Trust me, I am an engineer. As an engineer, I learned to base my decisions on facts. At some point I started to introduce that mindset to my movement practice. That has helped me to become a better student and a better teacher. Truly experiencing the full advantages of this mindset made me rethink many areas of my life.
You cannot discuss everything
I studied electrical engineering with a focus on communications engineering. While I had no problem leaving the industry behind last year, I have to say I miss the way facts are dealt with there. There are no myths and not a lot of gut feelings. Mostly, there are just plain facts which serve as the foundation of decisions. Of course, there are discussions. But the baseline for every discussion are the facts. That might be the laws of physics, scientific evidence or the state of the art technical limitations. To become part of a discussion, you need to do your homework: Simply know the facts. If you were to question anything under the baseline in the discussion, you would probably miss the rest of the meeting. Some things are just indisputable, which is actually really helpful. Otherwise we would never find a solution.
The difference between interpretations and facts
All our brains have the same basic functionality. Ideally, your brain is in a state some neuroscientists call “coherence”. Everything is in balance and makes sense, and the brain only consumes minimal energy.
Of all the new things you learn every day, those which can be connected to an existing interpretation or mental representation are the easiest to learn. For that the brain does not need much energy, because its coherence is not in danger. If, however, someone told you a fact that contradicts your current ideas and understanding, it is a lot of effort for the brain to accept that. To memorize this fact and accept this mind shift, your brain needs to temporarily abdicate its coherence. During that time it consumes a lot more energy and causes a lot more “headaches” than it its otherwise idle state. Eventually that might even cause your brain to restructure and reshuffle some mental representations.
So our mental representations and interpretations of the world are obviously not inherently correct, since they were built based on whatever facts we had available at the time. But they essentially determine how we view the world.
Facts in the movement context
Coming from a background in engineering, I wanted to get to a similar level of understanding with my movement practice. And I strongly advise everyone who wants to progress to answer all relevant questions for yourself. Questions like “How much do I need to train?”, “What is the most appropriate routine for me?”, “How can I learn X?”. You can achieve this either through workshops, seminars, books or the internet – doesn’t really matter. Just make sure you use appropriate and reliable sources for your information. I know of no other industry where myths are so prominent as they are in the health and fitness industry. I suppose that is because many facts, though they are well known, are not accepted by the common population: For example it is well known how important sufficient amount of sleep and the right nutrition are in addition to a good exercise program, still it is very hard for many people to accept that and implement that in their daily life.
But like I mentioned before – some things are indisputable. No exercise program can make up for a lack of sleep and inappropriate nutrition: You simply cannot ignore the facts of the human metabolism.
The big challenge
There are some facts about the human body that should actually be part of everyone’s education, at least in areas of the world where education is accessible to everyone. That is basic information about exercise physiology, some basics of biomechanics and psychology. It should be a manual to your body – then everyone will be able to tell myths from good exercise programs.
In addition to that we need to give people guidance how they can apply these facts to their lifestyle in simple, actionable steps. Not everyone needs to become a top athlete, but no one should remain a couch potato if they want anything meaningful out of their lives. And in the end there is not just this black-and-white approach: It’s not just either couch potato or top-athlete. A sixpack is not a prerequisite for being healthy and fit, in fact it would be more sustainable if you moved more throughout the whole day and took care of your nutrition, sleep and brain health. But unfortunately this is not what most campaigns and stereotypes in the health and fitness industry are about.
A way to actually experience facts
Often the problem about facts is that they are hard to imagine in a real-life context and are hence really abstract in nature. But if they concern your body or your immediate environment, they become much more “alive”. Thus, if you can use your body to explore the difference between facts and an interpretation, your brain will naturally develop the skills to tell the difference.
My favorite example to explain this are a few flights of stairs in a public area. Imagine, they were going up a small hill, were made of concrete and had metal handrails on either side. Maybe something like the ones in the video below.
Now, are “stairs” and “handrail” a fact? Or are they an interpretation that we assumed based on our education and societal experience? I would argue that the actual facts are the material they are made of, the height and length of the steps, the positioning and the kind of surface of the handrails, etc. But of course when we see an object like this, we immediately have “stairs” in mind, along with the movement pattern that we created over years to overcome this kind of obstacle. And this interpretation does not leave much room for creative thinking and exploration. How many ways could you think of to use these objects? Of course you can only perform this experiment with your mind, if you know all the facts about your own body: How far/high can you jump? Could you balance on the handrail (which is why their surface is important)? Are you strong enough to crawl up the stairs backwards? But ideally, the experiment takes place not only in your mind, but actually in real life.
Become more skeptical and curious. Do not take something as a fact, unless you can be sure about it. Become more aware of the facts of your own body that concern basics in exercise physiology, psychology and biomechanics. Practice the mindset of a fact finder by going out and exploring your surrounding with your body. Find Parkour practitioners locally, they are usually a good start for this. Stay away from trends in the fitness industry unless you agree with the reasoning behind it (for which you obviously have to find out that reasoning). Ultimately, you will get to the facts of your life. What your relationships are based on, what makes you happy etc. But take your time, there is no reason to force this. If you move more to explore facts, you will get there eventually.