The ONE THING You Need to be Doing

TAGS: skill sets, personal trainer, learning, mentality, Silver Bullet, Alexander Cortes, fitness, strength training

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In the sphere of fitness, there is a constantly recurring question that’s asked across every realm of the industry.

That question being, “If you could do only ONE thing for X, what would it be?” along with variants of advice, such as:

  • “If everyone did this one thing for strength, they’d get stronger way faster.”
  • “If you do this one thing for fat loss, it makes you lose fat way faster.”
  • “The number one thing for muscle growth is X.”

And so on and so forth. The incarnations of this are endless. My interest in this isn’t the question itself, though; it’s the flawed thinking behind it.

The Silver Bullet Mentality/Fallacy

I would presume most people are familiar with the term, but the idea of a “silver bullet” comes from folklore, in which silver was seen as a one-shot, one-kill substance to use against a variety of fantasy creatures.

The conceptual belief behind the idea of a silver bullet is that you can solve a massive problem through a decidedly simple solution. I've come to use it as a personal classification though for common logical fallacy in fitness, that fallacy being:

Any circumstance or problem, no matter how complicated, has only ONE missing piece.

This would be fantastic if it were true. Emphasis on the “IF.”

The reality is that fitness problems, circumstances, and really life as a whole, is not that simple. The mentality of always believing in a silver bullet reveals the following:

  • Thinking only in the short term, and not considering the long term. Essentially not understanding that most things involve a process.
  • Without being aware of process, the idea of problems happening on a continuum is also foreign. So “solutions” are not solutions, but just reactions and looking for a quick fix.
  • By constantly looking for quick fix and assuming that’s how things work, there is a neglect of actual learning of what ACTUALLY works.
  • With a lack of learning comes a lack of understanding of broad and deep principles. Without knowing the principles, the focus shifts to superficial details. Which goes back to the short term thinking and being reactionary. 

And This Is Not Just Fitness

There is a frame of mind in which people's frustrations, be it with their own progress, their clients, their business, relationships, etc., are all attributed to some singular factor that they must not be doing. And the silver bullet mentality says that if they just found what that one thing was, then it would fix, speed up, and improve everything else.

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This kind of thinking tends to lead nowhere but a lot of wasted time, money, and frustrations. Even if a fix is found, its more often a band aid cover-up that neglects the actual source of the problems at hand. And speaking only to fitness, to take something as broad and deep as human biology and physiology, and have a reductionist mentality that it can be improved by one factor, completely ignores that biology is a multidisciplinary field. Meaning it covers A LOT of different subjects.

And there certainly is no magic key that “unlocks” everything at once.

The same goes for people. I've worked my entire career in the personal training field, there is absolutely no secret to client compliance or adherence or results. EVERY person is different. Listening and communicating and then TRAINING someone takes years to develop. There’s no magic in telling a rookie they’ll probably be halfway decent after five years.

Same goes for being successful at business. If you are a professional that does something which makes you money, you NEED to know business finance, taxes, how to manage your income.

These are entirely neglected skill-sets. There is not any “one thing” you need to know, there are A LOT of things.

It’s A Trap!

What I would consider the core problem that magic thinking creates, is that it readily divides peoples thinking with an absolutist mentality, in which everything is either good/bad, useful or useless. It doesn’t leave any room to actually LEARN, rather it's people constantly seeking out what the single “right” answer is to everything.

And there is no single "right answer.” There is better or worse, and it depends. Fitness is a circular spectrum, not a single linear scale.

All of this said, where does that leave us with how to think more effectively?


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What Are the Factors at Hand?

There’s a term I use often with clients: multi-factorial, meaning that something like weight loss or muscle building has multiple factors. It's not just one thing you need to be doing or change. It's multiple things, multiple factors.

This applies to practically any subject in fitness. Something that’s often considered simple, like “strength”, that still requires learning.

  • Multiple barbell lifts (at least three)
  • Understanding how often and how much to do them (that’s another two things)

Let's say we stop there. That’s five things to learn. And as relative as they are to each other, there are five things. Not one. Add in other stuff like eating, recovery, and individualization, and now you are at 9+. Consider scheduling and lifestyle and the stuff that falls outside the technical, and it’s a lot more.

As I said, multiple factors. And most situations you encounter, be they in fitness or in life, are going to be multifactorial. Beyond the factors, though, this translates to the broader concept of perspective

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There Are A Lot of Ways to Do the Same Thing

And the “best” way is whatever works most effectively given the circumstances.

And the “right” way depends on the context.

And the “wrong” way varies relative to the situation.

The point being,  learning and the application of many different perspectives. It requires many different ways of looking at something and understanding it.

To use an easy example, say I have a car in front of me. And I have four people: a mechanical engineer, an auto technician, a physicist, and an automotive historian. Presuming they all have familiarity with the concept of a combustion driven engine, if I ask each of them, “how does a car engine work?”, I'm going to get four different answers.

None of these answers are more “right” than any other, but each one could be more or less useful depending upon the circumstance in which I need the knowledge. Each person's knowledge is going to have a different application. The engineer might tell me how to best modify the structure of the car to suit a larger engine. The technician might be the one to modify the engine. The physicist could have some novel way of perhaps making the engine more efficient. The historian could tell me based on past history what modifications work and don’t work for my model of vehicle and which direction I should take.

Each perspective ties into the next one and creates a larger contextual understanding of whatever the subject is (in this case, a car). There is no requirement to subscribe to the “one thing” and “one way” of thinking and disavow everything else.

The above example is applicable to learning as a whole. The more ways you can learn a subject, the better you’ll understand it, apply it, and modify it as needed.

If there is truly “one thing” to learn, it's to understand as many ways as you can. And if you start that process, you’ll stop looking for the one thing, and have a far greater understanding of “things” in general.

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