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Get fit, not obsessed

A woman training with a ball.

One of the great economists of the modern age, Charles Goodheart, devised one of the lasting theories about economics and politics which continues to influence thinking today.

Professor Charles Goodhart built his reputation as a world-class economist and advised that if ever a government decides to rely on any statistical relationship as the basis for policy, as soon as it did so, that relationship would fall apart.

Goodheart’s Law, as it is now known, implies that what you should try to do is not to disturb the economic environment too much, but rather, to let individuals make the best of the situation that confronts them, as each sees fit individually in the marketplace.

Now, I am no economist, but I understand what Goodheart is referring to here, and also how his theory has wider implications for us beyond economics.

In the world of fitness and training, for example, I also believe that when you start placing goals into the heart of a training plan, it is usually at this point that the training process itself starts to go wrong, and you can end up losing focus on the bigger picture, which is to remain alert and adaptable to why you are training and your starting objectives in doing so.

In other words, when you lose focus in this way, the measures that you might adopt (weight goals, muscle mass, endurance timescales) become goals in themselves and then generate related goals which appear to be improvements on the first goals that were set. Aiming to lose so much weight or run for so long then becomes the base measure for more ambitious targets and these targets can become superseded with others until we end up in an arms race with ourselves.

Why this happens when training is partly to do with how our brains are wired and how they work. This is because our brain is programmed to always be hungry for more from our experiential existence. So, for example, if you have the same car for a long period you may want to change that car, (or partner, or whatever) for a new model, simply because you have become familiar with what you have and want something new; a fresh model, or apparently, something that is better than is in front of you.

It is this constant craving for the new that had been so profitably utilised by modern capitalism, particularly when married with adaptable production processes and information technology. The epitome of this marriage of constantly encouraging consumer demand with an adaptable production process has given has instant fashion, smartphones, and the internet, allowing us to explore our desires to the full.

Or, to put it another way, to constantly scratch our experiential itch.

The physical basis for this behaviour, regardless of how it is encouraged or expressed, lies with the neurones inside the striatum area of our brain that is part of our decision-making biological circuitry and reward-related behaviour. When our brain concludes that it is no longer being stimulated and rewarded enough it stops releasing dopamine, which feels to us like boredom when this happens. We no longer feel pleasure at this point and so go searching for new stimuli and experiences to reward and pleasure us.

In the fitness world, this can manifest itself in the desire to try new exercise programmes or experiences or to push forward on new, more challenging objectives. We can then be driven to do more and more; to lift increasing amounts of weight, to push on further and to be King or Queen of the gym.

We used to call this “the climb”, which can be characterised as a constant desire to improve and succeed, when actually the ambitious process is in itself the reward, as opposed to the more tangible prizes at the end of the road (which of course is never reached).

And there is nothing wrong with this unless the process involved overrides the intelligent reasoning that started the fitness journey in the first place. When this happens, when the craving and distractions overwhelm the reason for training, the trouble can begin, and the objectives and desire can become overwhelming and damaging, leading to obsession, fatigue and injury.

So, as with most things in life, aim for balance and consideration when planning a fitness programme or embarking on one. Embrace the craving, and utilise the motivation of the climb to move forward. After which, measure the progress that is made and understand the positive changes that are being made, but keep everything in balance and perspective.

But above all, never lose sight of why you are training, and why you started on the fitness road in the first place. That way, you will remain on the road, in control of the process, and you won’t get bored along the way, either.


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