I have had difficulty closing the book on this programming conversation. Last week, I explored the various metaphors that resonate for me in regards to my process. I had fun breaking those apart and exploring how programming acts as a conversation.

Perhaps I am having difficulty putting a period on this conversation because as I unpack my process, analyze it, and hopefully understand it, the more I lose my grasp on just how it works. As I dissect the experience of programming into its individual pieces, my appreciation of it falls apart. But when I step back and look at a week, a month, or even a whole year, I regain the phenomenological sense of the experience and have a significantly more meaningful appreciation for how the efficacy of good programming invariably outweighs the sum of its individual parts.

Let me take a step back and give some background on where my exploration of programming has taken me. I’ve recently buried myself in the works of the philosopher Edmund Husserl, the founder of Phenomenology. Phenomenology is broadly described as “a method of philosophical inquiry that assumes reality consists of objects and events (‘phenomena’) as they are perceived or understood in the human consciousness, and not of anything independent of human consciousness.”  In my own words, reality, as we understand it to be reality, has a conscious weight as a phenomenon because it both exists in the physical world independent of us and as a product of our perception. I immediately think of the cliche, “Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if there is no one to hear it?” From my phenomenological understanding of the world, the answer would be both yes and no. The sound exists from the perspective of standard Newtonian physics whether we are there or not, but it only has a sense of phenomenological reality if there is an observer to perceive that sound. 

Therefore, I define the phenomenological reality of programming as an intersection of that program’s adherence to the theoretical template of programming with its subjective experience.  The Phenomenology of programming must include not only the objective analysis of that program, or in other words how much theoretical intensity it can stimulate, but also a multitude of individual experiences influenced by an infinite number of emotional biases. In short, the WOD only elicits improved work capacity across broad time and modal domains when someone actually performs the WOD. Did I just philosophically deconstruct the old saying, “the only perfect programming is the programming that you are willing to do?” 

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Let’s take another step back and look at the genesis of my own programming habits. In retrospect, I’ve danced with a lot of philosophical sages over the years 

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As I talked about in Part 1 of this conversation, I spent years simply following the CrossFit main-site WOD because in a Kantian-like appreciation of its theoretical efficacy, it’s arguably the best in the business. Unfortunately, it often left us experientially wanting for more so I continued my search. 

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I went through a period where we paid for world-class programming. Like the good little student of Aristotle that I am, I believed that “when two [programs] are very like each other, and we cannot perceive any superiority of the one to the other, we must investigate from the consequences” and “we must take whichever consequence may be useful” as the program that we should follow. Therefore, it made sense to me that a program that continues to support thousands of elite-level competitive CrossFit athletes and produce multiple CrossFit Games champions should be the program that we use. We bounced around and in the end, it didn’t matter which one we picked because unfortunately, once again, something was always missing. 

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John Stuart Mills, in the midst of his own struggle against the fatigue of a purely analytical dissection of the world said, “the habit of analysis has a tendency to wear away the feelings when no other mental habit is cultivated, and the analyzing spirit remains without its natural complements and correctives.”  Simply trying to analyze a problem is not enough, especially if one’s goal is to improve on the problem or process. Rather, we must have a certain kind of practice or art that stems from the soul and not just the mind: we must feel our way into the understanding rather than simply understand it through rational processes. Products of analysis must be a structure of thought and feelings.

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So, if you asked me to explain how I program I would simply say that WODs becomes an intuitive combination of a specific set of rules learned and practiced through a disciplined approach that often break all the rules, fail to follow a pattern, and often surprise me when they work. I continually struggle against trying too hard and then actively try not to try and somehow find my way into the art of the practice.

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In the spirit of the Tibetan Buddhist master Soygal Rinpoche, I think of programming like a tree. We tend to think of a tree as a distinctly defined object; and on a certain level, it is. But when we look more closely at the tree, we see that ultimately it has no independent existence. Soygal Rinpoche observed that when we break the tree down, its independence dissolves into an extremely subtle construction of relationships that stretch across the entirety of the universe. He says, “the rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it, all the seasons and the weather, moonlight and starlight and sunlight—all form part of this tree. As you begin to think about the tree more and more, you will discover that everything in the universe helps to make the tree what it is; that it cannot at any moment be isolated from anything else; and that at every moment its nature is subtly changing.” Programming, as a phenomenological experience, exists only in relation to everything else that has created it – me, my history, my experiences, the experiences of those experiences, and eventually the experiences of every person who completes that programming in that moment and every moment throughout time, and that like the tree, it forever continues to change.

So as much as I’d like to give people a seemingly observable, measurable, and repeatable answer to the question, “why are we doing 200 burpees for time,” I must simply answer because we are doing 200 burpees for time. If that doesn’t have the meaning necessary for you to keep coming back day after day, then perhaps it’s time to chop down the tree and start all over.

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In the meantime, I’ll see you in the box.

-Coach Jack