The house we recently moved to (more on that here) has a nice backyard with a good view. It’s the ideal set up for a jump rope spot. Plenty of room, fresh air, and nice scenery to focus on as the rope flies by.
There’s just one problem. The backyard surface is thick stone pavers.
We give a lot of advice on jumping rope. It’s our preferred method of cardio for general fitness programs. One of the important safety tips we give is to avoid jumping on hard, unforgiving surfaces. It’s much better to skip rope on a surface with some give to it, like wood, rubber flooring, or even asphalt (asphalt is surprisingly soft to allow good tire friction, softer than the sidewalk, in fact).
Jumping on a hard surface like stone stresses all the small tendons, ligaments, and bones of the lower leg. It’s like someone lightly tapping your feet with a hammer a few hundred times in a row. A few taps is no big deal, but the damage adds up and creates wear and tear if done too often.
Facing this plane of harsh, unforgiving paving stones, I wasn’t sure what to do about jumping rope. In fact, before this I opted into some Kenzai running courses specifically to avoid jumping. But soon enough I was in a Kenzai program that needed the rope as a core component.
This is when the bad choices started. My thoughts went something like this:
“If I wear my thick cross training shoes it should be ok.”
“This program is only a month, that shouldn’t be long enough to cause too much trouble.”
“I’m pretty good at jumping rope. I bet my impact is much less than the people we usually give this advice to.”
“How bad could it really be?”
After a month of skipping on the unforgiving paving stones, the results were in. Every morning, I started to notice pain in my heels when first getting out of bed. This is a classic symptom of plantar fasciitis, a condition where the thick plantar ligament that runs under the foot becomes worn and inflamed. The inflammation happens at the heel where the plantar ligament has to make a sharp 90° turn around the heel bone.
I knew what this pain was, and quickly zeroed in on the stone-ground jumping as the main culprit. I immediately stopped jumping on the stones and did the stretches and other best-practices (which I know well because Kenzai has been giving advice on them for 10 years). After a few weeks the plantar fasciitis is mostly cleared up, with just a touch of tenderness in the first minutes of the day. So that’s nice.
But this article isn’t about plantar fasciitis. It’s about how bad humans are at taking good advice.
Let me summarize again what happened here:
I have been giving advice about the issues with jumping on stone for a decade, based on seeing dozens of people go through issues like plantar fasciitis and other related problems.
Faced with the same situation, I took a look at all that advice and evidence, and, EVEN THOUGH I WAS THE SOURCE OF THE ADVICE, just kind of said, “Nah” and jumped on stone anyway. The results were predictably bad.
I’m sure you’ve been through an experience like this. You heard all the advice. You knew what you were getting into. But you did it anyway. And exactly as expected, it went sideways.
Why do we do this? Why are people so bad at internalizing and acting on sound advice?
When you listen to people talk about their misfortune, you’ll often hear the phrase “I just didn’t think it would happen to me.” We tend to have a blind spot in our thinking where we discount the possibility of bad things happening to us, and overplay the likelihood of good things happening. This is called the “optimism bias” and it’s a well-established piece of psychological science.
Optimism bias means that humans, when looking at evidence of how things will turn out for them, will naturally highlight good outcomes and downplay bad outcomes. This bias has been shown in hundreds of studies, for everything from career prospects, marriage success rates, and incidence of disease and injury. The only people who consistently don’t show an optimism bias are the clinically depressed. Depression, it turns out, gives you a pessimism bias which is even more problematic!
Optimism is a good thing. Without it, people wouldn’t take risks or try new ventures. I’m all for people having a reasonable optimism bias. Would we ever have the chance to try a new restaurant without it?
However, the one place you should really try and reign in your optimism bias is around your health and safety. You can recover from a business going bust, or a relationship turning sour, but misjudging a risk to your body has consequences that directly impact your quality of life.
What’s the easiest way to overcome optimism bias around your health? It’s simple. Listen to people that know what they’re talking about.
When a trusted coach, trainer, or medical professional tells you not to do something, don’t shrug it off, thinking, “They’re just being overly cautious, it won’t happen to me.” That specialist is giving you that advice because they’ve seen the negative outcome many, many times, and want to spare you from it.
Don’t underestimate how strong the optimism bias is. Remember, it happened to me!
“Don’t jump rope on hard stone, it’ll mess up your feet if you do it too much.”
- Patrick to Kenzai clients, after seeing it dozens of times.
“Eh, I’ll probably be fine. How bad could it be.”
- Patrick, to himself, before jumping for a month on stone.
We all have this blind spot. Knowing it’s there allows you to stop, take a breath, and make better choices.
As for me, I’m investing in a thick rubber mat which I’ll pull out when I want to jump rope. Sure, it’s a little inconvenient, I have to jump in one place, and it adds an extra minute to my routine. But if the alternative is chronically inflamed plantar ligament, then it’s an easy choice.
Don’t be like me. Make the easy choice for your own body, do the extra work to stay safe and follow expert advice BEFORE taking on an injury. You can start right now by taking THIS advice to take advice seriously, seriously! 😃
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder