The Tortoise Always Wins

Everyone has heard the story of the tortoise and the hare, the African folktale in which an overconfident rabbit is bested in a footrace by the consistent pace of a determined tortoise. The moral of the story is consistency wins the day and that the importance of determination and focus over raw ability should not be underestimated. As you are neither a tortoise nor a hare, how does this moral apply to your fitness goals?

The pursuit of fitness is a trying business and passions for a slimmer waistline or a bigger bench press often burn hot and bright only to fizzle before they are ever realized. When people seek change they have a habit of “going all in,” that is to say, they make an irrational commitment to their new goal. For example, the father of two with a full time job and a house to maintain that insists he’s going to get in two workouts a day, six days a week to get back in shape. Sorry bud, I’ll venture you won’t last a week. What is the problem with humans? Are we all liars? Can’t we even be honest with ourselves?

It turns out that the graveyard of New Year’s Resolutions might not be our fault. We upright apes practice something called optimism bias, which means, “We are unrealistic about predicting future vents.”

(If you  have the time check out this great TED talk on optimism bias  – https://www.ted.com/talks/tali_sharot_the_optimism_bias)

Optimism bias is the reason that every New Year, millions of people who have never stuck to a diet before convince themselves that this time it’s going to work! It’s why the person who has tried Spin, CrossFit, yoga, Cardio Barre, pilates, personal training and boot camps thinks this latest fitness trend will be the one that sticks. Optimism bias isn’t inherently bad, it’s what keeps humans from walking around depressed from the negativity they encounter. Life without optimism bias is when keeping it real goes really, really wrong.

So how can someone looking to start their fitness journey avoid the pitfalls of optimism bias and the overconfidence of the hare? The key is to set timely, realistic goals and become the tortoise. Arnold did not become Arnold in a day, or week, or month or even a year. A moderate and consistent approach to improving health and fitness will always trump fanatical intensity. This approach applies to both time in the gym and the kitchen.

The individual who adheres to the 80/20 principle in their nutritional plan and enjoys the occasional slice of pie is much more likely to succeed than the zealot who prepares boiled chicken and broccoli for every meal. Training more seems like a way to see faster results, but overtraining blunts recover and leads to burnout. When working out starts to add stress to life, the volume is too high. This principle can be applied to individual workouts.

Not everyday needs to be a PR and to expect so is to invite disaster. One workout will not make your goals, but it can make you much, much worse if injury occurs. Is one second faster or one pound heavier in a meaningless Wednesday workout worth a month on the couch with a tweaked back?

In nearly all things, consistency is rewarded with success. Today’s 24/7 culture celebrates immediate results, but it is through consistency and sustained effort that true change is achieved. Don’t be swayed by fad diets and workout plans touted by Instagram “models.” Trust your coaches,  trust the process and one day you’ll wake up to realized you have arrived. The tortoise always wins; be the tortoise!

– Brandon Sundwall

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