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Is a Cognitive Bias Killing Your Exercise Progress?

This is a guest blog post from Glen Owen. Glen is a Muscle Activation Techniques Specialist and has been in the exercise profession since 2008. He has a strong command over the principles taught in The Resistance Training Specialist Program and as such is a Gold Level Personal Trainer here at Striation 6. A cerebral assassin of sorts, Glen is able to break down complex exercise concepts to very simple, actionable steps for his clients. Glen is also a graduate of Landmark Education.


What is a cognitive bias? “A cognitive bias refers to a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Individuals create their own "subjective social reality" from their perception of the input.” Thanks wikipedia!

Cognitive biases have the power to affect how you approach exercise if they are not checked. In my experience, a logical, research-based approach to exercise and health has produced the best results for me and for my clients.

Here are a few biases that could be affecting you in how you approach exercise:

  1. Appeal to Nature - Basically, this is the thinking that says if something natural, then it is, therefore, healthy. Examined logically, then in turn what is not natural is inherently bad. How often do we fall prey to supplement or food being marketed as ‘100% natural’? “Oh hey, these cookies are 100% natural ingredients.” Plenty of unnatural things have been proven to support human life, like vaccines. I would strongly caution you to be aware of this bias in your exercise, food, and supplement selection processes.
  2. Appeal to Authority - The idea that because “xyz expert” said something, the argument holds weight. This is inaccurate if no actual evidence or logic has been presented in said argument. Experts may be more credible, but that does not mean they are correct. My nutritionist may be an expert in fat loss, but that doesn't mean he is knowledgeable about exercise selection and exercise mechanics. In short, don't ask a chemistry teacher a biology question, and don't ask an exercise question of someone who has not studied exercise!
  3. Sunk-Cost Fallacy - This fallacy occurs where people invest more resources (time, money, energy) into a pursuit or goal, based on prior cumulative investment. It’s almost like staying in a relationship you know is toxic because you have already invested so much time together. If it’s not paying off, it’s not paying off. Learn to look objectively at your endeavors and discern whether you ought to keep investing in them or not. If you have been doing the same things in the gym for the past 3 months, and you aren't adding the muscles or losing the fat you want to, then it's likely time to invest your gym time in a different program. This is where speaking to an exercise professional and investing in Personal Training is especially important.

Feel free to email me with any questions at glen@striation6.com. Now go make intelligent gains! 

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