How a 10 year old girl made my heart sink trying to do the right thing

I got out of my car the other day and saw in the distance what appeared to be a mother, jogging with her young daughter. The daughter was about 10 years old and I thought "how good is that! Mother and daughter getting out in the world being active together. Great!" They got closer and I noticed the tell tale thin white cords leading to the ears. "Ok, not ideal but not unusual." They got closer still and I then noticed the same on the daughter. They both had earplugs in and were listening to something while running.

My heart sank and I felt a bit sad. A chance to share something together, to be attentive to each other and experience something far more rewarding, was lost.

I'm really uncomfortable with this.

In fact, in my opinion, exercising or training while listening to music or other information in your ears is actually deluded in the true sense of the word and part of the problem these "listeners" are trying to overcome.

To be clear, I'm not talking about people going for a stroll while listening to their favourite radio show, a podcast, the football or even relaxing to some earth music. I'm talking about people exercising or training at some level of intent. In particular I'm talking about runners, joggers and cyclists.

At this point I'm not sure how to proceed without writing a 20, 000 word thesis, losing my way completely or crossing the line between expressing a strong conviction and being an arrogant bore. So I'll keep it brief and in point form as much as I can. Please bear with me.

I think I understand why people would exercise, train, and be active while listening to music or some sort of audio:

  • Energy - It helps with startup motivation and creating a conducive mood and energy to be active (think "Eye of the tiger")
  • Momentum and rhythm - It can bridge lower and higher levels of engagement and perceived "dead spots" during sessions
  • Entertainment - It allows us to be passive in the experience
  • Distraction - It can take us away from the potential discomfort of physical exertion

However despite these potential benefits there are some broader considerations:

  • Conscious choice? - How much do these people really want more sound/noise and how much are they following a trend of what others are doing and being played by marketers?
  • Trend - Remember the Sony walkman? Around for a decade or so, became popular, used by some exercisers, then disappeared forever. Despite it's technological brilliance, the ipod is the new age walkman for exercisers.
  • Consumerism - Just because a product exists, do we need it? Or do we have an ability to legitimise a purchase and a use for a product, choosing to identify with it because of what we think it will take care of in us?
  • Safety - It's just not safe to be in public spaces like roads and pathways and not be fully aware of the environment and other users, cars and bikes etc. I've seen accidents that normally wouldn't happen and I recently read pedestrian accidents have jumped due to ipod usage.
  • Engagement - Once you are engaged with what you're doing there's minimal attention to the audio in your ears anyway - this should be a goal of any physical experience or session.

But lets go deeper and more specific, what are the benefits of going with "nude ears"?

  • At it's essence, even the most pumping of music only ever acts as a portal to being present and fully engaged with the physical training or experience we are having. In our world of endless potential for distraction, busy minds, increasing mental illness/dysfunction and the means to an end attitude to being active, it's critically important we find ways of engaging ourselves with what we consciously choose. Experiencing what is actually happening gives us a chance.
  • Our best performances and most satisfying experiences in life are always when we are present, in the moment with full attention. By bringing in music or other audio we add to the noise in our minds, reducing the satisfaction and joy to be had.

Now I'm not saying music is bad - I love it. And I'm not saying you can't move to music - dancing for example, has been around for thousands of years and I'm thinking it's here to stay. And I'm not even saying I've never used music to activate me.

But what I am saying is really have a think about what you want:

  • If you are using audio to distract you, what are you trying to avoid or what is your activity lacking?
  • If it serves to entertain you, what is this telling you about what you are doing, your choice of activity and your strategy to engage with it?
  • If it helps with getting you fired up, is there a way to leave it behind as you start your session?
  • If it helps with boredom, what else could you pay attention to and focus on?
  • If it distracts you from discomfort and temporary pain? what are you trying to escape and why? Is there a different way of viewing fatigue and a complaining body?

These issues and questions are only the tip of the iceberg and is some of what I do in my own training and movement as well as with my clients. In my experience this approach has never let me down and once a client has chosen to apply this principle as best they can, they never regret it or move on to something that offers more.

If this resonates with you, has you curious or even in furious disagreement, get in touch with me via the contact page and lets blow the doors off what you think your are capable of.......

Attentively,

Scott.