This is a favourite quote of mine. Sure, the maths are off, but the sentiment is 100% correct. Developing a proper mindset towards the challenges we face is the first step to maximising your potential.
I’m sure you can look back over your life and see instances where you overcame things that at the time you considered impossible. Just look back even 3 years and see what your life was, and how it’s different now. Yet it’s amazing no matter how many things we’ve achieved what once seemed beyond us we still look at a new obstacle and our first reaction tends to be “that’s impossible!”
When we look at the superstars of any endeavour, again we tend to dismiss it as talent. As Angela Duckworth points out in “Grit”, dismissing something as talent absolves us of responsibility. “It’s easy for them, they’re (insert reason here).” What you don’t see is the hours of work, misses, learning, coaching, and sacrifices that went into that “talent”.
The process begins by committing to seeking out and embracing challenges rather than avoiding them or allowing ourselves to be defeated before we begin. Just so we’re clear, there are days when showing up is the victory, and getting your ass kicked by a workout doesn’t mean defeat. What’s under your control is your attitude and your effort. You cannot account for the result (even in the iron game) or what anyone else posts.
Josh Bridges in the road to the games is a great example of the champions mindset. He states “265 is gonna be a PR. So when I hit my two reps at 265 I’m gonna PR twice that day.” (9:28 in)
Think about that for a second. He didn’t panic that the ladder was above his current 1RM and failing to finish that workout would seriously jeopardise his goal of qualifying for The Games. Bear in mind Josh isn’t a novice, so has worked hard to get his 1RM Snatch up to the point it was at. He wasn’t in that wonderful “oh I just PR every time I touch a barbell” phase of training. He then MISSED his first attempt. Still dusted it off and hit the lift twice!
It’s a huge difference from “holy shit that’s too heavy for me” to “I’m gonna PR twice!”. And maybe you can’t just make the switch from one end of the spectrum to another. Like your strength, your flexibility, your endurance, your mindset is going to take time to develop. And yes, you’re going to stumble a few times way.
Another very popular story is Rich Froning failing on the rope climbs in the final of the 2010 CrossFit Games. Everyone talks about his misses, few people talk about how he kept attacking the rope climb! In the moment, he went for it. Rich also stated that that loss made him into a champion. Katrin Davidsdottir faced a similar fate when the legless rope climbs derailed her Games dream of 2014. But she came back.
Defending champ Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir was eager and curious, explaining that she doesn’t yet understand what’s in store but wants a very hard test. Davidsdottir said she wants to be challenged and scared because she’s confident her training will get her through anything.“I tell myself, ‘I’ve worked hard. This is what I’ve worked for. … I don’t work hard to do easy things,’” she said.
Realise though that when you first started a lot of the stuff you now take for granted seemed impossible to you! It’s easy to brush this aside, but focusing on this reminds you you can and have achieved things that were once impossible!
A standard defence to asking an athlete to be optimistic is to say that they’re being realistic. Sure, there’s an element of realism needed in assessing where you are in a workout. For example if you’ve never done more than 20 wall balls unbroken it’s unlikely you’re going to complete Karen (150 wall balls for time) without a rest today. A year from now? That’s a different story, and one you don’t need to be “realistic” about!
We want to develop the mentality that we want to be challenged. We can replace the word “fear” with “excitement” when talking about a workout, particularly one that’s unknown. Learning to come up with a strategy is a good starting point for developing a positive and optimistic attitude towards our training.
Bill Walsh, famous head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, developed his standard of performance for his entire team. As part of his standards, was the idea to always have a plan, and this holds true for workouts. Barbell piece looks heavy is at a high percentage? Okay, we’re doing it in triples, doubles, or singles. Rest period? 15 seconds. If that doesn’t work? 30 seconds. If that doesn’t work?…
The ultimate aim is you never look at a workout and think “oh shit”, you just say “okay…” (or better yet, “Yay!…”) and then turn your attention to the challenge. Is it to get your first toes to bar, to scale enough so you get the right stimulus, to go unbroken in all your sets, to time your pacing correctly?
I say the ultimate aim above but really the ultimate aim in all of what we do here is to take that attitude and mentality into ANY challenge.Everything is a challenge, not a problem. This one little change has the potential to turn a disaster into an opportunity.
Sure, this is easy to say as I write this. And it’s easy to say we want to be challenged. Then of course we find the challenge is way tougher than we’d anticipated. So we had a positive approach before the session, and now that it’s not going as expected, we need to focus on what we say during the session.
Here’s a simple, quick tip: Say “Stong” as you take a bar out of the rack. If you say “light weight” and your body respods “no it’s not!” you’re far less likely to make it. But if it’s heavy, so what? You’re strong!
“I want this challenge.” is a very simple, very potent reminder mid way through a metcon. It’s gets you out of the “oh shit!” track that’s on repeat in your brain, and gets you focused on the challenge is. So your grip is going? Okay, I need to rest longer and do shorter sets than planned. You’re WAY more out of breath than you expected? Okay, I’m working on my aerobic system. What do I need to do? You’ve changed your internal dialogue from panicking about the reponse to a solution and a strategy. Intellectually, before we start training, we know that a strenous back squat is going to develop strength. We’ve all forgotten that when we’ve unracked the bar!Sure, there’s going to be times when we lose it. As much as we strive to be optimistic the challenges can and do overwhelm us at times. As soon as you notice this, draw a line under it and recommit to your winners mindset. Simply begin again.
A great strategy from “The Invictus Mindset” involves these three steps:
- Take the time to support others. If you’re speaking positive and encouraging words you’re less likely to be thinking self defeatist mantras.
- Rest in a positive positions. Eyes forward, chest up!
- Keep your shins in contact with the barbell. This prevents you retreating too much and keeps you focused on the task.
A positive mindset doesn’t guarantee positive results. But a negative mindset sure as shit doesn’t!
Finally, it’s important to recognise that you can’t control the outcome entirely. What you can control is your attitude and your process. You can make the decision to be excited about a workout or worried about it. You can make the decision to focus on the weight or the reps, or you can make the decision to focus on your mental cues and strategies. You can make the decision to feel defeated post workout, or take the lessons from it and commit to improving your approach next time.