Whether you’re trying to grow mentally or physically, we usually attribute growth and progress to hard work. Hard work is always the start. It is the bread and butter of what brings us to the next level. But we will always hit a wall at some point no matter how talented or hardworking we are. It’s a natural point to hit, and is part of the inevitable peaks and valleys of learning any craft, skill or sport. However it is in these natural valleys where we can choose one of many paths. For hard workers, the natural path is to increase their workload, working longer or harder. For me this is definitely how I have approached physically developing myself. As a climber I started climbing 2-3 times a week. I got strong. Fast. It encouraged me, fuelled me, but the speed of progression didn’t last forever and I began to climb more, 4 times, 5 times, sometimes even 6 days a week to try and see additional progress. It was unsustainable and the inevitable happened - I got injured. I had blindly walked into the trap of brute-forcing myself to the next level. And I’m definitely not 16 anymore, my body can’t take that kind of beating I’m upset to admit.
For me, hard work had paid off for the first 6 months, but for the next 6 months working harder wasn’t necessarily the smart move. I wanted to attain the next level. It pushed me to the point where my body couldn’t handle it anymore. Most of us have done this at one point in their life, blindly working harder, longer than we have before to attain that next step. It takes some modesty and drop of your ego, to take a step back and realise working harder doesn’t always yield results. All methods have flaws and what worked before doesn’t always work now. Everything is situation dependent. It reminds me of the rule of 3 and 10. It’s rule related to the managing of companies and how everything will change when your company triples in size. This many not directly apply to learning new skills, but it shows that things will be different depending on your particular situation.
Since I’ve been injured I’ve taken many paths with mixed results. The problem is that the path to take is always a moving target depending on the situation. To continually improve one must shed the idea that there is only one way, and also shed the idea that if it worked before, it will work again. We must learn that we need to constantly reflect on our own work and progress to find the best path to proceed. Constant introspection.
Going back to my story of climbing. Climbing has many aspects to it, it requires an equal amount of mental strength, physical strength and technique to become a great climber. Most climbers get taught this very early on. However my problem was much deeper than that. Within the realm of physical strength, this can be further subcategorised into finger strength, body tension, arm strength, shoulder stability, scapular (shoulder blade) mobility and many more. And strength in one particular area such as bicep (the muscle on the inside of your upper arm) strength, must also be counter balanced with an equally powerful tricep (the muscle on the outside of your upper arm) to create a balanced environment. Without this, the bicep becomes too strong and stretches the tricep constantly creating tension in the arm that could lead to injuries. This idea of physical balance is a sub-sub-category of the ‘trifecta’ of climbing mentioned initially. However it’s well known knowledge in the realm of sports science. Knowing these small subtleties of your craft is essential to applying this to your own self critique.
It takes a long time and lots of hard work to develop this awareness, but it is within this awareness where one finds the details in which to grow past what we were. Within our weaknesses we find ways to multiply our gains beyond what we could sharpening our strengths. Everyone wants to feel strong, but sometimes it takes some courage to train our weaknesses to enhance our strengths further. I believe this awareness can be applied to any type of skill. When we hit a wall, we need to gather the knowledge on the subject; then have a deep look within to find the imbalance and deficiencies in ourselves. Without this awareness, we can only rely on blind luck to push us forward.
And that… is far too risky.