Can You Be Bothered To Succeed?

This is something that should seem to you as a piece of common sense, but as we all know, good ol’ common sense ain’t all that common nowadays.

I get people asking me how to train for pull ups, without doing any pull ups, on a regular basis. I answer them with a simple question: how does a kid learn how to walk?

By trying to walk, obviously. If you want to get good at something, you better get down to practising it. Alot.

Most people nowadays are just plain lazy, but you can’t really blame them, not with the way that our society is going.

We are exposed to a near-constant stream of bombardment by tempting promises for swift or even instantaneous results in every form of media, from every conceivable industry, ranging from adult fitness to children’s education.

People get so brainwashed by all these marketing gimmicks that they are lured into the mistaken belief that there is a magical shortcut to every imaginable undertaking. And then the average man and woman wonder at why they are not succeeding in their daily ventures, while a few of their counterparts invariably rise to the top of the social ladder. And then they’ll attribute the success of these others to some “magic formula” which they will be willing to spend exorbitant sums of money to learn and obtain.

And what happens to these people? They’ll probably spend the rest of their lives pondering the success of others, and some will spend a great deal of dough to try and learn the “secret” of success and excellence, and they’ll dedicate their whole lives searching for a magical shortcut that doesn’t exist. How pitiful. 

Instead of looking so hard and spending so much, the so-called “secret” which is not so much a secret as it is a piece of common sense can be found all over the world, in places like children’s books and stories – fables with their immortal morals that were always meant to imbue our tender offsprings with lifelong knowledge and wisdom of the essence and essentials of life itself.

How sad that these distillations of age-old wisdom are being swiftly replaced by mind-numbing video games and lucre-driven tales spun mainly for the purpose of generating a handsome amount of monetary profit from the sales of toys and related branded merchandise. It is of little wonder, then, that good old common sense and the wisdom of ages are being swiftly, and perhaps irrevocably, subverted by covetous thoughts and superficial desires for shallow material wants and comforts.

You want the true, and enduring secret to lasting success, in any and all forms of human endeavour?

Let me answer you with a simple question: can you be bothered to succeed?

I always like to respond to obvious questions with a question. This is beacuse the fella that is asking me the bleedin’ obvious, obviously isn’t thinking hard enough on his own. So I need to jolt that idle lump of grey matter in his skull by countering his lack of cogitation with something that will really set him to thinking, perhaps for the first time in his life.

Compare this approach with the traditional method of Q and A:

You ask me: how can I be successful?

I tell you: go forth and work hard.

Chances are, you’ll have a slightly confused look on your face, and some of the rusty gears in your head will try and turn a little, but they’ll end up deciding that thinking is too much hard work, and they’ll go back to their usual languid state of existence. And you’ll never be really successful in the things that you want to do or achieve.

It’s not that I’m an arrogant bastard who thinks that I’m way smarter than everyone and anyone else. It’s just that those people who approach me and ask me questions that are very broad or general in scope, or questions that have answers that are downright obvious, questions like “how do I keep fit?” are almost always individuals who have not made real thinking a habit.

Oh and by the way, 2+2=4 doesn’t cut it in my book. Neither does x+2y=5, y=1, hence x=5-2(1)=5-2=3. That’s not thinking. Or at least not the type of thinking that truly sets us apart from our plant and animal friends.

A bleedin’ computer programme can do that for me. In fact, a bleedin’ computer programme can probably perform it faster and more accurately than you. In fact, a bleedin’ computer programme can probably do some math in a minute that will take you decades, along with a few thousand tonnes of paper and ink and a scientific calculator, to discover that you have been profoundly confounded, and are utterly unable to compute.

Alright, alright, I exaggerate. My friends always tell me that I like to blow healthy things all out of proportion. I guess that’s what makes me a storyteller. After all, we all enjoy the sensational stuff, yeah? That’s the primary reason why millions of people out there are into comic book heroes and fantasy adventures and science fiction wars, ‘migo.

Okay back to track. So who are the people who have made real thinking a habit?

An example is a guy who comes up to me and asks me a question like this: what’s the best way to train for pull ups? And then he goes on to ask: what sets and reps should I do?

Note the difference in mindset between someone who asks a question like this, and the chaps who ask me how to train for pull ups without doing pull ups.

The only viable shortcuts, and the only shortcuts that should be sought out and tapped, are technical ones. You ask someone who is more experienced the process of his success, and you cut out the parts in which there was trial and error i.e. unproductive downtime. This is how we progressed as a species, in our many and varied fields of learning.

Someone achieves something, a handstand for example. He is entirely self-taught and he mastered the exercise through a process riddled with trial and error. When he teaches a student, the student should master the exercise at a faster rate than him because of the nature of instruction in which the process of achievement is refined by cutting out the chaff and leaving behind only the essentials for success.

When I learnt how to do a handstand on my own the process took me many months. And even up to this point in time I am constantly uncovering nuances in the technique of the exercise, which when successfully incorporated will bring me to a higher level of mastery. The students that I teach invariably learn how to hold a handstand quicker than I did – they do not have to spend time figuring out alot of the stuff that I tell them right off the bat.

For example I maybe spent a week or two learning that how to tense my glutes. But when I teach I bring it in as a cue right from the start, and my students can often do it within minutes. This speeds up the learning process greatly, and intelligent learners will always seek out that which will streamline and expedite their technical mastery of the desired subject, without the intention of skimping on the hard work that must accompany the technical practice.

I admit, it is a fine difference and a fine line, and all of us (including me) are lazy. It is fast becoming one of my most-repeated sayings that humans are instinctively lazy creatures, and that our minds and bodies are constantly seeking the path of least resistance. But we need to manage this instinct in the sense that our “shortcuts” must come from making our work more effective and efficient, and not from the desire to cut out the work altogether.

It’s something blurry and something that I still struggle with, and I think I shall continue this struggle for the rest of my life, but it is also something that I know if against which I do not struggle I will become fully possessed by an idle spirit, and success will be but a fanciful pipe-dream to be wistfully related to indifferent friends and passers-by.

I was invited to attend a seminar on Total Immersion swimming by Tang Siew Kwan, the founder and owner of Fishlike Aquatic School. He said something during the session which resonated with me: if you want to succeed, you must be prepared to work harder than the people around you.

And here I have a confession to make, of how I was the proof of what Tang said, just scant minutes before he made his aforementioned assertion. When I received the invitation to attend the seminar and before I left home to attend it, I spent about a half hour reading up on TI swimming online.

This is a habit that has been drilled into me from my army days, in which the utmost emphasis is placed on the conduct of proper force preparation. This also relates to one of my favourite quotes, which I came across in the Jason Statham action thriller The Mechanic: Amat Victoria Curam, or Victory Loves Preparation.

During the seminar Tang fielded several questions, to which correct answers from the audience are rewarded by small but highly-attractive tokens and prizes. One of these questions was posed to us after we were shown a few videos of TI-trained swimmers, before and after they were schooled in the technique.

The question was: what are the 4 characteristics of TI swimming?

I shall not go into the answer here (you can find out easily using wiki if you’re interested), but let it suffice to say that I made a show of studying the videos and when I was presenting my answer (which I already know before I attended the seminar) I similarly made a small pretense of responding rather haltingly at times, to give the impression that I was not entirely sure of my observations, when in fact they had been ascertained by my prior research.

And so as people all around me looked impressed and Tang politely and graciously commented that I had good powers of observation and that he could use a coach like me (courtesy, of course, from a most esteemed host), I went up to the front and claimed my prize (a limited-edition swimming cap which I am sure more than a few members of the audience were hoping to win), all the while knowing that I had won it not through any lowly means of trickery and subterfuge, but simply because fortune does not favour the bold; it only favours those who are prepared for victory.

And then barely a minute passed before Tang stated that success is dependent upon relative hard work. As I sat in the audience with my prize in my bag I thought to myself: how true.

In our modern rat-race society where people are clambering all over one another to succeed, true excellence must come at a price. And the price is simple, if not easy, to pay – hard, intelligent work.

You want to be the best, you better work harder than the rest. Especially if your rivals are more talented than you are.

Can you be bothered to succeed?

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Entusiast. ~             


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