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Archive for the ‘Critical Thinking’ tag

26 Things I’ve Learned Through Intense Exercise


Click for photo This October I’ll celebrate a personal milestone.  15 years ago on my 18th birthday, I started an intense strength training regimen while a freshman at Cornell University.  At that time I was training for my Black Belt test in both Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do and I figured a little extra strength and flexibility would help me when it came to that dreaded “break bricks and boards” part of the test.  I didn’t know much at the time, just that lifting weights gives you muscle and protein is important for that – but that didn’t stop me from jumping in headfirst and giving it my all.

Over the last 15 years I’ve certainly had ups and downs.  I’ve slacked off and felt completely out of shape for months at a time.  I’ve also hit my stride many times throughout the years and realized that when I’m exercising regularly, just about everything else in my life comes into serious clarity.  I’ve learned that for me, the benefits of strength training (and martial arts) are far more mental than physical.  I’d tradeoff any gains in strength, size, or flexibility for the things I list below.

In 1999 I started a list of the things I’ve felt I’ve learned “in the gym” and I’ve been expanding on this list ever since.  These are things that I learned as a kid (and as an adult) training in martial arts, and how I’ve since expanded my understanding through intense strength training in a gym environment.  Just like other posts in the Exercise category, the things I list below are certainly not limited to the activities I perform.  If you’re a dancer, a yoga practitioner, a cyclist, or a volleyball player, chances are a lot of these same lessons can be learned with your activity.

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Written by Mike Torres

June 14th, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Does Goal Setting Hold Us Back?

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Click for photo Over the years I’ve read many criticisms of “pop psychology”, specifically relating to the notion that setting goals is a necessary precursor to actually achieving them.  There are people who believe that the very act of setting goals is what holds people back from achieving something they’d otherwise be drawn towards.  Sort of like a reverse law of attraction.

Now, I’m a big fan of thinking critically and applying a skeptic’s eye towards everything, so instead of ignoring perspectives that differ from mine, I try to really internalize them, live with them, and apply anything particularly useful to my own approach.

So before going further, let’s recap some of the most prevalent critiques of setting goals:

  • People with goals are future focused and not focused on the present moment.  By focusing on something that hasn’t happened yet, they’re not focusing on what’s happening now.  Goal setting is by definition counter to living a present and conscious life.
  • Goals are rigid and unchanging despite changes around them.  Someone who set a goal to save an additional $10,000 in January 2008 just to lose $30,000 in the stock market by October for instance.  By having a rigid goal that wasn’t adjusted for everyday reality, this person wasn’t able to react quickly enough to changing market conditions.  While others reacted quickly, this person stayed attached to a false goal.
  • Goal setting leads to a loss of meaningful relationships.  People who are so focused on achievement can fail to focus appropriately on the things that really matter in life: connection with other human beings.  Spend too much time blindly following a goal instead of just living and relationships start to break down.
  • Setting goals can make fun things feel like work.  The immediate reaction people have to deadlines and commitments is to balk.  People don’t like to be told what to do and when they need to get it done – they long to be free.  If someone – even themselves – tells them they have to achieve something by a specific date, they’re not going to have fun in the process even if it’s something they enjoy.
  • Setting goals absolves people of thinking critically.  In a Northwestern University paper called “Goals Gone Wild”, Professor Adam Galinsky makes the claim that “[goal setting] can focus attention too much, or on the wrong things; it can lead to crazy behaviors to get people to achieve them.”  There have also been papers written about how “goals and other incentives can constrict our thinking” by giving us an unneeded fallback plan.  Why think for yourself when you know you have to achieve the goal at all costs?

Naturally, just like most things in life, there’s a much more nuanced way to think about this.

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Written by Mike Torres

May 3rd, 2009 at 1:43 pm