Chasing Excellence - Ch. 8 Control


Today’s blog covers Chapter 8 - Control. Like I mentioned last week, this is one of the most practical concepts Ben covers in his book Chasing Excellence for application to our everyday lives even outside of the gym. The attempt of this chapter is to highlight the things we can and can’t control, then turn our focus to the things we can control rather than wasting our energy on things that don’t matter or we have no control over.


Energy is Finite

In the chapter on Confidence, we talked about E + R = O, event plus your response equals outcome. The only way we can change or affect the outcome is by controlling our response to a given situation or event. This is the underlying principle as we dive further into Control. In a situation, there is the Event, what is happening around us, then there is a response to the event and together it equates to an outcome or a result. We obviously want a positive outcome that makes us better as a person, our surroundings more pleasant, or at least an outcome that is favorable to our opinion, so the best way to curb the outcome is for us to curb out response. Remember when you mother told you, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all”? Sometimes our best response is no response. Let’s focus on when it’s best not to respond in the first half of the blog.

Our energy is finite. We only have so much energy throughout a given day, month, or year. How are we spending it? We’ve talked bunches about Maximizing Minutes and how to make the most of everything we do, but let’s expand more and identify things we shouldn’t be doing. To understand further, we need to decide if the situation we are dealing with is something we can or cannot control. If it is something out of our control, then to spend any time, effort, money, or energy on it would be a waste and eats into one of our finite minutes we have throughout the day that is better spent maximizing our potential. In class, I talk about our movement “costing less.” What I mean is to make your movement more efficient. When we’re coming out of a squat and stick out butt up in the air first, then our chest comes up, then our hips come through, that’s a lot of wasted movement. The more efficient way of course is for the chest and hips to rise at the same time initially and our hips to come through into a vertical stance (squeeze the cheeks!) in a smooth motion. Doing anything else is wasting energy. Here’s a better example: when we are kipping our handstand push-up, our aim should be to kick our feet straight up, not spread eagle at an angle. The whole point of kipping is to use the momentum of your legs extending to make your body “weightless” so that your hands/arms/shoulders can press your body up. If I’m kicking my legs at an angle, then the upward force I’m creating is bleeding out to the sides. Let’s say our legs are kicking out to the side about 20 degrees from straight up and down. I’ll save you the full mathematical explanation, but cosine of 20 degrees = 0.866 meaning that of all the force your legs are producing, only 86% of that force is in the upward direction. You’re wasting 14% of the force of your kip to kick out sideways instead of up! That means if you can do 8 unbroken HSPUs with that bad kip, then if you kicked your feet up instead of 20 deg to the side, you could do 9 unbroken HSPUs. We want our bodies moving efficiently. I don’t want our members wasting their energy during reps. I want us all to be able to do 14% more HSPUs, 14% more weight on our Back Squat 1RM, 14% more Double-unders, and 14% more or 14% faster everything! So when we talk about this concept of “costing less,” that is what I mean. I want your movement to cost less physical energy.

As we all know, we only have so much mental energy as well. We stress and worry about so much beyond our control, we run ourselves ragged. What if we could eliminate worrying about things beyond our control? Don’t get mad at the red light that seems to be lasting longer than normal, you have no control over its cycle time. You have no control over how fast the car in front of you goes. You have no control over what music is playing at the gym or who else shows up to class. You have no control over what the weather is like on days that we are running. You don't even have control over which days we are running! What you can control is how you react to the situation. You may not have control when you go with friends or family out to eat, but you can control what you pick from the menu. You can control what you wear when it’s cold outside and we have a running WOD. You can control what time you leave your house to go to work so that getting stuck in traffic doesn’t make you late. You can’t control that your toddler threw up in his car seat on the way to daycare, but you can control (beforehand) having a backup change of clothes and wipes in the car. Whenever a new situation pops up, ask yourself, is this something that I can control? Or should I not get all stressed out this thing I cannot control? You’ll end up finding yourself with more energy for the things that do matter, the things you control…


What Can YOU Control?

The crux of the chapter is to eliminate things that we cannot control so we can focus on the things we can control. What are those things? Ben provides a diagram of two circles, one inside the other. The inner circle has a list of things his athletes can control - your training, nutrition, sleep, recovery, and mindset. The outer circle lists things beyond their control – weather, next workout, judges, rest time between events, leaderboard, social media, equipment, workout standards, heat times, other athletes, previous workouts. In the moment of competition when the clock beeps 3, 2, 1, GO, you can only control yourself in that moment. You cannot control the competition, whether the judge is being unfair (even if the judge is genuinely being unfair, you have to comply), what tomorrow’s workout are, whether your lane is in the sun vs. the shade, whether the pull-up bar being used is your favorite texture. The only thing you can control is you. You workout. You complete the reps. You cross the finish line. Doesn’t matter if everyone else is 3 minutes ahead or 3 minutes behind you, you complete the workout at the best of your ability. You give your maximum effort in that event and don’t waste any energy on anything else around you because that microscopic piece of energy wasted on peaking over your shoulder to the athlete in the next lane could be the difference in the hundredth of a second that causes you to get passed as you cross the finish line. When I swam competitively growing up, we always said, “If you look, you lose.” Don’t look to the side, use that energy to swim harder. Just go.

So what can we as non-CrossFit Games athletes control? What does our daily life look like? I listed some things like driving in traffic or the weather that we can’t control, but what on a daily basis do we have control over? I’m going to use the same list Bergeron uses for his athletes. We can control our training, nutrition, sleep, recovery, and mentality.


We control whether or not we come to class. There might be other factors that make it more difficult on some days, but ultimately, we are in control of what we do. Don’t let others dictate that. CrossFit Eta is open from 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. every weekday and 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays. We have classes at 6, 9, noon, 5:30 and 6:30. If you can’t make it to one of those classes, come to our open gym hours and do today’s workout. Can’t make it to open gym hours? Run around your block in your neighborhood for 15 minutes and do 10 air squats every minute. That’s a 15 minute workout that’ll have you out of breath easily. We all can set aside 15 minutes. Check out what our workout is and do a modified version of it in your living room. Class is doing push press? You do push-ups. Class is doing thrusters? Then grab your son's baseball bat and pretend like it's an empty bar! You control your training. Not your kids, not your spouse, not your boss, not the weather. You control whether or not you work out.


You control your nutrition. You are the sole person, thing, or being in charge of what enters your body through your mouth. I know our bodies are unique and react in different ways, but you control what you eat. You control what you drink. No one forces you to order dessert when you're out to eat with your friends, or forces you to order a cheeseburger with fries. Even if you order a perfectly macro-balanced meal full of real food and plenty of vegetables, no one is going to force you to finish your plate. That is your control. You have to be the one to actually eat it. You eat the real food. You don’t eat too much. You eat your vegetables. No one forces you to take a shot at a bar. Even if your drunk friend buys everyone tequila shots, no one actually forces you to take it. Be the type of guy/gal that values their nutrition higher than social pressure. We talked about that last week. Put your character first. And if it’s that big of a deal and your friends make fun of you and try to physically force you to drink, then maybe reevaluate your friendships, but that’s a different topic altogether. Yet, it’s not. You control who you hang out with. Don’t go to a bar at midnight with your friends that normally go drinking if you aren’t going to be drinking and want to get a good night's sleep. You control your nutrition and no one else. People can’t be healthy for you. Only you can eat meats & vegetables, nuts & seeds, some starch, little fruit, and no sugar.


This one is big. Only you control your sleep. I know I’ll get push back here, especially for those with a newborn. Let’s talk about the things regarding your sleep that you control. You control what time you go to bed and you control what time you set your alarm. If you wake up easily to storms, you can check the weather each night before bed and wear ear plugs if needed. If your husband snores loudly, you can wear even bigger ear plugs or muffs! Go with him to the doctor to help find a solution to stop his snoring. I know in the exact moment when your dog starts barking that you may not control that, but you can control your response to the situation. You can train your dog. You can have your dog sleep in a kennel at night, in a different room. In fact, you actually chose to have a dog in the first place which has an effect on your sleep. Even though it’s rewinding, you had control over that situation. Same story with a baby. You chose to have a baby. You knew what sacrifices come with it. Now having a baby is a beautiful thing and of course mom and dad are going to allow their sleep to become secondary to an infant’s needs, but the principle is you control your sleep. If sleeping through the night isn’t an option, look for quick naps during the day or other ways to rest. If your friends are going out to the bars at midnight, you have control over whether or not you go and stay up late. You also have control over your quality of sleep. Comfort of pillows, mattress, sounds around you, temperature, what you ate during your last meal, or what you drank… Bring your own pillow or blanket when you travel. Only you can control those things. Don’t let others influence you away from making the right choice.


We can group sleep as a part of recovery but we’ve already covered that one. You control the recovery process of your body. You control how “hard” you go in a workout when you’re really sore. You control getting to class 15 minutes early to stretch, using the foam roller, and getting some blood flowing. You control going on a small 30 minute walk at night with your dog or spouse to flush out the lactic acid build up in your legs after thruster day. You control your nutrition too. This is also part of the recovery process. You are in control of eating differently on days in which the workout was particularly taxing. Add in an extra serving of fruit or protein to help you recuperate. You can very easily stretch while watching TV at home. You can stretch on the sidelines of your son’s soccer game. It doesn’t have to be a big scene, even just walking some laps around the soccer field while he’s playing allows you to still watch as well as get your blood flowing to flush out all the build up from the 400s we ran the day before. What about rest? Do you sit like a lump on Sundays and watch football or do you seek out ways to actively work your muscles so they can recover. Sometimes we get so caught up in coming to class always, that when something hurts or is sore and we would genuinely need some rest, we try to push past it. We want you at the gym everyday, but that doesn’t mean you need to be in class every day. We understand the workouts are demanding and some days you need to rest. That's the main reason we are closed on Sundays. Come in on your “off” day and stretch, foam roll, hangout, go for a walk with the 5:30 class during their cooldown, hop on the rower for an EASY 2k recovery pace. You control that. The coaches don’t know when you’re hurting. We don’t know when a movement hurts you unless you tell us. It’s not our job to ask every single person in class multiple times throughout the 60 minutes if you’re hurt or sore. We have a general understanding of our members and who has what issues, but we can’t guess if it’s a good day or bad day. The only thing I can control as a coach is understanding that yesterday had a ton of thrusters so people’s legs might be sore and to direct the class accordingly. Until a member tells me that something hurts or is too heavy (not in a complaining way), there’s nothing I can control about the situation. From the member’s perspective, only you can control your recovery and the adaptation because of an injury. Keep your coach in the know, and when they suggest some stretches or drills to do outside of class, do it. That’s what you can control. Coach can’t fix you unless you’re willing to do your part. You control that.


You control your mentality. Since you’re still reading, you likely care enough about this blog and its mental implication on your training that you understand how important this is. We’ve talked a lot about putting character first. We’ve talked through different character traits of a champion, or of a master in your given field. This whole series is based on chasing Excellence. But who controls your character behind closed doors? Who controls your Commitment, Grit, Positivity, reaction to Adversity, Confidence, how to Maximize Minutes, The Process, and now Control. That’s you. You control how you react in a situation whether positive, negative, or neutral. No one else can control your mindset when you approach a workout. Coach can suggest things and help remind you that when the going gets tough to dig in, but we can’t actually change your mindset. You are in control of your own destiny.


By following these blogs, reading Ben Bergeron’s book, continually educating yourself, practicing the homework I give you, and rehearsing your newly reframed mindset, you can control your responses in a situation which in turn controls the outcome. You are in control of whether or not you chase complacency, competency, or excellence. So what’s it going to be? It’s all under your control. And if it’s not, leave it alone and don’t waste your precious time, energy, money, and effort. Our resources in this life are finite. Control them.

“Control what you can control. Ignore everything else.” – Ben Bergeron