Originally posted on 9/01/2019…
Despite retiring from the Navy this last June, I still have the opportunity to work with some students at the Naval Academy. Once a week, I teach a voluntary class with three other colleagues. Our students are in the second half of a program called the Junior United Kingdom International Scholars Program. The program is designed to prepare some of the higher academic achievers in that year group for competing at the next level of post-graduate applications, specifically programs like the Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, and Fulbright scholarships. We lovingly call them, “The Nerd Herd.”
One of the best parts of teaching in this program for the last six years has been the freedom to select works that I normally would not have taught in other classes, to test out pedagogical approaches that might be a bit “aggressive” and to more or less do whatever we want because that’s the way we have found to best challenge the students and make them think way outside the box.
I imagine this must be like coaching a Games-level athlete – someone who still needs a lot of coaching but probably struggles more in pushing her mental and emotional boundaries rather than physical ones. In this case, these students are all really smart. The question we ask them is are they willing to apply that intelligence in ways that challenge their biases and let them question their pre-held assumptions. We don’t ask them to become different people; we simply ask them to try to figure out who they are – a somewhat simple task on the surface but the deeper you dig, the messier things get.
My colleagues and I have made some interesting choices in the structure of the course and the texts we read. I won’t bore you with the details, perhaps that’s another post, but I will say that a lot of the decisions along the way have been secretly influenced by my CrossFit development, especially in regards to programming and coaching. When faced with choices between “quality” or “quantity,” I have invariably pushed towards quality. Like the athlete who plateaus after trying to do three WODs a day at mediocre intensity versus the athlete who keeps hitting PRs doing one WOD at 100% intensity, I think we have found a beautiful balance between an appropriate volume of coverage that allows a richer quality of examination and study. This last spring semester we read ONE text and spent all 16 weeks of the semester digging into it. Our peers looked on with furrowed brows and often expressed their concern of whether it would be enough…my answer, “I guess time will tell.”
Well, that time has come. We are two weeks in to the second half and our little nerd herd is down from a sightly bloated 18 students to a lean 7. We don’t purposely try to weed kids out but we also don’t force them to stay. The ones who we have left are, without a doubt, the best group we have ever had at this point in the process. I don’t want to count the proverbial chickens before they are hatched but I can honestly say I am really excited to see what this group does. And as I said in the spring, only time will tell, which, makes me think about this last work we discussed, Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time.
We love metaphors in our little group. They inform so much of our understanding of the world and the more we look at them the more they afford us a chance to explore the influence and impact of our language on our thoughts and behavior. I always think of the often paraphrased saying, “our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, our actions become our habits and our habits define our character.” I think that’s Buddha but it might also be Big Bird. Either way, I dig it.
Rovelli’s work fed right into our theory/belief that language can both inform and hide many insights into our behavior. He spends the majority of his work explaining time in regards to a myriad of different metaphors. Time is an illusion. Time is a shelter. Time is a prescription. Time is an affliction. Time is a kiss. Time is a stone. Time is a placebo. That last one was one of my colleague’s. In the end, even Rovelli, a leading expert in high-end Quantum Physics, couldn’t pin down what exactly time IS, which was really kind of cool because it gave all of us an excuse to slow down, dig in, and think about a topic that, on the surface, should be common sense…it’s just time.
So why the heck am I taking time to write about the metaphor of time on a blog for a CrossFit gym? Well, time is kind of important in the world of CrossFit. They made a documentary a few years ago called, Every Second Counts. We live and die by the clock. We time everything. So time, in a very real sense, is the measure of our fitness. In other words, time is fitness. The faster you are, the fitter you are. But is that true? Does time really define fitness?
In the construct of work capacity, time is the denominator of our function that defines how much work you do. Move a large load a far distance in a certain amount of time, and we can calculate your work. Do it faster next month and we say you are fitter because you have done more work and thus improved your work capacity. So, what’s the dilemma…well, time doesn’t always work so cleanly in real life.
In the world of CrossFit, we hold that improvements in fitness must be observable, measurable, and relatable, therefore improvable. Using time as the sole independent variable fits this model and makes it work well. But what happens when other variables change. My work schedule increases. I have a major life change. I move locations. I get older. I get injured. And, next thing you know, all of my WOD times stop improving. By definition, I guess we could say I am less fit, but I bristle against this being the sole measure of my fitness. Here in lies the power of the metaphor. I would agree that in regards to a work capacity equation, my fitness has decreased but what about my emotional fitness? My personal relationship fitness? My professional fitness? Can I even measure those things in the construct of fitness? Why not…don’t we say things like, “He was unfit for the position?” Or, “You know, this just doesn’t fit in my life right now.” Or, “I really like when I figure out how to fit it all in.” So what’s the metaphor there? What am I measuring…observing…repeating? I think there’s a lot of room for things to improve even if WOD times don’t.
In the end, like Rovelli, I don’t have an answer for you but I sure do like asking the question. And I like challenging myself to honestly sit with it for a few minutes rather than rush to an answer. Who knows, I might actually be improving my mental and emotional fitness. But I guess that’s if you even buy any of this “time” stuff in the first place. Uh oh, is that a new metaphor?