Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Power of Context

So last time we talked, I went on a little bit of a speil about the Malcolm Gladwell book "Outliers" and how the section on the rule of 10,000 hours could be applied to skill development in sports.  Well I have moved on, but not too far.  I recently finished another one of Gladwell's books "The Tipping Point" which discusses how small changes can make big differences as well as spawn epidemics in everything from shoes to ideas.  I thoroughly enjoy his books because they offer new insights about the world around us, but more importantly they get me thinking of how I can apply what I have learned to my own life.

I have always been very interested in psychology and how our surroundings and genetics effect who we are and how we act.  A lot of things that we are attracted to buy and do with our time is in large part due to our environment and even more so, to our groups of peers.  This is what Gladwell refers to as the power of context; the ability for our surroundings to affect our ideas, moods, and our actions.  So I thought about how this affects my life and my training.

If you are reading my blog, you may also read T-Nation articles, stuff by Gentlicore, Cressey and Contreras, all of whom I believe at some point have made note about the importance of the facility you train at, as well as the crew you train with.  Most of this was anecdotal and common sense to me, but I never really knew the mechanism behind it all.  Our environment and peers play a large role in our attitudes and actions and Gladwell cites many studies that back up this claim in the book.  Well, how do we apply this training.

Ever notice what is in a collegiate weight room?  Record boards, pictures of successful athletes, motivational phrases and quotes.  All of these little things add up and although you may not notice it, they effect you and your athletes in a positive manner.  The previous list may be obvious but how about the little things like the lighting, music type/volume, and type of equipment.  The type of equipment will not only dictate the the types of exercise selection that is possible, but it will also dictate an attitude.  Check out the Rocky 4 training montage and notice the different environments each trained in and how that affected their state of mind.  Cheesy, ya maybe, but I think it illustrates the point nicely.

Also, the crew/teammates you work out with make a huge difference.  Your team/training crew has a lot to do with how you workout, how hard you workout, how often you workout, etc.

Take me for example.  I train primarily for climbing, so I perform body weight pulling and core work, as well as a lot of metabolic conditioning to maximize my power to weight ratio.  I train by myself in the weight room in regards to climbing specificity, but train with like minded people at the climbing gym that are all super motivated to keep getting stronger and push their physical and mental limits.  That peer group keeps me motivated to push myself.  I am also around motivated collegiate athletes all day long, so a lot of their enthusiasm for training rubs off on me as well.  But lets say I worked out up at Cressey Performance, I would not have as much access to climbing areas and therefore may not be completely addicted to climbing and rather by means of peer pressure, be addicted to deadlifting and barbell glute lifts.

Also, the guys that you train with are probably the people you hang out with outside of the gym.  Their habits outside of the gym will affect you as well.  If you keep the company of guys that are training their brains out in the gym but get hammered every night and eat like crap, guess what, you may fall into that same trap.

Be mindful of the context of your environment and your peers, as it greatly affects your mood and behaviors.  The more you look for it, the more you will see the impact it has on you.  Also, go read "The Tipping Point," it is truly eye opening.

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