Day Two of HyperFit USA Camp: Ambivalence is the Enemy
Today, I went back for more punishment…I mean learning at Crossfit Palo Alto with Doug Chapman and Chris Hinshaw.
I learned SO MUCH and can’t wait to apply it all, and had a super time hanging out with some smart, fun, and extremely skilled people. I’ve been still trying to assimilate what I’ve learned, and will try to share my most current thoughts in here, but there might be even more as I continue working it through.
As many of you know, I’ve been frustrated by my limitations as an athlete. I have always wanted more, and been sad as others pass me by.
I cannot impact the natural tools that I have, but I can make a choice of whether I’m willing to put in the work required to truly achieve 100% of my capacity.
I went to that dark place this weekend-tried to bring myself to the maximal effort, where my mind is screaming at me that I don’t want this, that I can’t do this, but I do it anyway.
I also did better than I would have thought I could, giving that extra effort, and it was really fun afterwards to soak up the pride of a job well done. So it’s up to me then-do I want to focus on enjoying myself and giving 80-85% to my efforts, and allow people to pass me (whether they are more athletic or work harder)? Or do I revisit my approach and find a way to dig deeper and go harder for the joys of improved progress? Either choice can be enjoyable and gratifying, and even fun, IF I CHOOSE IT FULLY. I’ve done plenty of hard things in my life, and because I was clear on their importance to me, I was clear, willing and non-ambivalent.
Doug talked about how feelings aren’t real, and that’s not exactly how I see it, but it’s close. Feelings are temporary, and feelings lie. They don’t match up with facts and goals all the time, and we need to know when to let our feelings be in charge, and when to let the feelings know that they are in conflict with what we are trying to do here.
For instance–sometimes you might want to yell at your boss, but you don’t, because you like keeping your job. Or you might study really hard for a test, even when you’re tired and don’t really care for the subject, because getting good grades is meaningful to you.
Similarly, elite athletes have made that single-minded commitment. They do not think about whether they want to do the work that is required–they understand that their goals are more important than any temporary discomfort they experience. So they can let the feelings pass through them, and ignore them. There’s nothing complicated about it, and they can relax through the pain (aka, embrace the suck) because there is no question in their mind. I rarely think about whether I feel like brushing my teeth or putting on my clothes before leaving the house-it’s just what I do. I think that’s what non-ambivalence (aka singular purpose) feels like.
The struggle for me is that I am still ambivalent, and that ambivalence is my enemy. That means that each time a negative or questioning thought passes through my mind (”I hate this” “This is too hard” “Maybe I should just quit now–can I sneak out the back door without Doug seeing me?”) I have to consider whether to listen to it or to let it rule me. And each time, that costs me mental energy, and saps me of the fun. It also means that I may switch back and forth between two different mindsets, which can be confusing and also rob each of their full effectiveness.
There’s nothing wrong with being a recreational athlete who enjoys being fit and hanging out in a super cool community, and who doesn’t mind letting other folks pass her on the leaderboard. There’s also nothing wrong with being an athlete who gives their all and makes that commitment to be their very best (and the gains can be lots of fun!). But there is something painful, inefficient, and costly about craving the big gains, but also wanting to stay away from the pain cave. I talked to people who like to just work out for the fun of it, as well as the 2014 Fittest Woman on Earth (Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, who enjoys my candied bacon) and the current American record holder in the snatch in her weight class (Charis Chan, who always looks calm, even when lifting more weight than you can imagine). Either choice is fine, but you can’t have both, and cycling between the two has been hard on my psyche.
I still don’t have a solution-currently, I still want to both stay far, far away from the 100% commitment and the pain it brings, but also to enjoy those physical, psychological, and leaderboarding gains that come along with going all in. My current guess is that for regular classes, I will probably go at my usual 85%, but that I will continue to work skills and engine with intensity, and I will occasionally practice going all in whether at competitions or in the open. I will try to be clear with myself and CHOOSE what I do at any given time.
But it’s incredibly useful to have this idea highlighted in my mind–to work through my priorities until I hit a point of significantly decreased ambivalence. It’s my job now to choose something and commit to it, so when (if) I’m disappointed by an outcome, and I can remind myself, and mean it, that “I choose this.”
I’d like to thank Tim for bringing this workshop to us, and thank Doug for bringing these novel ideas to the front of my brain. Though I don’t know the answer, I do know the question to ask, and that puts me way ahead of where I was before the beginning of the weekend.
Ambivalence is my enemy, and choosing is my friend. With either choice comes freedom of mind, clarity of focus, and mental ease. Thanks for that learning, Doug. I’ll be thinking on this one for a while.
I just completed day one of the Hyperfit USA workshop at CFPA. People: it was SO HARD. I feel like I need a nap, a sedative, a big hug and maybe even some sort of furry animal to help bring me back from the near-dead.
It surprised me. I would have told you that I push myself hard, that I’m a grinder with strong effort, who gets the absolute max out of my limited abilities.
It’s time to get real. I learned what max effort looks like during today’s training and drills, and it’s different than what I previously considered max effort to be. Today absolutely took me to a dark place, which I had no desire to visit (darn you Doug!)
We did a workout called Prison Rules today–it’s a pretty complicated workout, but it demands total commitment and it’s an unbelievable mental grind. I hung in there, even when I had to strip my barbell of weight and go with an empty bar, but I didn’t want to. I really really really hated it. But in spite of all the negative self-talk, I was able to get it done, and had to think–would I be willing to do lots more of things like this, if it meant I could be fitter? I’m not sure. I have realized that I am very capable of doing more than I currently do. I have to be willing to commit to a significantly increased level of discomfort in order to achieve it though.
I’m sort of sorry to learn all this. I think I prefer the narrative that it’s not up to me, and life isn’t fair, and why do other people get to be stronger and better than I do. But what if the truth is this: it’s up to me how much I choose to put into this effort. If I put in sub maximal effort, I’ll get sub maximal results. It’s pretty simply, really.
Doug’s message was to replace the negative self talk with positive self talk. Examples included: “This is tough, but I’m tougher,” and “I got this.” For me, my mantra has always been “I choose this.” It takes away all those unhelpful and inaccurate thoughts about “why is Tim doing this to me?” or “it’s not fair,” and reminds me that I have chosen this path, this workout, this effort. It serves me and my goals, and no one is making me do anything.
So I’ve been thinking tonight (when I’m not thinking about my aching quads)-what do I choose? Do I choose to continue working pretty hard, and accept the results that I get? Or do I choose to push myself to a higher level of effort and mental toughness, and am I willing to take the pain it might bring with it if it brings me closer to my fitness goals?
I don’t have an answer yet, but I’m grateful to Doug Chapman of HyperFit USA and Tim Dymmel of CFPA (who brought this camp to us) for raising the questions. It’s important to be honest about what the truth is, and to make decisions that reflect our priorities, and as I work through these questions, my mental game will grow in strength and consistency. I will choose how much I am willing to sacrifice comfort in order to increase my fitness gains, rather than be victim of receiving only the gains that come with the effort I’ve been giving.
I’d be very curious to hear how you make your choices on this topic–how much are you willing to grind and sacrifice towards your fitness goals, or is it okay with you to give a little bit less and give up a little in the way of results?