Chasing Excellence - Ch. 10 Humility

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We’ve quite clearly established thus far how important the character of a champion is which underlies all physical capabilities. The next chapter in Ben Bergeron’s Chasing Excellence that we are going to cover is on Humility. As Ben says towards the end of the chapter, “If it seems as if my team spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on character, it’s because we do. The most battle-tested, unimpeachable process is nothing unless it is accompanied by the character traits needed to make it stick. Humility is a huge part of the equation; it’s one of the cornerstones of the process.” He’s right. A lot of the character traits of Excellence that we’ve gone over so far are very hard to exhibit on a daily basis if you cannot humble yourself to look inwardly without an ego. “The moment you believe you’ve arrived at the door of greatness, it will be slammed in your face.” Humility is the mindset that gives you the ability to work tirelessly at your craft. It’s the first step to applying your Grit.

Humility & Grit

This chapter starts off sounding similar to the chapter on Grit with few differences. Ben echoes himself with a very similar line from the Grit chapter: “It takes an uncommon amount of humility for anyone to submit themselves to doing things they’re bad at every single day.” Especially as a CrossFit athlete where every single aspect of fitness is tested, you must continuously be great at everything. You have to put in the man hours. You have to have the determination to go the distance. But what about the stuff you aren’t good at, the stuff that doesn’t come as easily to you? We can chant motivational quotes and re-post “Mondays won’t get the best of me” memes on Instagram or talk about deadlifting extra at home so we can PR next time in class, but what about the things you suck at? What about the things you suck at but don’t want to admit you suck at them? That’s the humility we are talking about. It’s goofy and funny to joke about hating burpees or running, but isn’t it way more embarrassing when we get to the Open and you can’t squat below parallel and this whole time you’ve been doing half reps of Wall Balls? Or other shortcuts like doing push-ups with saggy knees instead of in a plank? What about doing “Toes near or really, really close to the Bar” instead of “Toes TO the Bar”? When you put a judge in front of you, or maybe coach catches you in class, it’s a lot more embarrassing. The kind of humility we are talking about here is to admit that you’re wrong or that you’re not where you want to be. We hear it thrown around a lot as a joke, but what’s the first step on the process to recovery? Admitting you’re wrong/at fault/have a problem, right? In a completely serious way, this can be a very intense form of humility. Humility isn’t just admitting there’s a problem, humility is admitting that the problem is you. Grit can’t take over until after you’ve admitted you are the only thing hindering your progress in the gym, at work, in your home life, or in your relationships. Once we’ve humbled ourselves, then we can work tirelessly at our craft and beat our bodies into submission.

Looking Inwardly Without Ego

To be truly humble, we not only have to take an honest look inwardly at ourselves, but we have to do so without an ego. Bergeron uses Chris Argyris’s book Teaching Smart People How to Learn to show the difference between single-loop and double-loop learners. “Single-loop learners search for external factors to explain why they’re not succeeding…Double-loop learners iterate, and then look inward for the solutions to problems that arise.” A single-loop learner is someone that blames their coach, the training program, their genetics, or other factors for their lack of success. They come up with excuses as to why life is unfair or how they could have done _____ if only _____ had happened. They come up with every reason on the planet as to why they did not succeed. Double-loop learners humbly take responsibility for their actions and consider the possibility that they are at fault. Let me repeat what I said earlier: Humility isn’t just admitting there’s a problem, humility is admitting that the problem is you. We’ve talked intensely in recent posts about what we can control. You put the pizza in your mouth. You hit snooze on your alarm clock. You skipped the gym today. That’s the responsibility that a double-loop learner (someone chasing Excellence) takes upon themselves. They allow themselves to be at fault so that they can fix the problem. It’s ok if you miss the gym but then get back on your feet, Turn the Page, make a lifestyle adjustment, and are back at the gym. You admitted you were at fault, cancelled on some friends going out to the bars the night before, and you made a positive change in your life. You quit your job that had a culture of obesity and found a career with like minded individuals. You improved your fitness (today) and thus improved your health (long term). But a single-loop learner, a character trait of a competent or complacent person, blames their friends for keeping them out late, they blame their busy schedule for their lack of nutrition and meal prep, they blame the weather for their achy knees, they blame the coach for hurting their shoulder, they blame someone or something else for all of their problems. We have to turn our gaze inward without our ego getting in the way. That is true humility. Lowering yourself to a point that we can admit we are wrong.

What about our training specifically? Sometimes, as Bergeron points out, “It’s easy to hide in your strengths because of the ego-boost they provide…but it’s a trap.” We like Deadlift day, or Squatober, or maybe we like when there’s running but we’re scared of the barbell. Maybe we don’t like squat snatches or chest-to-bar pull-ups, so we skip an Open re-test… I sound like a broken record by now, but it’s because this is the stuff that people need to hear. We need to be constantly reminded that the only one to blame for our training, nutrition, recovery, sleep, and mindset is ourselves – and that takes humility. Next time you mess up and miss a day at the gym, or we have a running workout that buries you and sets your lungs on fire, look inwardly and see what the root of the problem is. It’s cheesy to say “Leave your ego at the door” when you walk into a CrossFit box, but it’s necessary. None of us are good, better, or best, at every single movement. We all have something to work on. And maybe, just maybe, that thing that is holding you back is that one thing you’ve had trouble admitting this whole time that you suck at, and need help. Maybe you just need to show up every day so you don’t miss anything. Or maybe that one thing we can’t humble ourselves to admit is the problem, is our nutrition. We are too self-conscious to turn down food when at a restaurant or not eat the cookies and donuts at an office party. More than likely, that little piece we need to really improve our training is to admit we have a problem with self-control and we need to get help. To quote Zach Galifianakis in the movie Due Date, “You better check yourself, before you wreck yourself.” Be humble. Don’t just be willing to admit there is a problem, but humble enough to be able to admit you are the problem. Because that means that you can also be the solution.