In training, suffering come as a result of being attached to outcome. By outcome results are meant.
Training is a goal-directed behavior best explained by the theory of drive reduction, and as a result is attached to outcome by necessity. Attachment in training can take two forms:
- Attachment to process
- Attachment to results
In the case of attachment to process, an athlete can begin a routine and develop a behavioral pattern that, at first, is adaptive. Over time, however, this pattern can become maladaptive in relation to the goal, and the bodybuilder can find him or herself at a plateau.
This kind of attachment to process most often results from convenience and complacency. This is easy to understand considering that the results one initially sees from training in a certain manner may reinforce the desire to keep with the style of training. Thus, initially rewarding behavioral patterns are easy to fall into and often considerably more difficult to change.
With attachment to results or ends, we find suffering also, should the desired ends fail to materialize. Even if they do materialize and the athlete is happy, we still see suffering in the form of an emotional dependence on desired results. The kind of success-dependent emotional bondage that results from attachment to outcome will always lead to suffering.
So what is an athlete to do? If an athlete should not depend on the outcome or process of a training program, what should the athlete depend upon? The answer lies in discovering the ephemeral nature of reality.
Reality As It Is
From early life, we are conditioned by society at large to construct stories about the world around us. This occurs so that, when the appropriate time arrives, we may function semi-autonomously. Everything prior to adulthood prepares us for this crucial transition.
While the things we "learn" about reality during adolescence are useful, it is important to grasp the fact that all beliefs, facts or ideas are simply that - mental representations of an integrated reality, the components of which can be separated in the mind only. No matter how accurately our stories describe reality, our stories about reality are still stories that we tell ourselves, and nothing more.
Through the senses via transduction the human mind integrates sensation and perception data, into concepts. These concepts are hierarchical in nature. In this way the mind "separates" individual aspects of the observable reality according to their properties of color, smell, hue, pitch, frequency, vibration rate, and so on. Philosophically, this can be thought of as the logical arrangement of ideas. A major premise, for example, is logically anterior to a minor.
When ideas are arranged in a coherent, logical, order, one has a story or theory. A theory is a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena. A theory is a gross speculation on the relationship between two or more "separate" phenomenon or variables. Over time the speculation becomes more refined, through testing, until maximum specificity and accuracy have been achieved. The empirical approach of science is one that emphasizes empiricism and theory testing. While the scientific method is a device of the mind, it does have its limits. So too does the human mind's ability to comprehend or describe reality. The reason for this is simple: the human mind utilizes logic and language [a device of logic] to make sense of the world.
For proof that language is nothing more than a convention of logic, try to determine the nature of a table if you can not use the labels "table" "solid" "object" "thing" "matter" or a description denoting its other physical properties. This demonstration should be sufficient to show that language is a tool that exists only to allow the mind to understand experience, and that language may, or may not, always be useful when it comes to having direct contact with reality.
It is according to logical hierarchy, and through defining and establishing relationships between seemingly separate aspects of reality, that stories about reality are created. All human "understanding" and "knowledge" is created in this way. But human knowledge is exactly that: human knowledge. Human knowledge is not reality, as such.
Problems with human knowledge occur in proportion to the depth of scientific inquiry. On the grossest of levels, theories are clear and "objective." Newtonian mechanics and the examination of movement amongst bodies through energy transfer is an example of gross-level scientific observation. At the sub-atomic level, however, problems with human knowledge occur. The limitation of inquiry occurs because of the nature of the human senses and, by extension, scientific instrumentation.
At the sub-atomic level a particle can be both a particle and a wave, and both an object with and without mass, simultaneously. Mathematics has attempted to come to a resolution on these matters. However, mathematics is a conceptually limited system of condensed thought that breaks down at the sub-atomic level. Logically it is not possible that a thing and its opposite can exist at the same time and in the same way. Yet, despite our conceptual objections, the existence of simultaneous existence of mutually exclusive situations is the case. Particles and waves aside, let us consider the "simple" electron.
An electron is a sub-atomic particle that is said to "orbit" the nucleus of the atom. However, an electron does not orbit the nucleus in a mechanistic, Newtonian, fashion. At any given time an electron has the tendency to exist in any number of places simultaneously. These places are known as "orbital positions."
The Heisenberg uncertainty principle has demonstrated that while it can be predicted with a fair degree of certainty an electron's location, its location can not be known with exactness. This statement requires qualification: an electrons position can not be calculated with exactness while simultaneously calculating its velocity. It is one or the other. Thus, concerning an electrons position or velocity, all statements are known as probability statements. In other words, they are approximations of reality.
The two examples supplied are sufficient to illustrate the idea that our theories and ideas about reality are approximations only, that they break down at a certain level, and are reducible to probability statements.
When it comes to the expectations that one has created regarding a fitness program, the realization that our expectations and statements of reality are approximates only, and therefore have only a probability of success, should illustrate the fallacy of becoming attached to process or outcome thereby placing ones emotions at the mercy of probability.
The solution to this problem is found in the problem itself and is quite simple: relinquish any emotional attachments you have to your training program or the desired results. This does not mean developing an attitude of indifference toward training, nor does it mean abandoning the tried and true scientific method to whim. It does mean having a satori moment - a moment of realization.
Letting go of your attachments to the aspects of training means finding freedom to take back your emotions, and listening instead to inner signals. It means realizing that you alone determine your emotional states and that you will use positive emotions to make your workouts have new life.
This realization comes about primarily from a mental shift.
This shift in perspective can best come about by considering the following story:
"When planting a tree, if you want to do it in the right way and get fruit from it, how should you go about it in order to have a relaxed mind? You do that which is your responsibility. Getting hold of the sapling is your job; digging the hole is your job; planting it, fertilizing and watering it, and keeping the insects off it is your job. That's it. Stop here. How fast or slow it grows isn't your job. Let go of this part.
You make the causes in planting and taking care of the tree but you don't think, When will it be fully grown? When will there be fruit? That isn't your business, it's the plants ... if you've done your work properly, the tree is bound to grow according to nature ... if you want it to grow in a day or two after all your hard work, that's mistaken. There is not happiness that way." (Chah, p.119)
This story illustrates the point correctly. If you, as an athlete, want to bodybuild successfully, it is important to not only exploit the relationship between stimulus and response, but also to realize that the response or outcome will come as a result of the bodies nature. When it comes down to it you can control with limited exactness only what foods you eat, and you can only influence (not force) how the body responds to physical activity. These are your responsibilities as a bodybuilder; it is the bodies job to adapt to the stimulus with the food and recovery you provide it. It will do so only according to its nature, and independent of your considerations of it.
It may seem that I am now advocating becoming attached to process, whereas before I stated that attachments of any kind will result in suffering and frustration. I am not advocating attachment to process; I am advocating becoming attached only to non-attachment.
Although training variables are somewhat constant, their application may change according to circumstance. Macronutrient percentages and intake will be higher or lower according to season and training phase. Stimulus application will vary according to repetition scheme, training frequency and poundage used. All of these things will vary according to the ever-changing states of the body. All things will change, and all conditions will pass away, only to give rise to others. Being attached to non-attachment means being attached only to the idea that reality is always changing and, as a consequence, that your training is always changing.
Given this realization, it is clear that the bodybuilders responsibility is to manage the semi-constant training process, and not to cling to the same way of training application when circumstances dictate otherwise. Attempting to cling to reality is like squeezing water; the harder you squeeze, the more quickly it flows through your fingers.
All sufferings exist because of attachments and "not right seeing." Not right seeing comes as a result of being diluted by the stories that we tell ourselves about reality. When we become attached to these unrealistic stories - stories that are approximations at best - sufferings and frustrations result.
With training, becoming attached to outcome produces suffering. Becoming attached to process produces suffering. Attachments must produce suffering because they attempt to make a flowing and ever-changing reality static.
Sufferings result when we fail to correctly identify our responsibilities and focus on the bodies instead. Sufferings come when we try to force a reality that proceeds at its own pace independent of our thoughts.
Becoming attached to non-attachment brings liberation in life and training. It takes the mind off of the bodies responsibilities, and shifts the attention to other matters.
If you can adopt a psychological training strategy that emphasizes consistency and fluidity and attachment to non-attachment, training frustrations will be minimized and successes compounded.
1. Chah, Ajahn. Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc. 2001.
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