Chasing Excellence - Ch. 9 Turn the Page

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Last week was a tough one to hear when we talked about Control and how to not focus on the things we can’t control so that we have more energy for the things we can control. We’re going to take that principle and apply it further today. Remember back to the Confidence chapter when we talked about E + R = O, or Event + your Response = Outcome, and then again last week. Let’s use these foundations to dive immediately into what it means to Turn the Page.

Living in the Past

Something happened. We went through the E + R = O and we did not get the outcome we wanted. What next? We are now presented with a new Event that is awaiting our Response. What in this moment can we Control and what can’t we Control? We can’t control what has already happened so it’s time to focus on how we Respond to this new Event in order to create a different Outcome for the next time. A few sentences in and we’ve already hit our main point. In Bergeron’s words, “Living in the past is a liability that will diminish future opportunities.” We can’t dwell on what has already happened, the only thing we can still Control is our Response in order to set us up for future opportunities. By residing in the past, we never move on to bigger and better things, good or bad. He goes on to say, “Understanding that you only have control over the present moment is the key to being able to turn the page. Reliving the past is a recipe for unnecessary depression, and fearing the future is a surefire way to anxiety. Learning to live in the present moment is vital, because it’s the only thing you have any control over. The only thing you can do to rectify the past or influence the future is to take action now, in the present moment.”

How many times do we beat ourselves up over a bad training day? Last week was exciting since we got to test a couple different 1RMs. We had a lot of our members hit new PRs, some were HUGE personal bests. That’s great. But what about those that didn’t? Did you feel bummed or left out? Yes. It is aggravating. You put in months’ worth of work and weren’t able to prove it in regard to your 1RM score. No one is denying how that is (usually) a negative thing. But what are you going to do about it? Are you going to wallow in your sadness and now convince yourself that you suck at Deadlifts and you’re never going to be good at them? Through your negative self-talk, are you diminishing your future opportunities? Maybe you’ve thought of giving up on working out or eating healthy because you feel like you aren’t getting the results you wanted. You ate healthy for a whole week and haven’t gotten any gainzzz so you get depressed and go back to that tub of Blue Bell. Or maybe it’s a little more immediate than that. Let’s say we’re working up to a 1RM and something around your 80% feels really heavy and you miss it. Are you going to get all bummed out that you’re not good enough and just stop there, or are you going to rerack the weight, talk to your coach, fix what you did wrong, and then give more effort on the next attempt? No amount of dwelling in the past is going to help mold your future. If you get a bad grade on a test, study harder for the next one. If your boss chews you out for underperforming this quarter, go back to your office and find a way to improve yourself. If you keep missing a muscle-up or a weight you KNOW you can do mid-workout, take 3 steps back, a long, slow deep breath, and try again. It’s ok to take 3 minutes to think about what just happened and evaluate it, but use it in a positive way to motivate and teach you to do better next time. Probably the best example of this in the gym is double-unders. We’ve all been there. We learned double-unders and can do 10+ when fresh or maybe even 50 sometimes, but in a workout, you find yourself performing subpar and can’t get more than 1 or 2 in a row. These are the worst because every miss comes with a new sting and battle scar. You get mad and frustrated so you grip the rope harder and spin it faster which only makes it hurt worse when you trip 2 jumps later. You spin (got puns?) yourself into this endless cycle of missing and missing and missing which makes you mad. Really mad. My old self has thrown jump ropes across the gym on more than one occasion. It is probably the most frustrating thing in CrossFit. But whenever you trip on the jump rope, what is the only thing you can do about it? Does thinking about how bad it stung help? Does looking at the clock frantically to see how far you are behind help? Does getting mad and whipping the rope even harder help? Nope. Nope. Nope. You need to turn the page in that moment, step over the rope, and try again. That’s your only option. All the other options thwart your ability to perform better in the future. I don’t care if it’s during Open 17.5 (10 Rounds of 9 Thrusters & 35 DUs) and you’ve been working for over 30 minutes trying to finish, step over the rope, relax, and try again. E + R = O. It’s your response in that situation that has an effect on your outcome.

Focus on the Present

That’s hard to do. The rope hurts. It still hurts your self-esteem when your boss lights a fire under your butt in front of coworkers. It’s frustrating when you mess up a 1RM attempt or miscount the weights so you didn’t actually hit a new PR. So now that we know our Response is what matters most in these situations, how can we train our mindset to react in the correct way to change future outcomes? How can I relax when my heartrate is at 160 bpm and my shins are throbbing from the 39 lashes from the cat o' nine tails aka a CrossFit speed jump rope? I’m going to talk us through some drills that Bergeron does with his competitors and then show you ways to do it on your own as well as in class at CrossFit Eta. In his training sessions with his elite athletes - those that are Excellent - he starts everyday with lengthy breathing drills even before the warm ups. He puts it like this, “The goal of our breathing exercises is to live in the present moment with nonjudgment, open-mindedness, and positivity. Can you focus on your breath and only your breath for ten straight minutes? The answer is no, you can’t. So, when you can’t, what is your mind doing? Are you reflecting on the past – I can’t believe I lost my train of thought, I’m so bad at this, and so on – or are you focusing on the present moment, trying to reclaim your train of thought without judging yourself? If you can stay present in a controlled environment, that transfers over to when you have a bad event.” We do that at CrossFit Eta. Not every day in class, but we do it once per week on Saturdays at 9 a.m. We offer a ROMWOD class in which we set aside 45 minutes of our day to no cell phone, no work calls, no kids, no music, no working out, or even coaching. 45 minutes of stretching while focusing on our breath. We know it’s impossible to focus for the whole time, but what you do you when you realize you are out of focus? Do you get bored or give up and just whisper to your neighbor, or do you dig back in and “regain that breath” as the voice of ROMWOD always says? What about when we do the one nostril breathing drills in ROMWOD? Do you think it’s dumb so you just sit there and skip it, letting your mind wander off to things that are irrelevant to your training? Or do you push through it and find a way to better your breathing? This is such a simple and tactful way to stimulate the reactive muscle of our brain. We even did a quick 3 minutes of breathing drills last Saturday in the group class. It's something we do from time to time. Like Bergeron said, by focusing on staying present in a controlled environment, it’ll help us when presented with a situation in an uncontrolled environment. Isn’t that what we do in the gym every day? We train with controlled reps, sets, times, barbells, distances, movements so that we can better perform in our unpredictable daily life? Breathing drills are one of the simplest ways we can train the mindfulness of our brains.

Another exercise I like to do is go for a walk. Not to exercise myself physically, but to exercise my mindfulness – my ability to be “fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us” to further quote Bergeron. If you’ve looked at the Eta Performance board at any point in the last 2 months, I’ve been writing in “800m Walk” every Thursday for this reason. I leave my phone in the office. I take a FitAid or water with me, and I just walk silently for about 800m to a mile. I let my brain go wild. I think of 10 new good ideas for the gym. I think about stuff I need to do before I get home and all the reasons I’m right in an argument I just had with my wife. I think about how jealous I am of people that hit new PRs this week and I’m still stuck at my old one. I purposefully let myself wallow in sadness or think through situations and events that have happened throughout my day or week. But I only let myself do that on the way out. When I get to the physical turnaround at the halfway mark, I make myself turnaround mentally and focus on what to do about it. Do I tweak the programming, am I working out too much and not recovering, is that new idea really a good one? On the way back from the walk is when I make progress and better myself as an individual. That’s when I bring myself back to reality and come up with a solution. The longer the walk is without any distractions, the better it will be for you. The longer you’re away from your TV, phone, or computer with nothing external to influence your thoughts, the more you’ll be able to hone in on your mindfulness and ability to Turn the Page.

I could’ve made a third section or bullet point with something catchy about the future. Past, Present, Future would’ve made a great blog structure, but I won’t. You can’t change the future by focusing on the future. No amount of goal setting or wondering and wanting will change the outcome. The only control we have over the Outcome is our Response in this present moment. Find a way to strip away all distractions today and do something that you can relax and better yourself. Find a quiet room to foam roll in for 30 minutes straight without stopping. Take a bath and do some breathing drills (I like the 8 seconds in, 10 seconds out that ROMWOD uses). And speaking of ROMWOD, come to class at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and let’s practice for 45 minutes as a group while we stretch. Maybe some of you need to purchase ROMWOD on your own and find the time to do the 20 minute sessions every day. Find some way this week to get away from the busyness of our American lives, and train your mind so that when you do get to a fork in the road, you’ll know how to react positively and Turn the Page.