Reading This Won't Make You Tougher


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Crossfit is a pain sport, and with that comes a high level of distress.

Those who’ve been around the block are accustomed to this distress in the same way a fighter is ‘accustomed’ to getting punched in the face - that is to say that the familiarity of experience in no way lessens it’s blow or mitigates it’s physiological effects. It simply gives them a degree of composure in the face of an otherwise overwhelming stimulus, and allows for dispassionate insight where a rookie would be in a rush of panic.

The biggest mistake rookies make is in thinking they need to squander this feeling of panic, or suppress the feelings of fear they have on game day. In reality they should be used in our favor as they’re the very things that allow us to perform to our potential.

It’s no wonder why sports psychology books which teach you to overcome fear, or become ‘tougher’, are so common place.  But, the truth is they don’t work. This level of ‘toughness’ can’t be gifted, or received through a book, and it isn’t an innate attribute like height or eye color.  You need to practice being tough - to not bow to your inner coward.

You need to practice being tough - to not bow to your inner coward.

No athlete pushes through pain because they enjoy it for it’s own sake. They’ve just learned from hard lessons every time they did relent and were disgusted with themselves for having done so. They know that there is no refuge in mercy, and no other alternative - Nike said it best, ‘Just do it’.

This concept is simple in theory, but difficult in practice. You see, our brains act as the ‘central governor’ over our bodies, and control everything, including our ability to ‘express our capacity’. This makes sense intuitively - if we push ourselves too hard, for too long, without being ‘governed’, we risk the chance of causing ourselves harm. Of course, there are times where our governor gives us a bit more control over the reigns, like when a mother lifts a car off her child, but there are two key elements required for this to occur - first we need to believe we can truly accomplish the task, and second we need to believe completing the task is worth the effort.

We know confidence is key, but seldom do we consider the worthiness of the task…. As athletes we deal in discomfort. After you get past a certain point, that’s all there really is. There’s no finesse here.  So, it’s natural that we question why we do what we do when the going gets tough.

Maybe you have a shot at ‘fame’, monetary success, or qualifying for the games, but for everyone else the purpose may not be so clear. At some point this lack of direction will come to the surface, and if you don’t have an answer then you may start to question whether or not the juice is STILL worth the squeeze.

I’ve been there, and i’m sure most of you that compete in individual sports have at some point too. Training always made intuitive sense to me; from it comes speed, strength, power, and endurance. Competing on the other hand never made a whole lot of sense- i’m too much of a nihilist to believe that running around an oval eight times at a sub 5:00 mile pace  or doing a metcon faster than the next guy is meaningful in and of itself. Sure, I got a bunch of shiny pieces of plastic, but at the end of the day that just amounts to a mediocre story.

It wasn’t until I started to view competition as a rite of passage that things started to click. From competing comes knowledge, and such rites demand, if they are to be meaningful at all, that a sacrifice is made. Give up a small part of yourself to find out who you really are when things get tough, something you can’t learn when everything is well and good. Suffering for knowledge, countless athletes talk about winning after years of chasing the dream, only to realize they feel no different after the fact. They’ve built it up so much in their heads over the years, that reality can never fill those shoes.

Nothing has changed for them because they've never ascribed a higher meaning or purpose to the pursuit. On the contrary, using competing as a right of passage, or assigning something bigger to the change, has high meaning. Whether or not you win, you know that you’re capable of putting your head down and grinding through anything - that opens up many avenues, whether that’s in business or life in general. 

So, to recap we need to believe the task is worth if we want to perform to our highest potential, or in other words we need a WHY.  The second part of this equation is believing we can accomplish what we set out to do. Nothing breeds self confidence like knowing you did everything you possibly could to succeed. Not on game day, or during the event, but in the time leading up to it.

The die is already cast on game day, and while this is ultimately where it’s won or lost, neither outcome really holds much in the way of surprise when you’re there. Such matters are settled much earlier: weeks, months, years before, they are settled in the gym, during long grueling sessions, and during the morning workout missed here or made up there.

Other than pacing to the best of your ability there’s not much you can do about it on competition day. Heart has nothing to do with it - in the heat of the moment, when everyone's cheering, anyone can have heart. Again, books won’t develop this quality for you, and at best they can simply guide you. Peace of mind comes from action.

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article written by

Evan peikon