Last week, we talked a lot about putting character first. By putting character first, we can do stuff like Redefine Adversity as an opportunity for growth and Being the Best Me by maximizing every minute of every day over the long term. Bergeron uses these examples in his Intro (and Katrin’s Foreword) to show us the underlying principle that Character must always come first. That is not to say you cannot be good or even great at something without character, but that to chase true excellence, we must first root ourselves in our character. “Good people make good athletes.” So, what are these characteristics that we need to put first so we can be excellent in our field? Chapter by chapter, Ben opens up new characteristics and principles for building the world’s fittest athletes – commitment, grit, positivity, embrace adversity, confidence, maximizing minutes, the process, control, turn the page, humility, competitive excellence, and clutch. Today, we will talk about Chapter 1: Commitment.
The Complacency-Excellence Spectrum
Before we jump too far into what it means to be committed, we need to define this “excellence” that we are chasing. What is Excellence? Imagine a spectrum with Complacency on one end, Competence in the middle, and Excellence on the far end. Everyone falls someone on this spectrum between Complacency and Excellent. In terms of the CrossFit Games, close to 400,000 people compete in the 2017 CrossFit Open to vie for a spot at Regionals where athletes meet in mid-May to compete for 40 individual male and 40 individual female spots to the CrossFit Games. That’s roughly 0.02% of the field. “Those who live in this [Excellence] space aren’t just the top 20 percent; they’re the true cream of the crop, the top 1 percent of the 1 percent.” Then once you do make it to the Games, your scale is then relative to the other 39 competitors and we see who is the Fittest on Earth. Bergeron prides himself in that his athletes, Mat, Katrin, Cole, and Brooke, “Don’t train all year just to make it the Games and enjoy the ride.” And that’s the difference between Excellence and Competence. Even at such a high level, most, if not all, of us would be content being a “Games athlete” and just making it to Madison. You get a bunch of cool swag and to be on TV and at that point your body looks great. But true excellence isn’t just showing up to have fun, it’s trying to do the best that you can do no matter what situation you are in.
Just by reading this blog, you probably are not in the bottom 1 percent of the bottom 1 percent that we would consider Complacent. This would be your couch dwellers, those with no drive at work, make no effort to go to the gym, spend time with their family, or better society in any way. These people have given up on trying. So realistically, most of us fall somewhere in between. This next bit is one of my favorite principles in his entire book. “A lot of people will consider this spectrum and conclude that they are on the excellence side, simple because they work hard and have achieved a certain level of success in their chosen field. But that’s not how it works. Just because you’re working hard doesn’t mean you’re committed, not in the way a champion is, and it doesn’t automatically equal excellence.” What a statement. Think about when you attend class. Do you automatically think you’re “better” or towards the excellence end of the spectrum just because you do a hard WOD in our CrossFit Eta group class? Yet you go home and eat Pizza Hut or some cookies and stay up late watching TV? Or maybe you’re so good that you come to CrossFit every day and make sure all your healthy meals are posted to Instagram and talk about how gluten-dairy-carb-fat-protein-free vegan vegetablism your diet is, yet you don’t try your hardest in class. Your only goal is to beat your friend or even beat everyone else at the gym, regardless of whether that is your best or not. Maybe you’re the type that is content with only being competent at certain movements we do at CrossFit Eta (*cough* like running or thrusters *cough*) but don’t make the effort to excel at them – or maybe you avoid heavy weights because you’d rather have your form be 100% perfect than sacrificing 2% on your form to push your body harder into adaptation through stress. Or maybe you work really, really, really hard in class for a week, or two, or even three, yet stop coming to all 5 or 6 classes per week and decide doing your own thing is better or that only 3-4 times per week is enough then wonder why all our hard work didn't pay off. Do we all assume we are on the excellence side of the spectrum when really we are just Competent when it comes to our training?
Let’s slow down. That was heavy. We aren’t all CrossFit Games athletes and we all aren’t the Fittest on Earth. I had a friend in high school that used to jokingly say, “We can’t all be astronauts.” It’s true, we can’t. But we should always be chasing excellence in one field or another. Just because we don’t have a desire to train 5+ hours per day, weigh and measure every ounce of food, sleep 8+ hours per day, pay for massage therapy, hire a coach with individualized programming doesn’t mean we can’t still pursue excellence in our training. This is where the “be the best me” principle comes in. When you show up to class, we want the best version of yourself for those 60 minutes. Outside of the gym, we want you to be the best you when it comes to your nutrition, your sleep, your recovery, your marriage, your family, your church, your community, and your job. We should pursue excellence every single minute of every single day in each of our respective fields. If you’re a school teacher, seek out ways to be a better teacher tomorrow than you were today. If you’re a stay at home dad, seek out ways to better take care of the home and your kids. As a husband or wife, seek out ways to better serve your partner. But strive for more than just being competent. Imagine you are walking into an intense surgery, would you want your surgeon to be Competent at his practice, or Excellent? You should pursue the same excellence you expect out of that surgeon in your own field. And when it comes to your health and fitness, always be pursuing the most excellent you that you can be. Let’s talk about how to do so.
Short Term Pain for Long Term Gain
“It’s painful, in the short term, to get up at 5:00 a.m. and work out; it’s painful to say no to a cookie. Long-term, though, the habits add up to incredible gain. Complacency is the exact opposite setup: short-term gain for long-term pain.” Bergeron gives the example of the alarm clock. You may hit snooze and gain an extra 5-10 minutes of sleep now, but add up those minutes over a long period of time and you’ve lost a lot of productivity, not to mention the stress you’ve now caused by rushing off to work and eating breakfast on the go. This is the main principle in the first chapter – a champion, whether as a CrossFit athlete, surgeon, mother, or firefighter, is someone who stays committed to the short term “pain” in order to yield results in the long term. A champion does not snooze their alarm clock. A champion leaves their home 5 minutes earlier than they need to in order to arrive on time regardless of traffic or stoplights. A champion cleans up their dishes after dinner. A champion says no to a slice of cake for your coworker’s birthday. A champion says no to going out on a Friday night because they know they have to train early the next day. A champion does extra research or “homework” at their job because they want to be better in their field even if it’s not required. A champion finishes what they start. A champion does not skip class if they are sore (caveat: the “healthy” type of muscle soreness, not “overworked your body” type of soreness). A champion comes in 15 minutes early to stretch, mobilize, memorize the workout, and strategize in their head for the WOD. A champion can count and keep track of their rounds in a WOD. A champion doesn’t complain. A champion adds the extra 2.5# on their last strength set even if it’s tough.
All these things are very simple examples of the character of a champion. This is what I mean when I say to put character first. Think of someone in your life with the highest character, someone you respect. How committed are they to their craft, their family, their core values, their beliefs, their training, and their job? Do they waver or do they stick to their commitments? One of my absolute favorite examples of a champion level of commitment comes from Katrin Davidsdottir, one of Ben’s athletes. I don’t remember where or when I heard this, but Ben talks about Katrin’s commitment to her nutrition. At the 2016 CrossFit Games athlete’s dinner, the athletes are treated to a nice meal, get to hang and relax a bit, then Dave Castro usually comes in and briefs a handful of workouts for the upcoming weekend. Ben recalls the athletes were served chicken, rice, and some variation of vegetables, a valiant attempt by the Games staff to provide a healthy meal that all the athletes likely eat on a regular basis. Katrin pulls a food scale out of her purse and starts to weigh and measure her food portions that she has been served. The other athletes jokingly make fun of her. It’s just chicken and vegetables, why do you need to measure that? That’s healthy food. You’ll be ok this one time. Well, it would only be a matter of 5 days later that Katrin is standing on top of the podium being crowned the Fittest Woman on Earth. That’s a champion. Even amongst all these other “champions,” she is the champion of champions. That is commitment. *Spoiler alert for the Epilogue* This may ruin my only point that I’ll make on the blog about the Epilogue, but after Katrin wins the 2016 CrossFit Games, she skips the CrossFit sponsored after party and goes to a quiet dinner with Ben, his family, and her family. “Predictably, Katrin orders fish and veggies, and she sticks with water. Even in victory, the process reigns.” That is a champion's mindset. That is being committed. That is putting character first.
I saw a post on Instagram this week by Julie Foucher, former CrossFit Games athlete, L-1 Seminar Staff, and now a doctor, that pictured a chalkboard sign which said, "Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it." Let’s take this next week to evaluate how committed we are. Committed to training. Committed to our nutrition. Committed to our sleep. Committed to our recovery. Committed to our family. And Committed to our craft, job, or field. Are you currently feeding, or fighting disease? Are you Committed to the level of Excellence, or are you stuck only being Competent?