This week I am going to try out having a focus for the whole week.  Since we are approaching the new year, I wanted to take this week to talk about your mindset and working out.  In my first email, I talked about play and how it related to working out and your focus.  I wanted to continue that idea today.

I often watch kids playing at the gym and my first thought is normally that I wish I was that age again but I never really thought about why.  Normally we just joke about life being so easy when you are little and move on but the other day the real reason hit me – it’s the simple act of playing with no desired result or end goal in sight.

At what age do we stop playing?  Or a better question – when is the last time you did something just to do it?  Meaning you had no motivations to do something other then the act of doing it.  When we are small children our whole life is play.  We can let our imaginations guide us for hours or we can do things simply out of an act of learning or enjoying doing it.  As we get older more and more of our decisions become results based – I want this to happen so I have to do this.

We see this in the gym everyday.  As we are working out, everyone is constantly doing a cost/benefit analysis in their head.  Is this helping me reach my immediate goals?  What is the rep and sets I need to do to get results?

The interesting part is that as children when we play we also were learning and improving.  If you wanted to play basketball you would simply take a ball outside and start shooting.  Hopefully some of your friends would see you and you could get a game going.  Even though the focus was on playing basketball you would find yourself improving and getting better.  In fact, the book “Talent Code” argues that we get better from deep practice not by repetitions or hours. A simply way to get more deep practice would be by shrinking the game and making you learn to make decisions faster and more in a short period of time.  This means the way to get better at basketball is really not more practices with skills and drills but instead playing 3v3 on a small half court.

For us as coaches, we see this all the time in class.  It is sometimes hard to get people to do a lift or skills section that doesn’t have a direct line to getting results.  We also tend to not know what to do without detailed instructions including how many sets and reps to do.  It seems that as adults we tend to simply avoid play as a waste of time even though it accomplishes two really important things.

First, it creates an enjoyable experience by removing expectations.  This is really important when you are first learning a skill because learning involves a lot of failing.  By enjoying the play, you will enjoy the process of failing over and over while you are still really bad at the skill you want to learn.  It is also important for people who have been doing something for a long time.  Watch a seasoned skateboarder trying to learn a new trick and the pain that comes with failing over and over, you have to love the process or you are going to quickly decide it’s not worth it.

Second, it creates that deep practice that is necessary to actually get better at something.  That feeling of flow state where we can forget the outside world and just experiment is a really powerful experience for learning.

When we mix in play occasionally to our classes, people often look confused or disinterested.  My hope is that after reading this, you can see how a little play can help you improve faster and enjoy the process of improving a little more.  Also, as we start Christmas week with our friends and family try to take the idea of play and apply it with them.

Oddly enough, when we do something without an end goal or desired result it often ends up pushing us where we wanted to go.