On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not [Book Review]

I think that perhaps the worst thing we can do, not only as fitness professional type or athletes, but in all aspects of life, is to become stale. We lock ourselves into ruts of habit and comfortable familiarity, walling ourselves off from people and places and ideas that threaten our worldviews. We convince ourselves that we’re right, wrap ourselves up in a filter of certainty, and ignore, dismiss, or explain away any factoid or data point that challenges our established thoughts.

Politics and religion, the two time-tested hotspots of interpersonal conflict, are obvious symptoms of mental rigidity. Bring up either, or both, and your company quickly becomes impolite. Why does this happen? What is it about people that make them so absolutely certain they’re right — even if evidence to the contrary is right in front of them?

That’s what Robert A. Burton, MD, sets out to answer in On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not.

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Mindset: The New Psychology of Success [Book Review]

“Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training.”

When I was a kid, I always scored well on those standardized tests they like to give children. I remember taking an IQ test when I was no more than seven or eight, and while I was never told the results, I was put into a ‘gifted program’ shortly after that. I was routinely praised as intelligent, as ‘the smart kid’, as all those kind and not-so-kind terms we use for so-called over-achievers. I was placed in an environment that told me I was smart — that defined me as smart — and created expectations from that stereotype.

Then I reached high school and, without being too nice about it, fell apart. I quit caring, and since I didn’t care I didn’t try. I didn’t care about school work, I didn’t care about learning, and threats of working at McDonald’s forever didn’t faze me. That attitude, of defining myself by a stereotype and its expectations, of treating failure as a personal trait, of judging things in strict good/bad terms, stayed with me for most of my adult life. It bled over into college, into relationships, and into my lifting.

Though I didn’t realize it, I operated under what Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck divides our mentalities into two distinct mindsets. Those like myself hold to the above-mentioned fixed mindset; you’re born with certain gifts, and if you aren’t good at an activity, then that’s that. People don’t change, and if you suck you just suck, so you might as well give up. The fixed mindset focuses on ability as an unchanging (and unchangeable) quantity.

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Zen and the Art of Squatting, Part II

Back in part I (read that first so you aren’t lost), I talked about the unconscious nature of motor learning and skill training, and mentioned how the brain rewires itself in response to outside changes, which include exercise. Now I want to discuss what this means for fitness goals.

We’re taught to fear overtraining from day one. We know, since we’re told so often, that if we train too much, we’ll basically die. A whole culture has developed around how to plan and apply training programs so that we avoid doing too much while trying to scratch out some kind of progress. I know it, as I was part of that culture.

Recent experiences have had me rethinking that viewpoint, to the degree that I’m no longer sure what’s a genuinely physical limit, what’s a psychological roadblock, and what’s just a good idea, limitations aside. ‘Overtraining’ has moved out of my vernacular — and this has happened because I stopped caring about the consequences.

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Should we really keep it real?

Over the years, I’ve made it a point to be loud and proud about my criticism of the fitness and supplement industries. That’s the main reason this blog and site were started; I’ve always put the truth ahead of sales gimmicks and flashy marketing, in an attempt to introduce some honesty into the field. I … Read more

How do you keep motivated?

Yeah, I know — not the kind of thing I usually write about, right? The psychological elements of exercising and dieting are important, key even. I find that it’s fairly easy for me to get into a routine and stick with a plan, which is probably an artifact of experience. But from time to time, … Read more