Beyond the Bounds of Known

TAGS: pushing your limits, Michael Gray, thinking outside the box, education, routine

On a Friday morning last fall, I was at the airport in Boise, Idaho, waiting for my flight to board for a conference in Seattle, Washington. I arrived at the airport around 5:00 a.m. and got through the security gate without a hitch. I had about an hour to kill before boarding began, so I decided to stroll around and do some people watching.

I try not be someone who judges a book by its cover, but sometimes you can tell a lot by watching someone for a few moments. I could tell that this one woman was unhappy with her husband who had just checked out the stewardess. I could tell that the sixteen-year-old kid with a face riddled with acne and his shoulders slumped over so far he almost turned inward didn't have the greatest sense of self-worth. Human behavior often repeats itself and it's often indicative of certain attributes.

After twenty minutes or so of walking and gawking, I sat across from the food court, which consisted of two restaurants serving breakfast—McDonald's and some other place whose name I'd never heard of. That's it. Two restaurants. Something interesting was happening. The line for McDonald's was about 30 people deep and it wasn't moving very quickly. The line for the other place didn't exist because there wasn't anyone in it. Human behavior was rearing its ugly head.

One could argue that people were lined up for McDonalds because they like their food. I disagree. If there had been an IHOP there, I'm sure some people would have chosen to eat there instead. I think there was something happening that's deeply ingrained within the majority of humanity.

Fast forward a couple hours later. I was somewhere around the Oregon/Washington border several thousand feet up in the air. My plane came out of a thickness of clouds to reveal three incredible things happening simultaneously. The air was now completely clear around the plane with a covering of clouds below us, the kind that looks like you could step right out on to it. The sun was rising and, peeking through the covering of clouds, were three snow covered peaks of mountains (Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainer, and Mt. St. Helens). At the risk of losing my man card, the combination of the three was gorgeous.

I found myself thinking about the fact that if no one had ever pushed beyond what was known, I wouldn't be thousands of miles up in the air witnessing such an incredible scene. Then my mind drifted back to what I saw at the food court and I thought to myself, "Now, doesn't that sum up typical human behavior."

What I realized was this—yes, McDonalds offered food, but it also offered comfort and familiarity. People were in line there because they knew what to expect. They knew what was on the menu. There wasn't any risk. It was within the realm of "known" while the other place was outside the realm of "known."

We tend to do what we do because we know how to do it. We like to do what is comfortable. We get stuck in routines that blind us to what else is going on around us and to other opportunities, opportunities that could lead us to new experiences or to failure. But either way, by never stepping out of our comfort zone, we don't see these new opportunities that could lead us somewhere new or teach us something about ourselves.

So what does any of this have to do with getting big, strong, lean, or all of the above? Everything.

Take a look around the facility you train in. There's a good chance that most people have looked the same for years now. They haven't got any bigger. They haven't got any stronger. They still have that beer gut even though they've been "watching what they eat" for the last year and a half, and they've been pushing the same weight for the same reps since you first met them. The only thing they're getting better at is staying the same.

I'll admit I'm not the strongest dude in my gym, but I have the biggest deadlift of anyone I've seen there. Why? Because even though this may be hard for most elitefts™ readers to believe, the deadlift is foreign to most people who work out. (Seriously, go to a commercial gym, sit there for eight straight hours, and see if anyone deadlifts. In fact, it’s most likely against the rules to deadlift.) The idea of taking time to learn technique as well as time to move any kind of appreciable weight takes effort, but it's also foreign. It’s certainly more complicated than sitting on a thigh abduction machine for ten minutes. So why not just stick to what they know and live in the delusion that they're getting better? After all, that's what everyone else is doing.

We all have a tendency to fall into a routine when training. This can be a good thing if it keeps you from program hopping every week, but it can also hinder progress if left unchecked. Maybe you need to take some time off from trying to put weight on the bar and focus on some mobility and recovery work so you don't feel like a walking bag of garbage. Or maybe you need to quit worrying about keeping your abs shredded and put some weight on your body so you can put some weight on the bar.

Maybe you need to step out of what you've always done and step into something different.

Exploring new territory just might be what you need to push yourself into a better, stronger, and healthier place. Stepping outside the bounds of what is known might be what you need to do to continue to make progress. And whether or not the experience is positive or negative, you tried and you learned. Both things are necessary to move forward.

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