Book Review: How Bad Do You Want It? By Matt Fitzgerald part 2

As promised, picking up from where we left off with Siri Lindey’s over active internal criticism.

Siri’s childhood home was emotionally desolate and she wanted to achieve things in order to feel seen, to be valued.

I can relate.

Unfortunately this meant that when she put tons of pressure on herself at big events and it caused her to make mistakes or to just plain panic and when she didn’t achieve her goals it confirmed what she really believed about her own value.

Again, I can relate.

Positively, I can also relate to the fact that she eventually got fucking sick of it and decided to be fueled by that anger. I wrote about this before (There Is Room For Negative Self-Talk In Fitness) and now I feel validated.

It’s a shift from thinking I’m a loser, no one loves me unless I’m perfect, I’m letting people down, everyone knows I suck and the more they encourage me the more it means they see that I suck because only babies need such patronizing (like I said, I related intimately to this story)  to thinking I’m just not going to let myself down anymore. That’s it, single priority, and everything else is a by-product I can’t control. And of course she goes on to be a champion. But more importantly she stops caring about being a champion. She let’s go of the idea that she has to be better than good enough to be loved or that other people have to love her in order for her to love herself and she retires young and takes up coaching to help other young people see that.

This chapter was called The Art Of Letting Go and I have another book mark a page later about how fantasizing about desired outcome – winning the race, losing the weight, finally being loved, whatever – actually decreases the amount of effort people put in to the task at hand. You get the micro dopamine hit of imagining it and then don’t want to put in the suck to truly get there.

So much of my depression came from comparing my life to my fantasies, to real self to my perfect self, and that’s why I was helped so much by losing everything. Dream dead and I’m still here, sun still comes up, I started living in the real world. Or at least stopped obsessing about how things were supposed to be and how they weren’t.

Again my race mantra of I’m merely here comes in handy. Rehearse the race not the victory lap, rehearse the suck not the celebration.

Luckily in all my rambling I covered the ideas behind a bunch of bookmarks and we’ve only got two left. I’ll do the shorter one first because it ties in a bit to what we just talked about – the effect of past wins.

On the one hand past wins build confidence, we love doing what we’re good at even if the test has been rigged and we’re artificially good at it. People shown they’re doing well at a game keep doing it – and by continuing to do it they do actually improve – more so than people who were merely allowed to suck.

This doesn’t work however on people with big egos, like big wins in other areas. You get a beginners luck dopamine hit by being surprisingly good at a new task. You don’t get it if you take for granted you’re great at everything. If your ‘greatness’ is a confirmation you then don’t practice because, obviously, you don’t need to.

So thinking about past wins can give you a boost but past wins aren’t future wins. You have no future wins, you just have your level of effort right now.

And finally, The Group Effect.

I have a problem with training partners because I find it always becomes a Mutual Excusing Society, a mes.

We decent people want others, especially those we care about, to be happy and safe. Training, real training, doesn’t bring that out. We also don’t like to be seen suffering and straining so we don’t push ourselves as hard in public (even a public of one) either.

But interestingly in the book I learned that we actually work harder while projecting, while reporting, quite possibly while feeling, less discomfort when we work out with a group.

So there is something to be said for training with a partner, or in groups, or in public but – firm pause – there’s a caveat I want to add. I think we should train alone in order to feel more strain, to get into the pain cave by ourselves and have only ourselves to rely on. Because that’s how you’re going to feel when it really, really, counts, the only time it counts.

When you’re really running a race, when you’re really doing something that matters, that puts you at your best now or never, everything you hear sounds far away, everyone you can see feels far away. If you always train with your friends, and your headphones, on sunny days, when you’re well rested, then you haven’t really trained for anything. Every hindrance, anything that’s sub-optimal, will just be overwhelming annoying and disappointing. You won’t have built any Resilience.

I train alone. In a silent concrete room. So that I know that the core of my strength comes from me. Sunny days, music, company, anything more than just me is a beautiful bonus and I’ll use it, I’ll love it, but I won’t need it. I won’t depended on it. I won’t depend on anything but me.

And that’s how bad I want it.

Book Review: How Bad Do You Want It? By Matt Fitzgerald

This is my first book review for the Friday Fitness Blog so we’ll see how the format shakes out over time but here we go:

Overall I loved the book. So if that’s all the review you want there you go, I think you should read it. But, still in general, there’s one thing I really liked about it – it’s very compellingly written. I’ve read, and criticized, books in the past that start every section off with an anecdote about a thriving athlete who then makes a mistake then rises up again. It just feels like lazy emotion pumping ‘inspiration’. But How Bad Do You Want It is thrilling to read, it’s not the format that makes a book good or bad, it’s the writing. Fitzgerald used to write for sports magazines and it really shows, he can summarize people running in clumps in such a way that I nearly held my breath.

Then of course he’d get into the studies of why someone who should have lost didn’t. Sports, and running in particular have gotten really sciencey lately – mostly because you can sell people expensive shit if you science it up a lot, you can’t buy courage – and it’s easy to think that a race is won or lost by glycogen and V02 max. But Fitzgerald wants you to remember, and wants to prove with studies not just anecdotes, that it really is still a matter of who can dig deeper. This book goes really well with Endure by Alex Hutchinson, if you’re the type to pair books like wine as I do.

So let’s dive into specifics:

My first dog ear is about intent. Athletes who decide to use hardship to get mentally stronger do become mentally stronger, more so than athletes who have that intent. And furthermore on intent, something I’m drafting a blog right now about how You’re Not Going To Run Yourself Thin and there’s a study mentioned about people being much more likely to drop out of marathon training if they’re stated goal is weight-loss or social recognition rather than if they’re motivated by personal achievement and self-esteem. So you gotta want it for the sake of wanting it, not for the desired outcome.

Next was about attitude and expectation. Anyone who’s had a hard day at work and then an unexpected hard day a work will get this. Runners who ran for 20 minutes rated their feelings after the 20 minute run as positive, runners who were told they were going to run for 10 minutes then were surprised by a 10 minute extension had their positive feelings, quote, nosedive. It doesn’t say if speed was controlled for and maybe people just went out too hot and got tired but the point is a 20 minute run can be uplifting or terrible based on your mindset. I knew this sort of thing and when I’m running races I often tell myself I’m merely here, don’t think too far ahead, don’t have expectations, etc, things like that.

Ah here’s a good one. Specific goals, as always. After a baseline assessing run some students were given quantitative percentages to aspire to improve by while other were told simply to ‘do their best’ and both groups were set lose to train before being tested again. And yeah, the advice do your best doesn’t cause people to do their best but telling people to get 10% does cause them to get 10% better.

There’s a lot of things we knew vaguely that we, by reading, now know concretely and I really love that feeling. You’d think it would feel redundant but it’s actually affirming. Moving on…

A part I wanted to highlight reminded me of a tedtalk. There’s a lot of talk in the inspiration industry (and yeah, it’s an industry and like all industries it’s goal is to draw more value than it gives. Otherwise it would be a service.) about how Bannister inspired people, made them realize it was possible to break the 4 minute mile and then people started doing it on the reg. Which isn’t quite true. John Landy, the second to break it, was already close and training to do it and was beaten more by coincidence than anything and furthermore the number of people who’ve broken it is still around 1300 and that number shrinks every time you factor in changes in technology as stated in the linked tedtalk.

In the book however we talk about Yvonne van Vlerkan who broke the woman’s Ironman record that had stood for 14 years. Then her record was broken the next year. Then that record was broken the next year. Before 2008 only seven women had run the distance in under 9 hours and by 2011 it was straight up common. Miraculous and inspiring? Probably a change in technology.

If you know about The Hour in cycling you know the same thing happened. They stripped technological advantage away, making people ride with the same level of advancement as classic record holders, and lots of people found out they weren’t actually better.

I’m going to jump to an out-of-order bookmark here because it’s another part where I disagree with the book. Or, I should say, I think the book skews something.

It’s the story of an athlete who, after being shot in a hunting accident (which in the moment he handles quite well as does another traumatically injured athlete in the book so just a side note that being an endurance athlete really does have benefits in a crisis) starts to just tank in cycling. From up and coming champ to complete loser. Then he finds out he has anemia and starts taking iron and he rebounds. The book glosses over it and tells the story like it’s a matter of how he started believing in himself again but come on, he had a physical aliment and he corrected it. That’s not mind over matter, that’s matter.

I’m a much stronger proponent of a Johann Hari style idea (author of the amazing Lost Connections which I wrote about on my other blog here) that the body feeds up to the mind, physical health is mental health, etc. I know from experience that you can’t think yourself out of depression no matter how bad you want it but you can train for a marathon and notice the depression lift as if from the background of your life.

Like I said though I knew that and I think everyone knows that and the positive reminder of How Bad Do You Want It is that it’s possible to become too focused on the body and ideal conditions while forgetting to be mentally tough. So back to the bookmarks and holy cow this post is long… We’re on page 90. I’ll cut this in half.

The next bit is on overly active internal critics so stay tuned for that fun stuff.