Ignore The Stories

Take hope from the ‘outlier’

Why sensational self-improvement stories are awesome.

I was going to title this post as:

“How I changed from being very unfit and pretty over-weight to losing 20 kilograms and doing a sub 12 hour Iron-man in 6 months”.


I then decided that it would be too easy to assume, without reading the rest of the post, that I, and by extension, Amchara actually believe this is goal we should all aspire to.

Basically another sensationalist, unrealistic, click-bait, self-improvement story that is prevalent throughout the internet.

The funny thing is that the raw facts are actually true, surprise (!), but it’s not nearly as cool as the title would make it appear.

So to start… I don’t have a golden rule about improvement.

In fact this post hopefully relays that changing your habits for the good, or learning something completely new, is hard.

This is to talk about the un-acknowledged attributes and conditions of the people that are involved in exceptional stories with the onus being on why there is a perception of exceptional circumstance.

Before explaining this I should also address the elephant within my first paragraph – I am definitely not saying that my story is uniquely special, not even close and that is kind of the point, but my story is noteworthy in giving an understanding.

Yes I was over-weight this time last year, yes I was very un-fit and yes I did complete the 2015 South African Ironman, 6 months later, in less than 12 hours.

My second ever Triathlon; my first was 1 month into my training. I am immensely proud of this; but not for the headline reasons.


What isn’t declared is that I grew up doing a lot of sports; especially mountain biking.

I was very fit when I was younger or roughly 10 years prior to this.

I also didn’t mention that I was brought up with a good understanding of healthy food and why it is important to a degree.

Even if I didn’t adhere to that understanding until recently.

This meant that I had the following advantages going into my training.

  1. I knew how my body worked and reacts to exercise.
  2. I knew the basics on recovery and body conditioning.
  3. I knew the basics on how to eat well and make sure my body has the fuel it needed.
  4. I knew how to learn to train in new sports from doing multiple sports when I was younger.
  5. I already had a reasonable heart and lung strength/capacity.
  6. I already had a reasonable underlying muscular physic.
  7. I wasn’t scared to work hard.
  8. I was happy finding and asking for help and advice to accelerate my learning/training.
  9. ANNNND most importantly I already developed a mentality, a habit, to constantly push myself, over the previous five years. This attitude is what also drives me to extremes on points 7 and 8.

When considering these points it becomes much easier to understand that actually going through the journey I did was not very exceptional at all. I did change for the better but it wasn’t a dramatic change; my foundation for the attempt was already pretty good.

I made a committed decision to attempt an Ironman, the rest, backed by perseverance, was almost inevitable.

That is not to say it wasn’t hard work, it was, believe me.

There are much better examples of stories littered through history when seemly exceptional events are actually determined by mundane facts.

One of the more publicised examples of this myth busting is Malcolm Gladwell’s interpretation of the story of David and Goliath; explanation of which is in the following video:

https://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_the_unheard_story_of_david_and_goliath?language=en

Ultimately this story underlines a personal opinion that there is no such thing, or at least it is extremely rare, that it is rapid self-development that makes one be considered exceptional by one’s peers.

Stories of rapid self-development, or exceptional feats, are always built on a foundation of skills/attributes that are developed over a long time but are sometimes not readily obvious.

Just look at David from David and Goliath. On paper it seems that a boy, with no skill in combat or military background, defeated a feared trained heavy infantryman in Goliath.

That is fast development for you!

What is exceptional was there was nothing exceptional about David – being skilful with a sling in those times was common.

However it was still a skill that all shepherds train in for years.

It was also a shepherd’s job to face very dangerous predators calmly and with the calculated confidence in their ability to defeat them.

An attitude that is also developed over many years whilst doing their jobs.

So why is he considered exceptional?

This is the crux. Just because his attitude and skill-set is common for the time arguably does not mean that he was not exceptional in how we consider the meaning; it just means that many shepherds were exceptional.

David just had the opportunity to highlight this through external circumstance of which he had no control of.

So why should we take hope from this myth de-bunking and why is linked to sensational self-improvement stories?

That is simple.

These stories, by nature, give us unrealistic hope of the speed of what is achievable through personal development.

This is because we do not see the foundation of hard work behind how the exceptional event/story happened.

However you can guarantee that the work on development is there.

In David’s case his years of practice with the sling and fighting with predators.

In my less exciting case years of doing sports when I was younger.


If we set ourselves unrealistic goals in our personal development then we will ultimately suffer disappointment and fail in those goals.

As long as we de-bunk the myth behind the stories and realise the change for good is based on hard work and perseverance than we will all be more likely to succeed in our personal development goals by keeping them realistic. Remember:

• Not to expect dramatic change for good overnight.
• Play to your strengths if you want to try something epic – like an Ironman : )
• Perseverance underlines your chances of success.
• Always seek guidance on how to improve. Ask people. Research.
• Don’t take the miraculous stories you read at face value.

Set realistic goals on your personal development and you will give yourself a chance to succeed and with that make yourself happier.
• DO NOT ATTACK ANYONE WITH A SLING!!! ?

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