We often hear people describing how Parkour isn’t just a physical discipline and instead is a methodology that can be applied to everyday life. And yet - I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone accurately write down ‘how’ this is done. How do you take a movement discipline that involves jumping on things for fun and apply it to your everyday life in a meaningful way?
On top of that - I’ve had some requests to talk about motivation and how to maintain motivation as we enter the winter months. So I thought I’d pull these two things together and talk a little about the Parkour mindset and how we at Access Parkour have been taking it beyond the physical realm.
Parkour as Challenge
There are many ways of defining Parkour and different people prefer to subscribe to more or less rigid definitions. Some see it as being locked in place by the founders - while others believe it has a right to grow and change beyond those original ideas. Whatever your take on that - I’d hope that most would recognise or at least partially identify with how I see it:
Parkour is a physical discipline where you challenge yourself to complete physical movements using the environment around you.
The piece I want to pull out here is the iterative and never ending part. We creatively find and set ourselves challenges and then work through a process of trying to ‘break’ that challenge by completing it.
There’s more than one aspect of challenges that can block our training:
We can struggle creatively to challenge ourselves - so we work on motivating ourselves by training with others and watching videos.
We can struggle technically - so we repeat the move again and again trying to get the hang of it.
We can struggle physically - so we step away and look into ways to get stronger so we can conquer the challenges.
We can struggle mentally - so we work with friends, practice visualisation, try easier things and build up to the challenge.
Challenge as a lifestyle choice
When people talk about approaching other challenges in our life in the same way as Parkour training, what exactly does that mean? And how do you do it? How can we use the framework of Parkour to set goals in our own life? What are the challenges and why is it perhaps harder than at first seems?
The first problem we will likely face is that lifestyle problems are often more ephemeral than the physical challenges we are used to thinking about. Instead of asking if I can jump to a wall I’m asking myself a more complicated question. Movement is a very instinctual thing - most of the analytical work is performed in the more primal parts of our consciousness. So exporting these techniques to abstract thought will feel more difficult and may feel less rewarding. Because of this we’ll need to outline some techniques to turn concepts and ideas into concrete goals that we can then try and achieve.
My goto technique for this is SMART goals. A SMART goal is a goal that is:
Specific. There’s a clearly stated way in which the goal can be achieved
Measurable. You have a way of stating if you have succeeded or failed.
Achievable. Within your power to actually accomplish.
Relevant. The goal is something you want
Timely. There is a set time frame for achievement or failure.
So we could turn:‘I want to try meditating’ into ‘I will meditate for 10 minutes every morning for the next 7 days’
Instead of ‘I want to learn a language’ we could say ‘I will listen to fifteen minute of an intro to french podcast while making breakfast every day this month’.
SMART goals are commitments to achieve something. They allow you to break down things you wish to do into a format that lets you see if you succeeded or not. They are the first step towards taking your parkour beyond the physical practice.
The next problem many people face when they begin setting SMART goals is that they often have a run of success, then have a wobble and abandon the project. In my experience - if I say I will do something 7 days a week - I’m likely to hold to that promise maybe 5 days a week. I doubt I’m alone in this variable motivation.
We need to find a good way to take those days of low motivation combo breakers and use them to motivate ourselves to continue. I find that having a visible way of recording whatever your goals are for the moment can really help with this. Some people like to write it down in a journal they keep in their kitchen. Others on a big blackboard in the office. Some people use apps with reminders in them. I suggest you try out a few different styles - but for me there’s nothing quite like recording your success and failure on paper. I tend to mark ticks or crosses for when I succeed and fail and - instead of judging myself based on an individual day - I can look across an entire week or month to see how stable my new habits are and what I’m achieving. There’s nothing quite like a cross in the day before to push you into achieving the tick today.
Community and Accountability
Do you ever notice that you are more creative, more motivated and generally have a lot of your best training practices when you are training with your friends or people of a similar physical level to you? That’s not surprising. We are social creatures and the classic Parkour jam is a cocktail of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. You can mimic those around you a lot and feed off the group energy. If everyone around you is working hard - then you do the same.
I think that this is an element of Parkour that we need to consider more when trying to build a Parkour mindset. We achieve more in groups than we do alone. There’s a lot of great lessons that can be pulled from this simple idea.
Don’t set your SMART goals in isolation. Find a group to share your self improvement goals with. In the same way you meet up to train, you could sit down to work together, or create a group chat to keep each other accountable. One of the first things I tend to do when setting a new goal or hobby is to try and build a small community of people to share the experience with. The accountability to others keeps me on track and gives me a reason to pursue the goal. It’s even better if I physically have to go and meet someone in order to achieve that goal. You are not alone - use those around you to up your game.
As a secondary part of that idea; surround yourself with people that want to grow and change. I’d hope that your community is full of people setting goals and living their lives successfully, but it might not be the case. If it isn’t, then begin looking for people that ‘train’ like you. People that want to push their boundaries and learn new things. If you think that could be your local parkour community, then great! But if it’s not, look beyond that network and see if you can find kindred spirits to adopt a Parkour mindset with. Parkour is a community oriented discipline. That doesn’t disappear when you adopt the mindset, although the people you ‘train’ with change.
Finally - never underestimate the power of accountability. Most people hate letting others down and are much more likely to complete goals if they feel they are being watched by others. Use this to your advantage. Let your communities know what you’re doing. Be open and honest with your success rates and agree times where you will sit down and discuss SMART goals. The Access Parkour coaches meet once a week to hold each other accountable to our goals. It’s just 15 minutes a but it can be really transformative and I find myself making absolutely sure each week that I’ve completed the task I set for myself so I don’t disappoint the group. And I make sure to push the others when they are full of excuses for their failures.
The ideal Parkour community in my eyes is multifaceted. But I think it is a community where people are successful. Success can be explored and defined many different ways. And so should our communities. It should be full of people who are fantastic movers pushing their physical possibilities, but it should also be full of hard working professionals who have applied the Parkour mindset to their careers and gone on to achieve amazing things. It may also be full of youth workers reaching at risk children or parents raising families. It should be full of people that have chosen how to spend their lives and are committed to achieving those things. No matter what that path might be.
I worry though that sometimes we fall into a paralysis. Where instead of making changes in our lives - we get stuck in autopilot. Surviving each day and throwing ourselves at the concrete jungle in an attempt to find control in an uncontrollable world. I think that by having more open and clear communication about the Parkour mindset and how to actively cultivate it - we can help more people make good choices and pursue the lives they want to pursue.
Are you struggling with these ideas and how to apply them? Then drop me a message. I’m keen to help others form positive habits to lead healthy and happy lifestyles. Sometimes all it takes is a little outside perspective and someone to push you to take that first step.