last updated March 3, 2021

The skill of fitness

by Rob Arthur

When we first learn to ride a bike, we don’t enter the Tour De France and then beat ourselves up for not winning.

We start with training wheels, and then slowly transition to free riding as our confidence and balance improve.

When we first learn to read, we don’t sit down with Crime & Punishment, unable to pronounce a single word or comprehend a single sentence, and then call ourselves failures.

We start with individual letters, and then slowly move into more complex sentences and paragraphs as our speed and comprehension develop.

When we start learning a new skill, rarely ever do we jump in head first and expect ourselves to be proficient – much less perfect – at a high level.

We start with the basics and then slowly build on those basics as we gain competency.

Why, then, do we expect ourselves to be perfect when it comes to the actions and behaviors that are required for us to achieve our fitness goals?

That’s right – the things we need to do to lose fat, get strong, and be healthy AF are skills, not too dissimilar from riding a bike or learning to read, and we might benefit from treating them as such.

Skills require learning

We can’t just manifest fat loss, strength development, and improved health through sheer will (that I know of).

We have to take action and we have to do it consistently.

We might have to change how we eat, how we move, how we manage our stress, how we sleep, and how we interact with others.

All of these changes will come with a learning curve.

We may have to learn what foods work best for us, where to buy them, how to store them, and how to prepare them.

We may have to learn what physical activities best align with our goals, how to build proficiency in those activities, and how to fit them into our already hectic schedules.

We may have to learn what temperature we find most comfortable for sleep, what time we need cut off Netflix to wind down, and where to buy the most ballin’ blue-blockers.

We may have to learn how to focus on our breath, deal with silence, and allow our emotions and thoughts to flow without letting them take us to a place of overwhelm or distress.

Perhaps most importantly, we have to learn how to integrate all of these efforts into the other activities that bring us fulfillment and satisfaction. 

Skills require practice

We tend to overlook that the habits and behaviors we need to create change throughout our bodies will require practice.

Learning to shop for and prepare new meals from foods we’re not used to eating.

Learning a new workout program with movement patterns we’ve never developed.

Learning to create restful sleep conditions.

All of these new skills – and how specifically we can shape each one to suit our individual circumstances – may take some time at first.

We may feel like we’re not “getting” them or that they aren’t “working” for us.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

The more you practice your new skills, the better at them you’ll become.

Eventually, shopping and preparing healthy, delicious meals becomes a cinch.

After a few weeks, novel movement patterns and exercises become more second nature.

As you get the hang of your sleep ritual, each night becomes something you look forward to rather than something you dread.

But this doesn’t happen overnight, and some practice will be required.

Skills require failure

One area where many of us screw things up is that at the first hint of failure, we give up.

This often happens no matter how well we’ve been sticking to our new habits leading up to our deviation.

We consistently eat minimally processed protein, veggies, and healthy fats and carbs all week, but then end up over-served on Saturday night and get into some BBQ cheese fries.

We commit to going to sleep by a specific time every night, but our news feed gets the best of us and we completely blow through our planned “lights out” time.

We hit four straight planned training days, and start getting the hang of our routine, but then we have a crummy day at work, after a night of workout.

In situations such as these – especially when they occur repeatedly – we’re tempted to give up.

We tell ourselves that we’re “weak”, that we’re “lazy”, or that we “have no willpower”.

We tell ourselves that we’ve “failed”, so we quit.

Here’s the deal, some say, “there is no failure, only feedback”, but I prefer to acknowledge that failure is totally natural and necessary, so I like “failure is feedback” a bit better.

Remember – you are learning a new skill and you are going to make mistakes, you’re going to miss the mark, you’re going to have difficulty – just like learning any other skill.

Failure is a fact of life.

You’re going to find that sometimes life works against you.

You’re going to find that you’re a complex being, with competing values and goals, not all of which serve our efforts to be optimally fit and healthy.

Failure isn’t such a bad thing, though.

If fitness came easily, we’d be bored and unfulfilled – similar to lottery winners in comparison to self-made millionaires.

If physical change didn’t come with a hefty dose of inner growth, our efforts wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying.

Failure is part of what makes this process so wonderful.

Keep working at it

Anything worth doing is going to take effort.

It’s going to take practice.

It’s going to take failure.

You’re not going to get things right the first time, and that’s totally cool.

What matters is that you’re learning what does – and what doesn’t – work for you to create positive change for your life.

You’re taking action.

Some days you’ll nail it.

Some days you’ll drop the ball.

There is no failure, only feedback.

Keep working at it.

You’ve got this.



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