Bodybuilding Perspective: The Perfect Parents

Perfect Parents

In Depth Look into the Complex Bodybuilding Mentality

Psssst! Hey, buddy, want to get bigger and stronger? I've got the answer. Building on this basic pitch, manufacturers hock everything from supplements to equipment to secret routines in the interest of boosting your bodybuilding and lifting performance. Some of these things work and some don't, but one thing that is virtually a certain ticket to bigger gains is almost never mentioned: It involves your parents, but not in the way you would probably guess.

Let's take a look at this idea and see what iris and how you can use it for developing bigger biceps and a deadlier deadlift. To set the stage, let's get abstract for a minute and introduce the concept of risk taking. You might think that means anything from bungee jumping to starting a new business, but you're not likely to consider bodybuilding or even lifting. The truth is, however, that to succeed at most things requires substantial risk taking.

Along the way in bodybuilding, for example, you have to take risks in the form of everything from facing ridicule to failing to succeeding, believe it or not. Parents, in the natural order of things, are our first big influence when it comes to risk taking. To undertake risk, you must have a sense of security-something that helps offset the fear associated with the risky situation.

This concept is embodied in the familiar idea of the security blanket, the faithful companion of any self-respecting young child. The sense of security might be physical, such as a bulletproof vest, or it might be abstract, such as the knowledge that you have a full five minutes to defuse a bomb before it blows, but regardless of the form it takes, it's a psychological phenomenon, and its roots often go back to your earliest childhood. Nearly half a century ago psychological research with young monkeys demonstrated the enormous influence of mothers, in particular, by showing that even an artificial mother made out of terry cloth was better than nothing.

For example, if you placed the young monkey in a strange environment, one that produced great fear, it would explore the new setting as long as it could touch the terry cloth mother with one hand. No mother, no exploration. The influence of parents extends beyond just providing the confidence to teach out in new, threatening situations. Parents, for example, influence us by what they do, a process psychologist's call "modeling."

While psychological research on modeling initially focused on demonstrating how such things as aggression and prejudice can be transmitted from parent to child, more recent research has shown that our parents' behavior can teach us to either approach risky situations with the expectation of succeeding or to run from them. In the extreme, we can either acquire a sense of helplessness from our parents or a sense of mastery-a sense that we're at the mercy of others or are in control of our lives.

So in a very real sense we learn by watching our parents. Whether they are swashbuckling adventurers or quiet mice will have a bearing on how we interact with the world. Even more directly, parents influence us by either being openly supportive and encouraging ("That's great" or "You can do it") or, at the other extreme, being disapproving and discouraging ("How can you be interested in that?!" or "You'll never succeed"). To be sure, some of us are so stubborn that the more we're told we can't succeed, the harder we try, but most of us need some reinforcement along the way. Tell us that we're off the track and we'll slow our efforts; tell us that we're great and we'll dig a little deeper.

"Great," you say, "but I'm 17 (or 27 or 57). Isn't it a little late for me to influence the way my parents shaped me psychologically?" Not really, because while it's true that certain early influences might play a significant role in your future, your destiny remains in your own hands to an amazingly large extent.

Now that you're armed with the knowledge of parental influence, for instance, you need to structure your life in a way that takes advantage of this process- regardless of how your parents may or may not have initially influenced you. Let's develop a game plan to put parent power to work for you. For starters, don't try to be the Lone Ranger. Recognize that social forces are enormously powerful and you're better off swimming with the tide than against it.

Accordingly, try to create an environment that's supportive and constructive in terms of your goals, just as in a perfect parenting situation. To do this, hook up with some key people who boost your general sense of security, self-confidence and ability to master situations. Going back to our natural order of things, these might be your parents, but don't throw in the towel if they're not.

It might be your Uncle Lenny; a gruff guy who likes to be called "coach"; someone, maybe older and wiser, whom you met at the gym; or friends who function as your support group. Try to surround yourself with people who are good for you in the ways described above. In the corporate world success is often attributed to having the right mentor(s), and there's no reason to think that success in any other environment is different.

Psychological maturity involves developing a strong sense of identity, a clear feeling of who and what you are. A so-called identity crisis is the opposite because you don't have a solid grasp of that. Strive to develop a clear idea of yourself, learning to trust your instincts and maintaining the confidence to work hard to achieve your goals. Encourage yourself reminding yourself of both the worthiness of your goals and your ability to reach them.

Build on your successes to boost your confidence in the face of fresh challenges, and if you get knocked down en route to your goals, be ready to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start banging away again. Your objective, if you hadn't already guessed, is to become your own perfect parent.

Related Articles