Friday, October 15, 2010

Committment in the Face of Ignorance

This will be a recurring theme in this blog: there's a lot I don't know.

Now, to be fair to myself, I know a lot more than I used to, which is good - I'm making progress.  To be fairer even yet, there's a lot that nobody knows, no matter what they may think or say.  For example, suppose you want to get in the best possible condition for sparring as quickly as possible.  Which methodology is best?  Well, we do know interval training is going to be better than, say, long slow distance (like jogging several miles).  But... which type of interval exactly?  Which exercise?  What kind of rest periods?  We're all pretty sure that those answers will depend on your current fitness level (if you're woefully out of shape your needs probably won't exactly match those of an elite athlete) but if anybody tells you they're certain you need to do tabatas (20 s work/ 10s rest, repeated 8X) and nothing else will work as well - they're lying.  They don't know that for you, 18 s work/ 12 s rest repeated 10X might not be just a little better, or worse. 

Many people won't admit this.  They either believe that they have all the answers or that some guru or set of gurus has all the answers.  Keep an eye out for this tendency - you'll hear things like "this has worked for me for years," or, "this is the traditional way to do things," or, "it was good enough for X, so it's good enough for us."  There are advantages to this attitude.  Certainty is very comforting.  I sometimes wish I could believe that I knew it all - I'd probably be happier, if not more fit.  But I'll assume that, as a reader of this blog, you aren't inclined to that kind of stick your head in the sand blindness, that you recognize how much you don't know.

There are two basic existential responses to recognizing how much or how little you know.  The first is to stop acting until we feel we do know something.  In other words, sit on your behind until you've figured out the perfect training system.  After all, if you don't know exactly what works, why should you do anything?  This is often called paralysis by analysis.  The error made here is in the comparison.  The person in this example does nothing because he doesn't know which training protocol is best among various protocols.  The real question he should ask is, "do we know if any of those protocols are better than doing nothing at all?"  And the answer to that, of course, is yes - even bad training is usually better than no training.  Jogging isn't a great workout, but it will do more for your sparring than watching Jersey Shore reruns. 

People make similar errors in diet.  They can't decide if they should go paleo or vegan - so they eat McDonald's Happy Meals every day.  Know what?  Eating whole, unprocessed foods - even vegan foods - is better than Happy Meals.  Don't let your search for the perfect diet prevent you from making small, positive changes.

The second, and in my mind more rational, response to recognizing how limited our knowledge is, would be to act on the best of what we have while keeping an open mind.  This is kind of tricky.  Why?  Because you have to both commit wholeheartedly to a training or eating plan while being constantly willing to ditch it in light of new information. 

How do we manage to do this?  You have to walk the fine line between two notions:  how much better what you're doing is than what you used to do (or than nothing), and remembering that a better plan or new information may be just around any corner. 

Hey, if success was easy everyone would have it.

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