News flash—you’re not perfect. And guess what? No reasonable person expects you to be, no matter the situation. You are, with absolute certainty, going to make mistakes in every realm of your life. And that’s totally cool. In fact, it’s a good thing. It gives you the context you need to learn how to do things correctly. That’s especially true at the gym—but for some reason, it’s the place where we get super frustrated if we don’t get something right the first few times we do it. Let’s talk about why it’s ok if the first rep sucks.
We Learn Through Mistakes
So it’s cliché that we learn by making mistakes—but it’s totally true, especially when it comes to movement. Remember when you were a baby and you were first learning to move? Of course you don’t—you were a baby. You don’t remember anything. Anyway, when you were learning to move you made a ton of mistakes, and your brain noted them and used them to help build your motor control system. That’s fancy talk for your ability to move. Making those mistakes actually made your movement system, and your body, more robust.
The same is true for us as adults—we still learn to move by making mistakes. They give us the opportunity to understand what ‘incorrect’ feels like. Without that context, it’s harder for you to learn what ‘correct’ feels like. And, to go one step further, it lets you know when you’ve made a mistake after you’ve learned how to perform an exercise the correct way.
So, if we’re so focused on doing everything perfectly, we cut ourselves off from the optimal learning environment.
It Trains Us to Take Risks
“Unless you’re willing to be a fool, you can’t learn anything new.”
The above quote from the good professor Peterson illustrates something important—we have to be open to making mistakes if we want to make progress. That echoes the sentiment of the ‘we learn through mistakes’ section that we just covered—but it also goes a little deeper than that. If we want to do anything of value, in the gym or out of it, we have to be willing to stretch our competency, and flirt with things just on the other side of our competency. To do that, we have to be willing to take risks.
It’s a small thing, letting ourselves “be bad” at an exercise the first time, or few times, we try it, but it trains us to be comfortable with taking risks. And if we can learn to be brave in one environment, it enhances our ability to be brave in other environments.
Letting the first rep suck is a mindset overhaul that fosters growth. It gives us the space to improve while also keeping us motivated to improve, as well. Concerning ourselves with immediate perfection kills our drive because it’s an impossible standard to meet. And, if we’re maintaining that mindset, that ‘this has to be perfect from the start’ mindset, our motivation will die and our consistency along with it—no matter if it’s exercise or our careers.
So, we start where we are, we stay open to learning, we make mistakes, and we improve on each rep…on each set…on each day. (565)