In my time as a coach, and a CrossFit athlete, I have experienced a wide spectrum of negative self-talk, both from my own fruition, and in my time spent around others as they speak of their own.
As I thought about how I wanted to broach this topic, I decided to condense the discussion down into the two most common ways I have seen negative self-talk used in the gym:
Focusing on what we "can't", instead of what we "can"
The first is a draining fixation, an almost inertial inclination to focus around the things we cannot do, instead of what we can. Sometimes it bubbles over in moments of frustration, roaring out in a culmination of not-so-family friendly four letter words, or a seething quiet rage in the corner of the gym. On the ride home, the muscle-up you almost got becomes the principal point, instead of the 30 pull-ups you DID do. The “almost” and the “nearly” supersede the accomplished, and completed.
The second is a mental defense. A systematic effort lessening the uneasiness which accompanies failure. A way to mitigate the discomfort that arises after a real and unfettered effort comes short. It is so much easier to simply write off a bad workout as the byproduct of some unfortunate alignment of circumstances, than assess the genuineness of those circumstances. And it’s true, many times these circumstances are outside of our control, and they take a massive toll on our mental and physical health. But it’s also true this habitual system of thinking can also lead to a protective dishonesty about our efforts during a workout.
And while its easy to think the best way in combating these forms of self-talk is a wholesale denunciation, I stand to suggest this is not the most appropriate or helpful approach. Because in all honesty, to say that we are going to stop either of these behaviors entirely is simply non-feasible, and setting that as the goal will only lead to more frustration. The reality is, we are going to get fired up at times about shit we cannot do. And we are going to make those 2-3 extra excuses that maybe we shouldn’t have. And that is okay, as long, as we can carry a self-awareness that allows an earnest and honest self-reflection over why we are doing it.
To give a very real, and personal example, I will shine the spotlight on myself for a moment:
If you have been in class with me, I am sure you have heard me preach my “casual” CrossFit mantra. I make it very known that I am as “casual” as it comes with my fitness. That I never take myself, or the workout too seriously.
Now, if I am being completely honest, as I think about the spiel I put on about my “casual”-ness, I find myself ashamed to admit, that maybe this shtick I put up could be sprouting from seeds of doubt, embarrassment, and fear. “What if I do not lift the weight I normally do?” “What if I get a slower time?” “What if I am not as good as I thought I was?” Well, those questions become a helluva lot easier to answer, when you convince yourself that it was because you simply went “casual.” And voila, just like that, no more mental anguish. Because, it wasn’t that I didn’t try hard enough or was scared, no no no.. it was because I went casual.
In truth, there is a time and place for both. Negative self-talk is not entitled to be an exclusively detrimental force. Sometimes we all need to kick ourselves in the pants, and feel those stings of regret, embarrassment, or disappointment to light a fire within us, and literally force our hand to make substantial and impactful changes. Moments in which we feel embarrassed, or regretful, or disappointed are inevitable, but the way in which we appraise their worth and their impact is something within our control. That is something you can change, and something you should frame as to build towards something beneficial.
So the next time you find yourself feeling overtly negative about your performance, I want you to sit in the car before you go home and list off 3 things you did well, to ensure you are not drowning in a soup of disapproval. And in conjunction, sometimes it is okay to recognize that today just wasn’t your day. That you felt like shit, that you did go casual, or simply didn’t push yourself. But what isn’t okay, and what is not beneficial, is the cyclic habit of defaulting towards this when faced with something hard, or scary, or intimidating. So I urge and implore you to never be afraid of failure, or if in the slightest, find yourself unapologetic in the efforts of your endeavors.
In any case, CrossFit will always serve us with an ass whooping. Whether mental or physical. And though, in the moment it may be easy to get caught up in the negative self-talk, it is my hope that all of us may be able to exert some self-reflection and grace within ourselves, and find a way to make those moments invaluable learning opportunities. The moments in which we were scared, or upset with ourselves are so often the moments just begging to be turned into something we will eventually find pride in. The first step though, in getting to that point, is understanding that little voice in our head.
Congrats on another week of the open, let’s get after it again!