Chasing Excellence - Ch. 7 The Process

Photo Credit: @benbergeron @jordansamuelphoto

Photo Credit: @benbergeron @jordansamuelphoto

This chapter may be one of the most integral chapters in developing the character of a champion and pursuing Excellence. Next week we will talk about Control which to me is the most easily applied to our everyday life and what a lot of us need the most. But we can’t talk about Control until we talk first about The Process. The Process is what we have to go through before we can achieve our goals. We talked about this during the chapter on Confidence ; specifically, how making goals that are defined by a result leads to disappointment and failure whereas making effort related goals is attainable. A lot of people’s goals are to win the CrossFit Games but only one person can hold that honor. Does everyone else fail? Not if their definition of success is different. But how do we go from a definition of success that is effort based and then get the outcome we desire deep down. We must first go through The Process.

Results, Not Scores

Ben Bergeron starts the chapter off perfectly with a quote and example of what “The Process” is. Nick Saban, coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide says this, “Don’t think about winning the SEC Championship. Don’t think about the national championship. Think about what you need to do in this drill, on this play, in this moment. That’s the process: Let’s think about what we can do today, the task at hand.” The process is about focusing on the steps to success rather than worrying about the result. Coach Jonathan and I were talking the other day about the HSPU EMOM workout that we did in class on Tuesday and on its true purpose for our members. When I write our programming, every week I write 3 pages worth of lesson plans that Jonathan and I use. Some of it is explaining the warm up or suggestions for scaling, but the first thing I lead off every day’s notes with is “Today’s focus is ____.” For Tuesday when we did the EMOM with HSPU, KB Holds, Lunges, and REST, I wrote that the focus was getting better at HSPUs and then ranted about how I hate when people sandbag the warm up or practice session to save energy for the portion of the workout that is scored. On Tuesday after a couple classes had gone by, we talked about how the true goal that day was to get better at HSPUs. The goal wasn’t that everyone would get a higher score (more HSPUs during the workout), but that each member would get better at them. For some that meant DB Push Press to build upper body strength, others it meant Handstand Holds, and for others we practiced cycling reps and not crashing onto our heads/necks. I don’t care if you log a “bad” or “lesser” score on the whiteboard and Zen Planner (assuming of course that you gave it your best effort). I care about you learning something about HSPUs, improving some portion of your HSPU, and thus improving your fitness. I want our members to focus on learning something that will make them better in the long run during the warm up. I know it’s not as sexy to practice so hard that you burnout in the warm up or during a practice session because it’ll cause your publicized score to be lower on the whiteboard, but what you’ve really achieved is a foundation for a future date the next time we do HSPUs. You’ve set yourself on a slow incline to a distant horizon. You have moved the needle 1% in the positive direction. Over time that will all add up to massive gains, but you can’t get there by taking some magic pill or always sandbagging the warm up just so you can PR your workout time. In the grand scheme of life where our true aim is to improve our fitness which thus improves our health, does it matter if you PR’d today, or does it matter that you increased your fitness capacity? A new PR is nice and it’s a great way to measure your progress, but the PR itself doesn’t actually mean anything. The better time on the board doesn’t actually achieve anything. If you goal is to improve your health, then you should be 100% focused during the entire 60 minutes of class, not just the last 20 minutes. Through our discussion, Jonathan and I coined a new phrase that you’ll be hearing around the gym a lot: “Focus on your results, not your score.” We need to focus on the steps to success, not the title of success. Just like they teach at the CrossFit L-1 seminar: mechanics, consistency, then, and only then, intensity.

Note: This does not mean give any less effort during the workout portion of class. The focus in this blog is on maximizing your time and effort during the warm up, practice portion, and strength. We want 100% for all 60 minutes inside the gym.

Character First

We also want 100% effort in the other 1,380 minutes of our day. Ben talks about Katrin and how committed she is to the entire process. When he first took her on as one of his athletes after she failed to qualify for the Games in 2014, the first thing they worked on was her air squat. “We made perfecting her air squat the top priority. For the first six weeks of working together, we repeatedly and incessantly performed, practiced, critiqued, and refined the least sexy movement in our sport.” At the time she was a two-time former Games athlete and barely missed the Games for a third time because of one bad (terrible) event where she failed legless rope climbs. Wouldn’t you think they’d work on that one thing then BAM she’s back at the Games? Maybe. That might have worked, but what about the next year and the year after that as the competition gets better? There’s going to be another event that stops her short. Then another. It’s not about the events themselves or the programming that determines who goes to the Games. So Katrin moved from Iceland to Boston to train under Ben and they revamped her air squat – probably the most foundational movement in CrossFit, the first thing you learn in our and many other’s Foundations classes. Of course Katrin was already very talented, worked hard, and had moderate levels of success, but what turned her into a champion was her willingness to commit to The Process. She was so willing to trust the process Ben laid out for her, she practiced air squats for 6 weeks. The next year, they focused on her muscle-ups. I’ll paraphrase for the sake of brevity, but listen to this progression after she won the Games in 2015: “Stop doing them entirely for ninety days..began her new program with…the kip swing. No pulling, no getting up on the rings, no dip out…After three months…pulling up onto the rings…for another month. We continued like this in monthly increments, doing just one perfect muscle-up a day for thirty days. Then we increased it to two, then three…Never programmed muscle-ups into a workout. It was six months before I put them back into a workout…only one at a time.” Katrin committed to and trusted the process of becoming better everyday through the steps of progression rather than worrying about the result. She watched the regular fitness members of CFNE do muscle-ups and here she is, Fittest Woman on Earth, doing kip swings for 6 months. That is the commitment of a champion. Had she gotten caught up in her daily scores and her performance, then she would not have been able to dedicate the time and effort toward the daily process of improving.

“The process is simple, but it’s not easy. Most people don’t have the character traits necessary to fully commit to it.” That’s why Ben develops his athletes character first, and then develops their athletic prowess. We talked about this in the first blog as a foundational premise for the entire book. Some of the concepts in this book and others that I’ve supplemented are hard to swallow and certainly difficult to enact. They require dedication and persistence, commitment and confidence, resilience and effort, and sometimes what seems like sacrifice. But putting character first enables us to do all these other things. We are humans first and athletes second. We can only progress as an athlete as far as we are limited by being human. So if we can develop the human side of us, our character, then we can develop ourselves as athletes, or fathers, or parents, or as a coworker. This last weekend, Jonathan went back home to North Carolina for his 10th year high school reunion. He was very excited to go back and tell everyone how he now owns a gym and is committed to nutrition, fitness, and the health of others, because the last time he saw most of his co-graduates was back during the beginning stages of some of his addictions. Sharing dinner at the reunion, he texted me that he was currently being made fun of for eating his broccoli raw and not dipping it in the ranch dressing. His lifestyle now is so distant from what it used to be that his high school friends didn’t know what to do. Nor did they know what to do when someone with elite character interacted with them. He can tell you the full story if you’re interested, but how do you go from being a drug addict to the owner of a CrossFit gym? By eating your broccoli without any ranch. By focusing on the steps to success and not the results of success. It wasn’t overnight. It was quite a journey, but the broccoli metaphorically represents the character traits of someone who is pursuing excellence. It’s not about the ranch dressing itself. In this moment, it’s only a few extra calories and some extra grams of fat, but in the larger picture, it represents a commitment to the little things, the steps, the building blocks, the take us towards success. That’s what putting character first looks like.

I recently saw Ben Bergeron post about CompTrain talking about a concept I refer to as “I’m the type of guy that _____” which I loved so much I reposted it on my personal Instagram (here). When we are deep in trusting the process, we can approach every situation with “I’m the type of guy that _____” and fill in the blank. I’m the type of guy that works out. I’m the type of guy that goes to the gym even when I’m sore. I’m the type of guy that goes to the gym even when I’m injured because I know there is other stuff I can work on. I’m the type of guy that values my health. I’m the type of guy that goes to bed early enough to get 8 hours of sleep. I’m the type of guy who eats only real food. I’m the type of guy who doesn’t eat dessert. I’m the type of guy that is so committed to nutrition that I eat my broccoli without ranch. It’s a great tool to use whenever you are tempted. When you’re out to eat with friends and someone orders a Bloomin’ Onion, what do you do? Are you the type of person that eats their 1/6 of the onion with your friends, or are you the type of person that politely declines and orders a side of steamed seasonal vegetables? When your husband has been working late or been gone for work and comes back into town, are you the type of girl that misses class that night because he’s finally home, or are you the type of girl that sets her alarm an hour earlier in the morning to go to the 6 a.m. class instead that day? I could go on with examples all day but I’ll finish with this last one:

When the workout of the day has HSPUs in it, are you the type of person that takes it easy in the warm up so that you can get a better score for the leaderboard in Zen Planner, or are you the type of person that works on the “boring” HSPU drills, shoulder flexibility, and muscle activation even if it means you won’t score as well in the workout?

The character of a champion comes first. Trust in the process second. The results will come later.