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Two for One

Tricks to get you to your goals

Tough cookies that we are, we don’t like to fool around, do we? When we set a target, we go right for it. We grab it by the jugular, and that’s that. Or is it? Let’s be honest here and talk about all the times you set out to reach point A and stopped, stuck, five serious steps short of your goal. I want to propose a psychological technique that will help you avoid that. It relies on a strategy proven to improve the chances that people will do what you ask them to do. Instead of focusing on other people, though, we’re going to unleash its power on you, and we’re going to release it in the gym.

Experimental social psychologists have studied factors that influence how likely someone is to go along with a request. For example, a psychologist might be interested in seeing how many people are willing to contribute time or money to a charitable cause. As a general finding, rather than just asking for something directly, a more effective method is to approach the problem in two steps.

This can work two basic ways. Suppose we really want a small contribution, but, instead of asking for it directly, we first ask if you think it’s important to help people in trouble. The idea is that it’s pretty easy to get you to agree to that, which tends to soften you up for the second part, asking for a contribution. Because the approach builds on getting you to agree to a small request before moving to a bigger one, it’s often called the foot-in-the-door technique.

A very different tack also relies on a two-stage process. Suppose we want to get a contribution, but this time we start with a much larger request: Would you be willing to volunteer to work in the local office one Saturday a month for the next year? That’s a pretty beefy request, so you’re likely to explain that you’d like to offer your services but just won’t be able to. Since, in fact, it was just a setup, we smile and nod and ask, ‘But could you make a small donation?’ and you hand over some money without even thinking twice about it. That approach, because it overreaches first, eliciting an almost certain ‘no,’ rebounds immediately to a scaled-down request, which nets the big ‘yes.’

‘Sneaky people, these social psychologists,’ you mutter. Take heart: What we have here are the guts of a system that can get you bigger biceps and a new P.R. in the squat. Here’s what you do.

It’s been a lousy day’just about everything has gone wrong, and you’re tired and stressed out’and the last thing you want to do is train. To make things worse, it’s a heavy day: The thought of all those plates on the squat bar is almost enough to make you skip the gym altogether. Applying this devious psychological technique to yourself, you say, ‘This is what I’ll do: I’ll go to the gym, but all I’m going to do is stretch a little, just to loosen up my shoulders. Maybe it will make me feel better.’ After a few minutes of stretching, you decide that you can handle the warmup sets that you scheduled for today’s first exercise: power snatches. You take them one rep at a time, and before you know it, the warmup sets are history and you smoothly progress upward through all of your work sets. About an hour later you’ve finished the whole workout, including some heavy squats. ‘Hey,’ you think, ‘this foot-in-the-door stuff works’I just had a dynamite workout on a day when I felt worse than yesterday’s roadkill.’ One point for the first two-stage approach option.

Here’s a good scenario for the second approach. You’re trying to power clean 250 pounds’it’s a nice round number, it’s more than your best friend can do, and it’s got enough plates on the bar to look like something. There are only two problems: Your P.R. is 235, and even though you’ve done 235 more times than you can count, the thought of 250 scares you silly. No problem, because you’re armed with a brain, and one of the secrets locked inside it is the technique that uses a big ‘no’ to set up a big ‘yes.’ So you focus on 275’you think about the pair of 45s on each end of the bar, thick ones, and that fat little 25 keeping them company. You’d like to be Marine tough on this one, but when you ask yourself, ‘Can I do this?’ you answer, ‘No way.’ Your brain sends down the next message, ‘How about 250?’ and without thinking, you say, ‘Sure.’ Before you know it, you’ve got yourself a nice new P.R.

So there you have it’two ways to get a ‘yes’ in the gym and out. They’re lab tested and psychologically secure, but even better, they’re free and portable and really work. Two for one’consider it new math for better results.

Editor’s note: Randall Strossen, Ph.D., edits the quarterly magazine MILO. He’s also the author of IronMind: Stronger Minds, Stronger Bodies; Super Squats: How to Gain 30 Pounds of Muscle in 6 Weeks and Paul Anderson: The Mightiest Minister. For more information call IronMind Enterprises Inc. at (530) 265-6725 or Home Gym Warehouse at (800) 447-0008, ext. 1. Visit the IronMind Web site at www

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