George Leonard, in his wonderful book Mastery, which came out in the early 90s - no smartphones, no Netflix, no doom scrolling, no endless reels on Instagram - talks about paths outside of mastery. Because the path is long, winding, and not easy, most of us don't have the time or energy or commitment towards something with the intent to master it.
As soon as I read these types, I recognised myself in all of them over the years. And I see most of the people I work with fall into these types as well, and the additional one that I will call as a student. Recognising it is key for me and for you - because you can decide IF you want to do something about it.
It is a choice. It is fine to be on any approach, I think. You cannot choose to master everything. Bowling or corn-hole are things that should be played only when drunk, or so I think. That's my perspective. But there are world championships and people choose to master them.
Strength training or many physical activities are ones where you can choose to be one of these types, or master them. In fact, I think even nutrition and lifestyle habits are essentially that - you are either trying to master them or you are not.
(I think) this will be 4 posts - each one going into a bit more detail about the 4 types. Let's start with them.
- The Dabbler
- The Obsessive
- The Hacker
- The Student
meet the Dabbler
The Dabbler approaches each new sport, career opportunity, or relationship with enormous enthusiasm. He or she loves the rituals involved in getting started, the spiffy equipment, the lingo, the shine of newness.
When he makes his first spurt of progress in a new sport, for example, the Dabbler is overjoyed. He demonstrates his form to family, friends, and people he meets on the street. He can't wait for the next lesson. The falloff from his first peak comes as a shock. The plateau that follows is unacceptable if not incomprehensible. His enthusiasm quickly wanes. He starts missing lessons. His mind fills up with rationalisations. This really isn't the right sport for him. It's too competitive, noncompetitive, aggressive, non-aggressive, boring, dangerous, whatever. He tells everyone that it just doesn't fulfil his unique needs.
The honeymoon period of any new activity is just brilliant. I dabbled with running, as I've written about it before. After an extremely rough start, every week was a glorious one. I was running more miles than the previous week. I was on top of the world. But after a while, I was running at the same pace, more or less. To improve would've meant a whole lot of things, including but not limited to
- working on my running style
- working on my strength
- hiring a running coach and following a training programme
- stopping CrossFit
- stopping playing Ultimate
That sounds like a lot of work. And it is made worse by the fact that I have to give up two things I enjoyed way too much - CrossFit and Ultimate. So, after my initial progress and 6-9 months of running, I switched my attention to CrossFit.
For a lot of you, dabbling around might bring a lot of joy. Spend a few months playing tennis. Then, move on to playing badminton. And maybe take up dance after that. As long as it is checking off whatever box you want it to check off, that's great. There's no reason to overthink it.
Central to your health is that physical activity is important. How does it matter if you get bored after the honeymoon phase? If you've moved on to something else - it checks the box.
Not everyone needs to be on the path to mastery on this fitness thing. I've seen my fair share of trainees who join for a year, make great progress and then hit their plateau and get disillusioned. When I was younger, I would take that personally - I could not help them fall in love with fitness. Today, I am a lot less egoistic about it. This might not be right for everyone. Or they got what they needed out of it and are moving on. There's no reason to take it personally. Not everyone wants to geek out on strength and conditioning.
I think the valuable exercise here is in recognising ourselves. It is not that you are a dabbler. Instead, see in what facets you are a dabbler. And if that's an area you are not seeing the results you want - well, now you know why. Because being a dabbler over there is not good enough. But if results are not a concern and you are having fun - well, that's wonderful. Being a dabbler over there is perfect.
When I started off, I needed to be a dabbler. I needed to dabble with yoga, with running, with CrossFit. Only towards the end of CrossFit did I vaguely understand what and why I needed to strength train and took my first step towards being a student of strength. If I hadn't dabbled, I would not have discovered fun things like triathlons, like long distance running and so many other things.
Remember, this (or most things) are not about right or wrong.