It’s often said that the dinosaurs were unable to adapt. While it is generally accepted that their demise was due to a natural disaster, an asteroid strike, they may not have lasted much longer, regardless. While their reign was eons, compared to the short run we humans have had, they were nowhere near as adaptable as we are. Adapt or perish they say. Good advice, unless you are in the fitness industry. Amazingly, dinosaurs thrive here.
One of the proudest moments in my online career was a seeming non-event. It was when a user on my online forum loudly complained that I had said something completely different a few years before what I said on that day. I had been waiting for someone to notice! To me, the fact that my opinions, nay, my beliefs had evolved and continue to evolve is a badge of honor. The forum member accused me of contradicting myself. I was not contradicting myself, I was correcting myself. If I had failed to correct myself, and continued saying the same things I had said two years before then that is when he should disregard me. While acts don’t change, our state of knowledge does. And what we do with that knowledge should change with it. And yet, to this person, a static and unwavering viewpoint was seen as more authoritative. He was not unusual in any way. Most people view firm and unchanging opinions as a signal of authority and expertise. They are, in fact, the opposite.
Seeking the positive is seeking answers that may not actually be there, but finding them anyway. The result may be greater happiness and contentment, but less understanding. Critical thinking may not always make you happy. There is a trade-off in being reflective, but the reward is much greater. A critical thinker may not seem as interesting, in fact, as their self-assured and often judgmental counterpart, but they are far more interested. A critical thinker seeks neither the positive or the negative but gives a fair shake to both.
As I work on this book, I’m confident. I am applying my knowledge and trying to impart to you the lessons that I have so painstakingly learned. I’m too busy to have doubt! At the end of the day, though, after I have closed my computer and I’m enjoying that much-needed beer, my head swimming and my eyes blurring, the doubt creeps in. The reality is that the more I learn the less I feel like I know. Is my approach the wrong approach? Am I completely wrong? Am I completely out of my depth? Am I a fraud?
And then I remember: This is exactly how it should be. Anything else, and I would be a fraud. The more we learn, the less certain we become. The less certain we become, the deeper we explore and the more we learn.
What do we know? We know a whole lot but we don’t know everything. Much of the practices in strength training and bodybuilding, despite the propaganda of those who claim to be science-based, is not based on evidence but accumulated experience. What we do have is a lot of physiological and kinesiological knowledge that underlies these practices. If we are willing to take the time and do a little critical thinking we can come close to the best conclusion based on the state of knowledge at the time. Knowledge is not static. Evidence is not static. So here is what to look for:
As you peruse the internet you will come across fitness and strength writers who have written a great many articles or at least whose opinions are freely available in some form. Chances are you’ll find someone who was writing articles in the year 2010 and is still writing them today, in 2020. Pay attention to the dates. Pay attention to the evolution. Ten years is a long time. Even five years is a long time. And, for me, one year is long enough to turn my thinking on a subject one-hundred eighty degrees.
You may find that our hypothetical writer is saying the same things now as he or she was in 2010. That is a bad fitness writer, my friends. The state of knowledge has changed too much for anyone to still be saying the same things.
This statement, compared to all that I’ve made thus far, may be the hardest for many to accept. Experience tells me that most people view those whose opinions never waiver as having more authority. Someone who seems more sure of themselves and their opinions will be viewed as more of an expert than those who don’t always take a concrete stand. They never change their opinions because they have simply stopped learning. Stopped thinking. Stopped applying.
Critical thinking is not a process of criticizing. It is a rational process that, while considering emotional responses, does not let emotion guide it. Thinking critically often involves a more emotional process where hostile judgment takes the place of rational thought.
Not a day goes by that someone does not ask a question, get ten contradictory answers and wonder, rightly so: “Who do I listen to?” The purpose of this book is to help those very people. The beginner has very little foundation on which to proceed. They are very prone to falling victim to those who shout, rant, and rave rather than reason, discuss, and LISTEN. Those who pound their fists are those who have the least to say…
Here is a simple research tool. Take some time and examine the history of your information source. Avoid the ones who never seem to change on anything and say the same things through the years, albeit louder and louder. It’s alright to be wrong. As a matter of fact, the next time a writer proclaims, I WAS WRONG, in an article, mark them down as a go-to source.
But all that is just about researching and learning. I need to give you a specific practice or habit to serve as a spot for your bullshit detector. Well, these writers will tend to discuss everything as if it’s “for sure”. Phrases such as “it’s been proven” or “we have known for a long time” will be prevalent. Other favorites are appealing to common knowledge or common practice: everybody knows this or everybody does this. Some writers will be so blatant as to say things like “I am right about this and nothing anybody can say will make me believe otherwise. In fact, if you think differently you are not even worth listening to. So the thing to spot is:
Above, I brought up old articles versus new articles. I want to be clear that I am not making a value judgment about new things being superior to older ones. An older article can still be valid and educational. The point is to compare the evolution of one author’s thinking not to say that old articles are not valuable. Just because an author changes their stance often does not make them right or wrong. That should be obvious. But if they never change their stance then you can bet they have much fewer chances of ever being right, or at least as right as anyone can be.
A real expert, when facing complex issues rather than just mere facts, will avoid speaking of what she knows. Instead, she will tell you what she thinks.
I remember vividly reading a very long and detailed article about the Romanian deadlift written by a person who always claims to know. This article was so complex and involved it went off down a deep rabbit hole, taking the reader along for the ride. This writer, so bent on knowing, refused to make any assumptions. This is another fatal flaw in fitness information. You see, assumptions are critical to critical thinking!
Next: Assumptions Are Critical