It took me several years, but I finally got tired of bashing into the same walls over and over again…trying so hard, feeling like I wasn’t trying hard enough, sometimes feeling both at the very same time. Eesh.
This is Part Two of my post on effort, force, and how much “try hard” you need to give to achieve the fitness and movement results you most desire.
(and yes, all of these thoughts translate to any part of your life, not just fitness and movement)
As I left things in Part One of this post, you know now that tension is a sneaky little devil, that where you place your awareness is helpful, and that being adaptable is crucial.
The very next question you likely have is this: how do I do it, exactly?
The answer to that will depend on what stage of personal development you’re in with your fitness, your movement, and your body. Just as life has various stages to it – so does your life within fitness and movement.
Over the years of coaching others and working on my own Stuff, I’ve organized the process of “try hard” into a framework made of four stages. It works well to guide you through the natural phases you experience as you work towards your fitness and movement goals.
Most are unaware that these stages even exists though. And so, bashing into walls repeatedly is what ends up happening.
Good news though. Once you figure out what each stage of development is all about – you understand the lay of the land and can proceed, map in hand.
The Four Stages Of Personal Development
In Fitness And Movement
As you go through each Stage, it’s important to note that this is not a one-and-done thing. You can (and will) flow towards Stage Four from Stage One, and you can (and will) flow towards One from Four.
Remember – there is no “good” or “bad” here. You can also drop any thoughts that it’s better to be moving up the stages than down them. Humans like to say that up is good, down is bad, and that higher is better than lower. Nope. Sorry. No headspace needs to be devoted to that here.
Besides, those are judgements and there’s no room for judgement when it comes to your body. With that being said, onward! To Stage One!
Stage One: I “Should”
You decide you’d like to get something – a pain-free back, stronger muscles, more energy, the ability to do a yoga inversion, etc. You do some research. You figure out the boxes you need to tick. You start following that checklist.
Except that it’s often not that easy…
Because also in Stage One are several hurdles that can keep you from ever getting that thing you’d like to get.
Even if your current state is one you dislike (it hurts, it’s limiting, it’s not what you want), it’s still easier to stay there and maintain status quo than it is to start doing the new habits that go into achieving the thing you want. Your neural pathways have been wired to support the life you’re currently leading, not the one you’re about to embark on in order to get the thing you’ve decided you want.
Doing new things will, naturally, feel different and weird. (Rewiring neural pathways tend to do that to a person.)
Not to mention that when you begin something new, you tend to suck at it for awhile before you get good at it. And humans don’t like doing things they’re not good at, so the chance of quitting before you get good is high.
This is why, in Stage One, it’s actually quite helpful to have a checklist to follow. Because while you arelistening to your body in Stage One, you’re lacking a critical skill for true conversation with your body…
Discernment involves going past the mere perception of something and being able to make nuanced judgments. It means taking a look at a bigger basket of information, and sorting through it to make a good decision.
When in Stage One, the old neural pathways have the loudest voice, and it’s naturally easier to hear them. They are the ones who are saying ‘this is hard, I’m not good, do it the old way not this new way’. If you listen to them, you’ll never get the thing you decided you want.
So if you’re in Stage One, and you’re using a checklist to get movement and fitness stuff done each week, it’s all good. The checklist is the prop you need to help you get going. And get going you will, as you move along in due time to Stage Two.
Stage Two: I Control
You’ve realized “oh! I can make my body do things!” Your checklist has become a plan you can follow. You’ve figured out that you have the ability to control things that your body does.
You’ve started seeing that if you send the same signal enough times, your body will respond to that signal. Squat enough times, your leg muscles become stronger. Do your Daily Movements enough times, you start feeling different. And this is good!
You’re getting your mojo going. You start taking power back to yourself. You’re figuring out how to make things work for you.
This stage brings a stellar boost of confidence and it starts asking you to do something potentially scary – trust.
Because habit formation takes time. Because repeated signaling to your body is required in order for big changes to be seen. Because you have to start acknowledging you’re playing the long game (and instant gratification hates the long game).
Which means you have to place a bit of trust into your plan, and into yourself.
You’re continuing to hone your ability to be discerning in this stage. Remember to check in on your tension here. It’s easy to start getting more and more tense as you want to control all of the variables that go into getting the results you want as quickly as you want them.
As you work in this stage, ask yourself every now and again, “can I use a little less tension and still get the job done?”
Enjoy your time in Stage Two, because this control you’re learning to use, it’s a double-edged sword, and the other side of that sword starts showing up as you move closer toward Stage Three.
Stage Three: I Wake Up
Often, it’s a “kick” that gets you into this stage (similar to ‘Inception’, if you’ve seen that movie). Something that makes you start paying attention in a whole new way.
In Stage Two, you may have started thinking that in order to continue seeing results, to stay in control, that you have to do the plan. No matter what.
And at first glance, that’s a fair thought. You like the way you’ve been feeling with these new changes that are happening in your body. You want to keep feeling good (and feel even better).
But once you’ve realized you have control that you can use to make things happen in your body, your risk goes up for falling into a few traps. Once this happens, it’s only a matter of time before you get the kick to send you here to Stage Three.
See if any of the following traps resonate anywhere in your body or mind.
When you have to stick firmly to the plan no matter what…
Your ego can start getting caught up in it, finding its egoic value in ‘doing the plan’.
“Did I effort enough today?” can start to have an undercurrent of “am I good enough/worthy enough.”
You start raising the plan up as the smartest guy in the room, even above your Inner Voice.
If any of those are uncomfortably resonating with you, you’re not alone. I polled the FFRL Community over on the facebook page, and 80% identify as either someone who works “too hard” or “not hard enough” on their fitness goals. Just reading the replies from that informal poll, you could see many have fallen into these traps and are looking for the way out.
Words like “I should” and references to “being good enough” came up time and again as folks responded. And that’s why Stage Two, which is glorious for the first taste of empowerment it can give you, also is a real bugger as it pivots into Stage Three.
When you keep a firm grip on your checklist from Stage One – no matter how you’re feeling or what your body is telling you or what life is throwing at you – you’re actually losing the sense of empowerment that Stage Two was meant to give you. By exerting focus and effort in various ways, you can achieve the physical manifestation of the goal that has previously only lived in your mind. But…
You are a being that ebbs and flows, and your life ebbs and flows. To stick to a plan that cannot ebb and flow with you, or to hold the plan in higher regard than your own Inner Voice, is guaranteeing you’ll net some unwanted side effects..
If you start to wake up to the reality that you’re in Stage Three (whether you’re caught in the control traps or not), you’ll also start to wonder what’s out beyond this phase…what’s beyond the wall?
Stage Three is here to make you start paying attention and asking the tougher questions.
Stage Four: I Ease
Whatever the kick was in Stage Three, it wakes you up. And it’s often scary. But it can be totally exhilarating once you shift over to Stage Four.
The way that you’ve gotten your results up to this point has been to use your plan. You’ve exerted control over your body and reaped the effects from that.
And so it’s natural to be in the precipice between Stages Three and Four and think, “but if I take my foot off the gas, I’ll lose everything, I’ll never be able to get the fitness back, and I’ll be a failure.”
It’s a bit of an extreme downward spiral, but if you’re a human, you know this is a thing humans do sometimes…be really good at seeing the worst possible outcome as if it’s a guaranteed reality.
I’m here to remind you: the ship keeps moving even if you don’t have the engines on full throttle.
The ‘ease’ that is available to you in Stage Four does not mean you’re abandoning your plan. You’re not leaving your checklist on the side of the road and driving away from it.
You’re simply starting to question your reality. (no biggie, right?) 😉
When you get into Stage Four, you’ve built up your ability to be discerning, you’ve built your trust, and you’re starting to see the opportunity in front of you…
To do however many reps feel good, and to stop when it stops feeling good – because you know your body that well.
To adjust your plan on the fly based on whether you’re ebbing or flowing that day – because you understand how to navigate the ever-changing waters of your life.
To trust that any results you’ll “lose” by changing course when necessary aren’t “lost results” at all – because you know these small shifts are insignificant in the greater masterpiece that is your life.
Instead of just being the ‘doer’ of the plan, you become the designer of the plan.
You’re no longer playing an ‘active role’, you’re playing the leading role – in your life, your fitness, and the outcomes you get.
You become a wiser, more intuitive, version of yourself.
You ease, and you succeed.
Why You Can’t Stay In One Stage Forever
So now that you know the Four Stages, don’t you think Stage Four sounds dreamy? Or maybe it sounds terrifying and you’ll take Stage Two forever, thank you very much.
Whatever Stage you’re in right now, one thing you have to know is this – you can’t stay in one stage forever. And, you will flow through the stages again and again.
Sometimes you’ll flow straight through to Stage Four from One, and other times you’ll flow into Stage Three, back to Stage One, then head to Stage Two for a long duration before you get woken up to Stage Three again…I talked more about this in this conversation with Cary Hokama on his Own Your Self podcast.
You might think that getting to the end of each Stage is the result you’re after, but the reality of it is this:
You are in a perpetual dance with your body, nothing stays static and constant in you. As Alan Watts said, “the meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance.” It’s not to get to the end, but to be in it, step and sway, shift and flow.
Because it’s in learning to flow that you reap the rewards. You know how to effort just enough. You have incredible autonomy and self-mastery. You find it unnecessary to use the crude tool of ‘force’ to make things happen. Sound hippie dippie? That’s ok…you’re welcome to instead simply see this as growing your intuitive awareness of your body. That’s what it is anyways.
Wake up to it. And let go.