Raise Your Standards! The Ultimate Success Strategy

What does reading hundreds of books have to do with weightlifting? What does it have to do with setting goals in the gym? Read-on for the keys to raising standards and reaching goals.

My Grandmother owns thousands of books. Make that tens of thousands of books – she has over 2,000 on Japan alone. Her house is quite literally a bookstore (she sells on Alibris). It has been this way since before I was born.

When I was a kid growing up, few things were as fun to me as going to my grandmothers house to hang out. We’d have great conversations on politics, history, and Shakespeare. We’d watch PBS documentaries, The News Hour, and Mystery. I’d eat the foods my parents wouldn’t let me have, like cereal. And she’d let me peruse her books.

If I was really lucky I could “check one out”.

She has her entire collection of books catalogued. She would issue me a book and write up two cards, one for her, one for me. On the cards she’d have the book title, author, some numbers which only meant something to her, my name, and a due date.

I don’t think I ever returned a book to her on time. Heck, I’ve still got a few! But, she would keep lending them to me anyway, making suggestions for authors whom I have come to love, like W.B. Yeats and Steven J. Gould.

Reading Weren’t Easy

I was a dyslexic kid (I’m a dyslexic adult). Add to that the natural “A.D.D.” all children have and you’ll understand that reading (and especially spelling) was a hard thing for me. I’d borrow books from her that I would only be able to skim through. I tried to hide it, but those kinds of things are rather obvious.

library, books, reading, dyslexia, learning disorder, ADDIn truth, I never read an entire book in my life until I was 17 – I’m not counting Dr. Seuss! I’d read magazine articles as best as I could and I’d read comics, but whole books were an impossibility.

The irony was because of the engagement I enjoyed with hyper-intelligent people like my Grandmother, my vocabulary was always much higher than my peers. My ability to read well, however, was lower than theirs. I would know words, their meanings, and how to use them in sentences, but not have a clue how to spell them. (This is still a problem for me. Thank heavens for spell check.)

Thankfully, when I was about 17 years old, something important happened. A friend of mine – a guy who made up for his lack of brain power by protecting me against bullies – received what he thought was the worst birthday present of his life: two books! The first was the collected works of Carl Jung. The second was the collected works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He gave them to me in an offhand manner. He said he didn’t want them, was offended, but thought maybe I’d be into them since I liked all that “nerd stuff”.

He was right. It changed my life.

I read both of these books cover to cover. I was enthralled. I would read them rather than do homework (not that I did homework). I read them in detention (I was in detention a lot). I just devoured them. This was the first time I’d ever read a whole book all the way through and I read two of them – by Emerson and Jung! Should we call that odd or inevitable?

Foundations Matter

In hindsight, I don’t think it had much to do with the content of the books themselves. As an adult I find the ideas of these guys don’t always jive with my own – particularly Emerson whose philosophy I find naive. (Jung, in my opinion however, has won the battle between himself and Freud, but that is another article altogether!)

What mattered was that at the right time, I was ready to engage some seriously heady reading. I would never have been ready at the age of 17 to read Jung and Emerson if it wasn’t for my Grandmother. She set the bar high and she expected me to reach it. She gave that to me as a gift and I’ll cherish it forever.

Up until last year, I owned hundreds of books. Unlike so many people I’d read all of them, many times over. (I had to sell three-quarters of them to move into my new smaller apartment. That was not easy.) These were books on every subject imaginable: history, biology, greek literature, mathematics, popular science books, religious books on many different religions, classic novels and plays. The list was long.

When I was in my early twenties, for a span of about five years, I read no less than four books a week, usually more. My reading comprehension got better and better, and I was able to read at very fast pace. The point of all of this isn’t to toot my own horn. That would be stupid. It is that I still feel compelled to try to keep up with this crazy old woman who has read nearly everything one could possibly read. Anything less seems like a failure.

I’m spending my life trying to reach for a standard set for me ages ago.

What in the name of Donny Shankle does any of this have to do with Weightlifting?!

I think it should be obvious at this point what I’m about to say: Set the bar high for yourself – in the gym.

Don’t be satisfied with the mediocre. Take a hard look at yourself and try to ascertain what your lifetime best ever lifts could possibly be – then go out and hunt them down. These could be single-rep-max lifts as one would have in a strength sport, or they could be CrossFit competition numbers, or running a marathon, or having a vertical jump of a certain height. It doesn’t matter what the goals are. What matters is the goals are high.

If you have a good coach, then the coach will work with you on determining what these goals are – but you don’t need someone else to tell you. This is your life, your fitness, and it is ALL up to you.

Set high – but reachable – goals for yourself.

The goals you set obviously have to be something you can reach! It would be ridiculous to say you want to snatch 700 pounds. No one on the planet can do that. It is also ridiculous to say you want to break the world record in the snatch. Almost no one will do that either. Unless you are very young, and very talented, then that goal is off the table.

goal setting, training, fitness, programming, personal recordsFor myself, I want to break the National Masters snatch record in the 35-39 y/o age group for the 77 kilo class. That is a specific goal that is high, but potentially reachable if I work my tail off for the next five years. (It’s currently 120kg. I’m hitting 95kg as of this writing. I’ll need to add 5k a year to reach it.)

Even if I never get there, I’ll have a blast trying and I will certainly lift more weight than I ever would have otherwise if my goals were to simply “be strong” and “in shape”. That’s already true! Just the other day I snatched 22kg over bodyweight at the age of 33. Not many people can say that.

I am very far from world class. But, I’m striving to be the best of myself. That is a goal we should all have.

Raise your standards, set your goals high, and go hunt them down.

Oh…and read a book.

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