I’ve been seeing more and more people talk about the dangers of having unrealistic expectations.
“Oh, if we don’t tell new lifters what’s ‘reasonable’ from the very start, they’re going to be disappointed and stop lifting.”
Nope. I’m not buying it. Not for one second. If anything, I think that mindset does more harm than good.
Do kids start playing basketball because they want to be as good as some guy who plays pick-up games at the local YMCA?
They start playing because they want to be Michael Jordan or Lebron James or Steph Curry.
Do kids start playing football because they admire the second-string slot receiver at their local high school?
They want to be Cam Newton or Ray Lewis or Rob Gronkowski.
Hell, who made bodybuilding a THING in the first place?
Arnold. The definition of a larger-than-life character. He’s likely inspired literally millions of people to start working out. But since most of those people will never look like Arnold, that’s a bad thing, right?
When I started training, Andy Bolton, Ronnie Coleman, Mariusz Pudzianowski, and Hossein Reza Zadeh were the kings of their respective sports. And when I started lifting, I wanted to do what those four guys could do; I didn’t look up to the median lifter at the local gym or the football weight room (realistic goal).
I realize now that I’m never going to accomplish the same stuff those guys did. But I’ve done pretty well for myself so far, and I still have higher goals I want to accomplish. I’m proud of my 1885 total, but I still think I have 2000+ in me.
Did I fall into a deep depression and stop lifting when I realized I was never going to look like Ronnie or deadlift 1,000lbs? Absolutely not. I was already in too deep and had reached the point that I loved training for its own sake.
Might some people get disappointed and wash out?
But those are the people who had no grasp on reality in the first place. “Oh, I’ve been lifting for 6 months and I’m not ready for the Olympia stage yet. May as well quit.” Boo hoo. I have zero sympathy for those people. Their fundamental problem isn’t lofty goals: It’s the expectation of attaining results without a concomitant amount of work and time investment.
You can aspire to be the best, but if you expect to get there without putting in years and years and years of work, you’re delusional. If someone has unrealistic long-term expectations but they know not to expect everything overnight, then when reality comes knocking in 5 or 10 years, they’re not going to wash out.
I’ve been lifting for 12 years, but haven’t caught up to any of my initials idols yet. Does that bother me? Not at all. When I realized I had virtually no chance to reach that level, I was momentarily bummed out, but I got over it.
I have yet to meet anyone who’s achieved elite performance in any pursuit (sports, lifting, business, etc.) without having lofty expectations and daring to set audacious goals. By definition, reaching the top ranks of anything isn’t “realistic.” And yet it happens. Before it can happen, you need to expect it to happen.
Sure, set realistic short-to-moderate-term goals. Constantly attaining those will help keep you on track and motivated. But if you want to accomplish great things in the long run, you first need to allow yourself to set goals that may be a little bit crazy.
Now, I HAVE written a few articles to give people a reasonable idea of what they can expect to accomplish (one, two, three), but I always make sure to note that these articles deal with ranges and averages, not biological destiny. I make sure to emphasize that you should work with the expectation that you’re going to be at the top end of the range or blow the averages out of the water.
At the end of the day, what’s worse? Getting a lot of people excited about working out and accomplishing something awesome, even if most of them will fall short? Or enforcing mediocrity, attacking people for their success, and laughing at people who aspire to greatness?
To me, it’s an easy choice.