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Monday, October 13, 2008

What You Can Learn From My Stupidity

I think I'm a pretty smart guy, but once in a while - ok, maybe once in a semi-frequent while - I'll do something that makes me say, "Avish, you are an idiot." This is the tale of one such time.

I have trained in karate for about 20 years ("Killer Comedian!" Ha!). In my school, we do a fair number of pushups, and earlier this year I decided that I really wanted to increase my pushup count. I began a workout routine that focused on doing *lots* of pushups.

The pushup numbers went up, but it wasn't too long before I felt a twinge in my shoulder. Being a certified medical professional (not!) I of course made the assumption that it was just muscle soreness. So I worked through it. It wasn't long before my pushup count rapidly dropped to about five. With a lot of effort. And a lot of pain.

Turns out I injured my rotator cuff. That was over four months ago, and my shoulder still hurts. Why does my shoulder still hurt? Because, as I said earlier, I'm an idiot. Rather than paying attention, resting, and rehabbing, I kept going.

But all is not lost! You can learn from my idiocy and pain. Here are five things you can learn from my stupidity:

1) "Ignoring" is NOT a Strategy - Workout #1: "hmm, my shoulder is sore. It's probably nothing." Workout #2: "wow, those last few pushups kind of hurt. Wonder what that's all about." Workout #3: "Hey, this pain isn't going away. I'll have to do something about that someday." Workout #15: "Geez, why does my shoulder *still* hurt? I've done nothing to help it, so the pain should clearly be gone." Workout #45: "Oh God! My Shoulder hurts! Maybe I should look into that." As much of a pain as it is to take care of problems, ignoring the issue is never a viable solution.

Where in your life might you be trying to ignore some nagging annoyances? Be careful, they may come back to bite you, hard.

2) Systems are Better than Self-Discipline - Once I realized that my shoulder had a legitimate problem and not just muscle soreness, I decided to continue training in karate, but to "take it easy" on stuff that uses the shoulder. I learned two things: 1) You use your shoulder for EVERYTHING! I think I felt shoulder pain when going for a jog! And 2) Taking it easy is easier said than done.

When training, I tend to get caught up in the moment and train hard. Before I know it, I feel a lancing pain in my arm as I shoot my hand out without thinking. Stupid!

This is where systems come into play. Rather than saying, "I'll take it easy," and then count on myself to remember in the moment, I need to set up systems to force me to not use the shoulder. Completely sitting out of potentially damaging activities, physically putting my hand behind my back to prevent me from being tempted, or even tying my arm down with a rope would force me to not use the arm. The point of systems are to take the guesswork and mistakes brought upon by impulse out of the equation.

This is a lesson from improv: In the moment, you react as you are conditioned to, not as you "want" to. If you want to react differently than you currently automatically do, systems can help.

What systems can you set up to reduce your "in the moment" errors?

3) Take a Long View - I totally resisted taking a break to rehab because I didn't want to go a month without training. Well, here I am about four months later, and I haven't had a good workout since. In the moment, it feels like pushing through is a good way to keep going. Once you take a long view however (in my speeches I call this focusing on the outcome), you realize that taking a month now will serve you much better in the long run than half-assing it.

What situations in your life are you perhaps taking a short view where you would be better served taking a long view?

4) Little Things Turn Into Big Things
- It's all about momentum. A small shoulder annoyance in April becomes, when left unattended, a major problem in September. On the flip side, rehab involves doing exercises with 1-3 pound weights. It really feels like you are doing nothing, but those little light weight exercises lead to big rehab gains.

This is the popular Japanese business principle of Kaizen. Constant small improvements that lead to massive results over time.

What little positive things can you do to build momentum? Or what little things you can stop doing?

5) Those Who Do Not Study History are Doomed - Here's the kicker: This is not my first rotator cuff injury! I had a similar problem six years ago. Did I learn? No, of course not (see original premise regarding "stupidity"). The instant I felt the pain I should have said, "hey Avish, you've been here before. You should stop and rehab for a bit before this gets serious." Instead I said, "Oh, I'm sure THIS time it's different, and nothing serious, and I can keep going."

To quote Christopher Walken from a classic Saturday Night Live sketch: "You throw champagne on my face once, shame on you. You throw champagne on my face twice, shame on me!"

Yes, shame on me. The fastest path to success is to take action and try, and when you fail to get up *learn from the mistakes*, and try again. The fastest way to a life of frustration and disappointment is to keep trying over and over without ever learning or adjusting.

Is there anything in your life where you keep trying the same thing over and over, without ever learning the important lesson history is teaching you?

Stupidity comes in many forms. Once in a while it shows up as something huge. Usually, our stupidity is the result of little dings along the way. Please learn from my (bad) example and don't let stupidity get to you!

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