The Mental Side of Fitness
It is an exciting time to be a CrossFitter. The CrossFit Games are underway, which gives us all a chance to watch the fittest athletes in our community push the boundaries of what we think is possible. As of writing this post, we have seen women Snatch above 200 pounds, and men move over 1000 pounds of strongman implements coupled with handstand walks. What happens in Madison is incredible and really no different from what takes place within the walls of our own gym at home. You may have forgotten that the average person does not go to the gym and flip upside down on to their hands and proceed to then lift their bodyweight off of the ground. It is good to have perspective that even though you might not be throwing down with the best in Madison, you do truly amazing things everyday you walk into CrossFit Bangor. Perspective, while important, is not the theme of this post. This week’s addition to the CrossFit Bangor journal is about the mental side of fitness.
While watching the CrossFit Games, it is easy to see how unbelievable the athletes are on a physical level. What is not so obvious, is how strong the athletes are mentally. Just to be able to step out onto the competition floor in front of thousands of people watching in the stands and thousands more watching online, is a outstanding display of mental strength. Even more impressive are those who are able to stay composed long enough to end up on the podium. Most likely none of you have the goal of making it to the CrossFit Games, let alone to be one of the top three, but that does not mean there is not something that we can take from that champion mindset and apply it to our own lives, both physically and personally.
In my opinion, mental strength is a union of courage, patience and confidence. These three mental components, similar to the physical skills of CrossFit (metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, and weightlifting), work best when we have some capacity in all and not just one. We will start with the mental skill I think is the most important in getting you started on your path towards whatever goal you may have.
:mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
Looking back to my first post, “Five Things to Know When Starting CrossFit”, courage is required to execute “Just Start”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that courage is the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”, which is something that is asked of CrossFitters every day, regardless of whether it is their first workout or their 100th. You better believe that the eerie sound of the clock counting down to zero still gives me a rush of anxiety to this day.
Courage is a muscle that needs to be built and maintained. A great way to exercise this muscle is by pushing your limits on a regular basis. CrossFit and your every day life give you unlimited opportunities to build this skill but most of us choose to avoid them because, well it is hard and scary and we do not like the unknown. Making the decision to go to the gym instead of heading home after work requires courage. Or taking the extra step to put your food on a scale before your plate, requires courage. Pushing yourself a little harder during the last 30 seconds of a workout instead of slowing down, requires courage. And I say that it requires courage (among other things), because these decisions go against the norm. How uncomfortable is it to turn down coworkers for after work drinks or tell your spouse that you suddenly want to weigh your food at every meal? And what about failure? Some people fear really going for things because of failure and there perceived humiliation. What if I still miss the lift? What if other people see me fail? All of these opportunities to make the above decisions, happen every day. Courage is about persevering despite uncertainty. Courage is making healthy (sometimes unpopular) decisions despite what others may think. Courage is walking across the gym to high five someone you do not know after a workout. Both CrossFit and your life give you these chances to be courageous.
You know what the best part is? These choices are going to keep coming up, every day, which means that it is never too late to make the right choices for you; you just have to be willing to try and exercise a little courage.
:the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
I love the definition of patience. I love it so much that I am going to make you read it again: “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset”. Courage is required to start, but patience is crucial to continue down the path.
I want to start with “delay”. Delay is a component of anything that is good in life. A career, fitness, or skill is not developed without a good amount of delay. It takes years of work, courage, and patience to end up on the podium of the CrossFit Games or to accomplish a life goal.
Life is certainly not problem free. You have likely already (or will) encountered some sort of trouble today whether it be in the form of traffic or the realization that you forgot your gym shoes at home. On the surface, these are merely inconveniences but when broken down are opportunities to practice patience.
Suffering and CrossFit are pretty much best friends. Yet what many do not realize is that CrossFit is not the one dealing out the suffering, it is you. When you do a workout, it is not the workout pushing you to your limits or the workout causing you pain because YOU are the one that is in full control. For example, Fran (a couplet of thrusters and pull ups) can be completed in one hour with plenty of water breaks and rest, or it can be done in three minutes leaving you on the floor while other members mop sweat up off the floor around you. The intensity is a decision that is entirely up to you. The difference is having the courage to choose the latter and the patience to work towards carrying it out.
:a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances; the quality or state of being certain
Confidence is the final piece that I believe is involved in a successful and healthy mindset. Confidence can often be the key component between success and failure. The problem is that confidence does not come naturally to some of us and is a state of mind that is foreign to many. I am sure we would all like there to be a switch in our brains that we could just flip and suddenly become confident, and suddenly shed our fears and insecurities. Unfortunately, it does take some mental effort but you can work on developing confidence right now.
I believe that confidence is developed by making the conscious effort to change the way you think about yourself and by how you behave. Confidence is earned in a way. I expect that a lot of you think this way too, but you believe that confidence will come in the form of six packs and top spots on leaderboards. You have attached confidence as a reward for accomplishing a goal, that you will believe in yourself more AFTER you obtain whatever it is your are aiming for. But real confidence, confidence that is not attached or dependent on anything else, is earned by having the courage to do what frightens you and the patience to put in work everyday regardless of delay, trouble or suffering. By doing these things and consciously believing in yourself, you will build confidence in yourself that you can persevere and withstand adversaries, that you can count on yourself to do the right thing and make the right decisions at every opportunity that life brings you. Have confidence in that doing the right thing, is always the right thing.
Putting It All Together
I am going to end this post with an example of this mindset being put into practice and how it can make the difference between success and failure. In the CrossFit Documentary, “The Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness”, there was a female athlete who by the third day was slated to win gold. Tia-Claire Toomey, an athlete from Australia, entered the final day of the competition wearing the Leader’s Jersey, a shirt that indicates that they are currently in first place. On the final day, she was taking photographs with fans and was filmed stating to her fan, “You’ll probably want to delete that by the end of the day”. Tia did not believe that she could win gold. I wanted to point this out specifically because, even the top CrossFit Games athletes struggle with moments of self-doubt and lack of confidence. The deflated self-confidence became more apparent as that final day went on and Tia went on to win the silver medal instead of gold.
Not many of us will know what it feels like to be stopped in the street by a fan asking for a picture, but we all know what it feels like to have that moment of lack of self-confidence that was obvious in her voice that day. Would the result have been different if Tia had truly believed that she could rely on herself to execute and win? We cannot really know but it is easy to assume that it could not have hurt. As I write this, Tia is in a very similar situation; Tia is currently sitting in first place on the last day of the competition. I believe something has changed for Tia this year and I hope this very talented athlete ends on the podium again, maybe this time on the top. I also hope that you can take something away from this post that will help you end up on your own personal podium. Whether in fitness or life I hope you have the courage to act, the patience to keep going, and the confidence to succeed.
Until next week…
Edited by Sarah Eden