Don’t Be Seduced Be Numbers

I just got an ESPN notification (ba da ba, ba da ba!) that Alabama WR Amari Cooper–one of the top prospects in this year’s NFL draft–ran an unofficial 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. That’s fast, right? Sounds fast! I mean, if you saw Amari running in person, you’d probably think he’s fast, especially compared to most people. (At the same time, if you saw your little cousin hopped on sugar and bouncing around the jungle gym, you’d probably think she was fast too, right?) What difference does it make for a wide receiver if his 40-yard dash time was 4.42 vs. 4.30 vs. 4.69? Beats me, personally. But this stuff does matter to some people, namely, scouts and media pundits who need something to talk about now that football season is done. So you’ll hear about how many reps an offensive lineman can bench press, and how fast (or slow) a running back ran 40 yards, and how quickly big hulking linebackers can complete an obstacle course while wearing itty-bitty tights–and how important this all is. All this tells you is how great someone is at doing some specific exercises. It doesn’t really much tell you how great they’ll do on a football field.

Similarly, I feel many people fall into the trap of focusing on numbers when they approach their fitness goals. As I discussed in my post, “Accomplish Big Things by Thinking Small First“, there is nothing wrong with aiming to reach certain numerical goals. It’s a nice motivator, and it could give you the extra little boost you need to get through a workout or resist the urge to go back for a second helping of dessert. But hitting a specific weight number shouldn’t be everything for you. Unless you’re a professional body builder or model or athlete where it’s absolutely critical to your well-being, livelihood, etc. to maintain certain physical metrics, most of us don’t have incentive to kill ourselves over reaching certain physical goals. We have lives! Enjoy that slice of birthday cake at your niece’s birthday party. Go back for a second helping of rice at Chinese New Year dinner. Eat ice cream because it tastes good. One little indulgence isn’t going to devastate your fitness goals, and if it does, then I urge you to reassess what your actual objectives are. In my humble opinion, the long-term goals worth achieving are sustainable over time–something worthwhile isn’t going to evaporate (or be created) overnight.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy! I get seduced by numbers frequently (even though I’m not a numbers guy, I’m easily tempted.) As my friends will attest, I like bragging about discussing my physical achievements all the time. One of my strength goals, for example, is to bench 2 plates (225 lbs) 8 times, because former SF 49ers 1st round draft pick A.J. Jenkins benched that weight only 7 times, and I want to prove that someone with no athletic ability whatsoever can outdo someone who’s been an athlete his entire life (I’m a bitter petty football fan who was disappointed with A.J’s on-field performance. He could be a great guy in real life. He also ran a very fast 40, so you know, he’s got that going on for him.) For the record, I’m getting close, but still haven’t been able to hit one rep of 225 yet. At a recent 5K run, I finished in the Top 5 of my age group (TRANSLATION: I finished in 5th place. But “Top 5” sounds much cooler, no?) and averaged a 7:31 minute/mile. These numbers all sound really cool, and I’m proud of them, of course. But I keep reminding myself: One run, one workout, one anything doesn’t define me. Rather, I’m prouder that over the course of about a year and a half, I’ve been able to both lose and keep off the weight and I can now run a mile without breaking a sweat. I couldn’t say that a year ago. Those are the kind of numbers I prefer–and ultimately, the ones that matter the most.

Keep pushing the pile, my friends!



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