The Testosterone Principles
Shut the Hell Up
Despite what it might look like to the casual eye, T Nation isn't just about lifting weights and building a body that is, as we like to say, "built for bad." Since day one, it's also been about being a man, only just what a man is these days has become as muddled and murky as the water in your washing machine after you launder your shorts.
Building a superior male body without having a sense or even a definition of manhood seems to us like building a missile but leaving out the internal guidance system. Sure, you can point it at something and hope it lands in the vicinity, but without the guidance, it's more likely to blow up Mrs. Edgerton's Sanctuary for Beautiful Young Virgins and Puppy Dogs than it is the lair of bad guys.
That's why we occasionally feature this column. It might not always be right on target, but it's usually damn close, and at the very least it raises awareness of the issue of manhood and in this age of half men, half hamsters, that ain't bad at all.
Eddie's at his usual Friday night haunt, pounding back the Coronas, when Paula walks in.
Now Eddie hasn't seen Paula in a few years and he's dated a fair amount since, so it's entirely understandable that he doesn't remember all the particulars about any specific girl and Paula is no exception. Besides, like I said, he's been pounding back the Coronas. All he remembers is that they spent a few nights together.
He buys her a few drinks and after reacquainting a bit, they head back to his place for some furious mattress pounding. During the deed, just before it happens, the memories come flooding back to him, and I do mean flooding because Paula's what they call a squirter.
Now there are squirters that are kind of like those little practical-joke flowers that your lame Grandpa used to wear at picnics and then there are full-fledged municipal fire-fighter squirters that can put out the flames on a high-rise. Paula, unfortunately, is a member of the latter group.
When she leaves, Eddie examines the damage. It's like someone threw a bucket of fish stock on his mattress. Eddie drags the thing outside and starts scrubbing at it with old towels dabbed in vinegar, only he scrubs so hard that he breaks through the nappy fabric. He leaves it out in the sun the next day to dry but to no avail; the moisture has worked its way deep into stuffing and all the sun is doing is making the thing smell like a Bay Area cannery in a Steinbeck novel.
So Eddie gets what he thinks is a brilliant idea. He loads the thing up into the back of his pick-up truck and takes it back to the Costco where he bought it, six years ago.
He walks up to the exchange desk and actually tells the wide-eyed female clerk that it's defective and he wants a new one. She glances at the thing and no doubt notices the unseemly stain and the threadbare fabric around it, but either she's afraid to ask what the hell she's looking at or Costco has the most liberal exchange policy in the Milky Way Galaxy, but in any event she gives him a voucher for a new mattress.
When Eddie told me this story, he was mighty proud of himself for his ingenuity.
Now here's the weird thing: Eddie prides himself on being the type of guy who "does the right thing." One of his favorite pastimes, it seems, is proudly pointing out hypocrisy and corruption in the government, in business, and in the people he knows.
But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get Eddie to see that what he'd done in returning the "faulty" mattress was dishonest and downright immoral. I pounded the table, I tore at my hair, I wailed and gnashed my teeth, I jammed pretzel sticks into my nose and made dolphin noises and my?eyes and skin started to smolder until I looked like one of those Walking Dead zombies, but his self-serving bias was the strongest I'd ever encountered.
Self-serving bias is the term social psychologists have given to the phenomenon of accepting more responsibility for success than failure, or for good deeds than bad. In Eddie's case, he simply saw that he had a bad mattress and he knew that Costco accepted returns on bad merchandise. His self-serving bias filled in all the Grand Canyonesque gaps: Eddie is, in his mind, the guy who does the right thing. Ergo, if there was any blame to be handed out, it was to Costco for being so stupid as to have such a liberal return policy.
You see self-serving attributions a lot in athletes after defeat, drivers after accidents, students after exams, managers after profits or losses, or couples after break ups.
Consider a College Board survey of 829,000 high school students:
- 0 percent rated themselves below average in ability to get along well with others
- 60 percent rates themselves in the top 10 percent
- 25 percent rated themselves in the top 1 percent
Similarly, in surveys of college faculty, 90% rate themselves superior to their colleagues. As far as drivers, 9 out of 10 think they're above average.
You can see this kind of thinking everywhere. We like to think of ourselves as smarter, prettier, healthier, more ethical, less racist, and more likely to live longer than the mere mortals around us.
Average? Sheee-it, apparently it doesn't exist, which pretty much makes the definition of the word average completely nonfunctional.
It's no surprise then that you see this sort of thing in the weightlifting and fitness world, too. Most of us think we're stronger, prettier, more knowledgeable, have better form, and are leaner. Oh yes, definitely leaner. There are, of course, no fat bastards in the weightlifting and fitness world. At least that's the way it appears if you listen to the way the people in those categories often talk about themselves.
A lot of these people are a) possibly blind, b) only look at themselves through a mirror viewed through a pinhole cut into a cardboard box left over from the last solar eclipse (so the horrible sight doesn't cause their retinas to smolder and ignite), or c) suffering from horrendous self-serving bias.
It's my contention that anybody who works out should have a picture of his or her ass taken in non-flattering fluorescent light and then replace their driver's license photo with the ass picture. Shakira said hips don't lie, but it's been my observation that ass don't lie. If you've got a fat, dimply, saggy, pallid, amorphous ass, chances are the rest of you is in the same general ballpark, but most people don't look back there because it might disrupt their self-serving bias. It might also cause a state of catatonia from the sudden realization that no one wants to bone ya', or for that matter be boned by ya'.
"Don't get on that ship! The rest of the book, To Serve Man, it's a cookbook!"
It's hard to argue that most of the people who work out as much as we do are psychologically damaged in the first place, perhaps trying to build, like author Sam Fussell confessed, "suits of armor" that might help shore up some of those horrible insecurities developed during childhood. Or maybe we're just trying to develop our body so when the alien overlords arrive, we'll be picked to help herd the weaker humans into the stockyard spaceships that will transport them to the mother planet where they'll be foie gras-ed up and eaten.
Take a look at the Facebook members who extol their alleged superiority over people who work out less than they do, or, shudder, don't work out at all, by posting supposedly inspirational posters or slogans that appear to be the work of famed Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels' personal trainer, the one who invented the now frowned on Goose-Step Farmer's Walk.
This is where I get really confused. Is all this chest-puffery self-serving bias or is it just another delusion? What about the people who get off on these motivational quotes that appear to be recycled bits of Tony Robbins or his fitness Mini-Me, Bill Phillips?
Why would someone need motivational pabulum to make himself work out? By the same token, does he need the same sort of thing to make him love his wife? Does he need some sort of daily affirmations to make him want to pursue his life-long dream, to talk to his best friend, or to master, I don't know, golf?
I for one wish they'd just shut the hell up.
Here's how to tell whether you really care about or love something or if you're just being Hallmark-card sentimental: Caring can be defined as giving your time, energy, and effort to a person, project, or thing. Caring gets promoted to love when you make the commitment permanent and you're willing to suffer for the thing you care about.
Imagine what would happen if people tested that definition against their alleged feelings for their parents, spouses, children, or friends. I think you'd see a lot of self-serving bias come into play because the truth might be too goddam painful.
Furthermore, if you care about something, you want to learn all you can about it and it gets your whole-hearted attention. You want to do it and you don't need constant motivation.
So let's test this definition against something a little emotionally safer. Let's test it against your "love" of weightlifting or fitness. You may give it some attention and some energy, but if your energy and attention and enthusiasm is dependent on motivation, whether it comes from Facebook quotes or some Chuck Taylor or Vibrams-wearing guru, then maybe you're not as sincere as you thought you were.
Maybe you're in "love" with the idea of working out rather than the experience of working out. Maybe your self-serving bias has convinced you otherwise.
If you need motivational quotes all the time to spur you on, you're like those fat bastards on The Biggest Loser who, without the prison guard-slash-trainers barking orders and the voyeur-esque expectations of the television audiences, will almost always revert back to their fat-bastardish, pre-show hippopotomal girth in a couple of years. Clearly, these people never really wanted badly enough to be thin and healthy. They clearly loved food more than health.
Being thin was just a sentimental notion that was fleetingly achieved because someone was providing a brief period of high-octane motivation. It's not a formula for long-term success, though.
Let's be clear here, there's nothing wrong with being motivated by a video, an article, or even some relatively lightweight, has-the-depth-of-a-cereal-box-caption quote, but if you depend on them, you might just love talking about working out more than actually love working out. Your self-serving bias convinced you otherwise.
However, one look at your ass-instead-of-your-face driver's license would tell the truth.
There are some that think there's an upside to self-serving bias. Social psychologist David G. Meyers writes that, "Perceiving ourselves and our group favorably protects us against depression, buffers stress, and sustains our hopes."
However, he's quick to point out the downside:
"But it does so at the cost of marital discord, bargaining impasses, condescending prejudice, national hubris, and war. Being mindful of self-serving bias beckons us not to false modesty but to a humility that affirms our genuine talents and virtues and likewise those of others."
It's been my experience that he's correct on both sides of the issue, but regarding the "upside," I'm personally not confident in any strategy based on illusions that are tantamount to pulling the sheets over your head, even if they're covering the brand new mattress you picked up from Costco.