For close to 4 years I have been very involved with a form of exercise called CrossFit. If taken seriously, this would be considered a sport as there are people who make it their life’s endeavor to train for the CrossFit games, pushing their bodies to the limit to be deemed the fittest man or woman on earth. I am not one of those people. While I am in no way striving to compete for this title, I do take my training seriously and I go to my gym nearly every day before I come to work. I have seen my body change tremendously and there are things I can do that I was never able to do before, which gives me great confidence to keep trying new things and overcoming new challenges. Although I would love to write to you about the power of challenging oneself to go beyond what the mind says is possible, which has certainly happened in many ways during my CrossFit experience, this is not one of those stories. That will have to be for another time.
Instead, this blog post is about the power of the mind to stop us from achieving what is possible. As I stated earlier, I have achieved so many of my fitness goals in the time since I began my CrossFit journey, going above and beyond the limits I once thought I had and getting in better physical shape than I think I have ever been. However, for the past year or so I have been unable to reach a new limit on the amount of weight I use for my Snatch lift. The Snatch is a very complex lift, where one mistake will most likely lead to failure. Essentially, if done correctly, the lifter moves a barbell from the ground to overhead while also doing a squat in a single motion. As any Olympic lifter will attest, this is no easy task.
For many months now, the most amount of weight I have been able to lift has been 155 lbs. By all accounts from those who know what they are talking about, I should absolutely be able to lift at least 160 lbs., if not more, but alas this has eluded me. I have worked tirelessly on perfecting the form and I have strengthened my stabilizer muscles and all of the muscles associated with this movement. For all intents and purposes, I am a much stronger version of myself than I was a year ago. So, if it is not the amount of strength I have that is limiting me, why can I not get past this limitation? As is often the case, I suggest that it is all in my head.
Without getting into too much detail, the mind is the collection of thoughts and beliefs that one holds about themselves and that guides who we think we are. The mind, seen in this way, does not have substance and is not a concrete part of the human anatomy; instead it is created by the experiences we encounter and how we interpret such experiences. For example, the mind of someone who experiences love and has experiences of being capable and worthy, will most likely develop to allow that person to see themselves as capable and worthy and loveable. Whereas, someone who experiences abuse and who is taught that they are worthless or not good enough, will likely have a mind focused on that unworthiness and will struggle to see what they are capable of, living in that constructed reality of “not good enough.”
While I was in no way abused as a child, I did receive many messages that my childhood self interpreted as proof that I was not good enough and that I would never be as good as others. This vision of self stuck with me for many years, and still creeps up on me today, stopping me from living my authentic life and causing many missed opportunities because the fear was so convincing. As I became more aware of this process of conditioning and the creation of the mind through therapy and my journey of becoming a therapist myself, I learned ways of becoming more connected to the ways I prefer to view myself and I began to see that I was so much more capable than that mind was ever letting me believe. Furthermore, the more experiences I had of overcoming obstacles and challenging the limits I once thought I had, the more I grew and saw that so much more is possible. Now, whenever a thought arises that I “can’t” do something, I remember what I have been able to accomplish and I remember that the mind does not really know the extent of my abilities; it only tries to convince me of the limitations I once had.
This takes me back to where I began this post, the dreaded Snatch. When I first started CrossFit, I don’t think I had ever done a Snatch lift in my life. When I saw it being done so perfectly by the athletes, I thought there is no way that I could do that. However, equipped with the awareness of the tricks of the mind, which is designed to keep us stuck in old ways of thinking, I quickly changed my perspective and decided that I would give it a try. While it was certainly challenging to get to this point, I am now fully proficient in the movement and I have added 60 pounds from the first time I performed this movement. My coaches continuously tell me that they believe I can lift much more than is being shown, and I totally agree with them. However, the mind doesn’t like to let go so easily and there is a part of me that continues to get caught in that belief of “can’t,” preventing me from reaching the next milestone. Every time that I step up to that barbell, I want so badly to nail it, to shut that silly voice up and prove to myself that I “can” do it. My only solace, and I believe this is huge, is that I now know that it is all possible and that the conditioned mind is no longer in charge of me. I know, because I have seen it, that it is all possible and that one day I will win this battle; I will overcome this challenge just as I have overcome so many other challenges before.
The mind is merely a collection of experiences we have had, so when we become aware of this fact, we have the opportunity to focus our attention on new experiences, shifting the way that we see the world and opening ourselves to the possibility of a brighter more hopeful future. We have the ability to choose the focus of our attention and I for one choose to focus on what is possible rather than on the limitations that were created for me. As someone somewhere once said, it is not how many times you fall down that matters, it is how many times you get back up. So, for me, I will continue to work at this challenge and I will continue to have hope, because the alternative is not a life I choose.