So, yeah. Workouts.
I knew I should have waited longer to write about them. I knew that as soon as I said something about my working out and put it out there for the world to see, the irrational part of my psyche feared that I’d jinx everything and it would all start to blow up and I would look stupid. Because failure. But then the rational part of my brain kicked in. I’m just overthinking this, I reasoned. Clearly I’m just psyching myself out for no reason other than my paranoia about failing, which I’ve done so many times before. But now it’s been over two and a half months, and I’ve got a great track record going here. We’re making real progress. So just put it out there and drive on.
I should’ve known better.
My strength training has progressed to me working mostly with barbells on racks — which for me is brand new. When I meet with Matt the Maniac (now forever rebranded as #effingmatt), we run through the new routine and he demonstrates each exercise and adjusts for the correct weight (usually it’s low, which surprises both of us). It’s a lot to take in — equipment, stance, grip, range, muscle groups, weights — so I take pictures of Matt for later reference. Despite being on vacation a week, I had still worked out and I was really proud of that, but I was relieved to be back on my home turf where I felt much more comfortable. Having someone to show you the ropes eliminates a lot of confusion and complications. Walkthrough finished, I went home, confident I could replicate the workout on my own.
The next day I had a full schedule, and either had to wedge a cardio workout into an available :45 or go without. But hey, my agreement with myself is that I show up at the gym and do a minimum of :10 cardio; anything else is bonus. So I went to the gym (check!), powered through a half hour sweating like a dog (check check!), and ran to my next appointment. It was only later that night as I finished inputting the new workout into spreadsheet format that I noticed #effingmatt had also adjusted my cardio workouts: 800+ calorie burn on my choice of equipment. Well, shit. Now we’ve basically flipped the switch here and gone from self determination to obligation on my cardio. It used to be that I had 3 days of committed 1 hour workouts (strength training) and then I gave myself the out that I had to a) show up and b) could leave after :10 of cardio. (Nevermind the fact that typically I do :45 minutes on the elliptical, and this is a minimal increase over what I typically run.) I am now committed to six days of hour long workouts. That leaves precious little wiggle room for life.
I’m not sure I love this.
But hey, I’m an adult, right? I’ve got this. I go back in the next day, armed with my workout form, my photographs of #effingmatt for reference, and I approach the first rack exercise with only minor trepidation. Bent-over row, 75 lbs. I set the rack up, add my weights to the bar (side note, by the way; math suddenly becomes impossible at the gym, as I struggle with dividing the weight by two, then parsing that into the individual weights I then have to look for — 25, 10, and 2.5 lb. plates, in case you wondered). I get into my stance, grip the bar, and lif— HOLY MOTHER OF GOD THAT IS HEAVY SHIT. I set it down and check my notes; yep, 75 lbs. I try again. Yeah, I don’t remember this being that heavy just two days ago. After two more aborted attempts, I look for Matt to verify this, but he’s working with another client, so I track down one of the owners, who verifies that my form is correct. Okay then. I must be insane. I step up, gird my loins, grab the bar, and do one set of 12 reps. My arms feel like they are going to fall off and I seriously question what the hell I’m doing. The owner, who is still watching me, decides to interrupt Matt to verify the weight. She comes back, laughing, and tells me that actually, 75 lbs. includes the bar itself (which, to be fair, she had tried to tell me, but I stubbornly clung to what Matt had told me from Day 1: equipment weight is considered zero because you can’t change it, so all numbers refer to added weight). Instead of doing a set of bent-over rows at 75 lbs, I just did a set of bent-over rows at 115 lbs. Still laughing, she helps to take off 45 lbs of plates — which, for those of you who don’t know, is the weight of the bar. By now Matt has also come over, laughing, explaining that I need to account for the weight of the bar whenever I’m using barbells, so he guesses now he’ll have to up my weights for this exercise.
But I’m frozen. I cannot laugh. I cannot even speak. I realize they have done nothing wrong and are only trying to help me, but I am incredibly upset. I have to step away and go look out the nearby window because my eyes are welling up and threaten to spill down my face. I am both deeply frustrated and humiliated at this turn of events. Worse, my confidence is shattered, and I am moments from bursting into tears. A stupid reaction, and one that makes me even more furious than I already am. I feel naked and vulnerable. I try so hard to stay under the radar while I’m at the gym and yet, here I am, a half dozen people around me watching this interaction, both the owner and my trainer chuckling at my n00b mistake. I resist the very real urge to run right out the front door and never come back. Because I am honestly that close to the edge. In an attempt to diffuse this flood of utter failure, I go outside to get some fresh air in my lungs and my headphones from the car. (Ironically, this step ends up locking me out of the gym because my fob is on my water bottle inside, so I have to call the gym’s main line and ask someone to let me in. Nope, not humiliating at all.)
When we forget that new users need additional information to keep them on track, we are in danger of leaving them behind. In fact, without critical cues, we risk leading them into failure. In this use case, this omission — which many would argue is simply common sense — left me, the new user, floundering. Nowhere is that “common sense” easy for me to find on my own my first time through. People who are familiar with weightlifting can easily determine when the instructions means plates, and when the instructions means both plates and the weight of a bar, for example. These are users with that highly relevant, “common sense” user experience. I, however, am a new user, and in a single moment of failure, I am willing to abandon my progress and walk away. It may not have been my failure, but it was my experience, and I’ve now internalized the failure as my own.
So why even share this with you now? Here’s the thing: failure is not a bad thing — even if it feels bad.
Every failure provides information. In every case. Even failures directly related to human error. … If a failure occurs and shuts down a system or device for a customer, that failure is important. A single failure of a prototype is likewise important — because it is [a] clear way to avoid failures that a customer may experience.
Not addressing failure, however, can be a very bad thing — especially when it comes to humans. It’s why we have to test our prototypes and preconceptions, and continue to test when we’re in production, and incorporate findings in iterative designs, and push out fixes and improvements on a regular basis. Eliminating the pain points, those places that lead to user failure, can actually result in greater user trust in your system. I like Arianna Huffington’s way of looking at failure; she believes failure is not the opposite of success; it’s part of it.
When you don’t embrace that outlook, failure can be detrimental. That particular FAIL caused me to spiral down into a black hole of, “I don’t belong here. I’m stupid. Oh my god, everyone’s looking at me. Eff this. Where’s the nearest exit?” So much so that, I must confess, I didn’t go back to the gym for four days. I don’t believe it was intentional, per se; I packed my gym bag every day and had it with me, but now I started allowing other things to get in the way of my going to the gym. Dinner with TheCop. Cleaning out the closet (that has been a wreck for six months). Getting together with friends. Rather than risk revisiting failure or ridicule, I let my momentum slide. Because users don’t like to fail. We take it personally, even if the failure isn’t ours. Even if it’s a one off, or a failure we can chalk up to human error, the damage is already done and the user experience suffers.
It took me four days to shake off the shroud of failure. From Friday through Monday, I did not “make it” to the gym. Tuesday I managed to pull myself up by my bootstraps but, when I got there, all the racks were in use and my good intention vanished. I can’t believe I’m admitting to it, but I almost turned around and walked back out the door again, as if it were a sign from the universe to just go away. But instead I went over to the ellipticals and decided to do ten minutes until I could figure out what to do next. Then TheCop called and asked when I’d be done, and ten minutes turned into thirty. Which, in turn, ended up being an hour — just over 4 miles and, lo and behold, 846 calories later.
Mentally, I’m still not sure about this move from internal motivation, where I challenge myself to do a bit more, to the external motivation of being obligated to hit someone else’s challenge. I’m going to have to work hard to change my mindset. Because right now it feels as though I have lost control (I say who, I say when, I say… WHO), despite nothing really changing; the amount of effort I’m exerting is relatively the same, it’s just framed differently. But I have to wonder if my motivational readjustment wouldn’t seem so monumental if I hadn’t also faced failure in an environment where I’ve lost confidence and once again feel like a fish out of water. If it’s possible, I’m in an even greater “head down, music up, under the radar, focus on” mode than I was before. We need to unlearn the conditioning that failure is bad. Until then, I’m focused on just trying to embrace the fail and push through.
The struggle is real, yo.