YOU vs. THEM – who matters most?
by Ben Dziwulski

For 99.9% of the CrossFit community, the “official” competition season is over. That means right now is actually the perfect time to talk about goal setting. Below is an article I wrote several months ago with some recent edits, adjustments, and improvements.

If you take 10 minutes to read it – your training will thank you!

I want to take a step back for this post, away from movement-specific coaching, and look at the big picture.

Yes, I know you signed up for movement tips, workout pointers, and learning how to “take your training to the next level”. However, as a coach I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t challenge you to think deeper about your fitness goals – as this is just another piece of your training.

While it might not always be obvious, the lessons we learn with a barbell in our hands often show up in our daily life – both positive and negative.
Be honest with me. Have you ever said something like this?:

“My body wasn’t built for ____. ”
(Fill in the blank with double unders, pull-ups, muscle ups, pistols, overhead squats, HSPU, etc.)

“At this rate, I’ll never be able to do ____. Maybe this just isn’t my thing.”

“I keep trying, but I just haven’t seen any progress.”

“I tried all year, but my Open score didn’t even improve!”

“This ____ injury just keeps holding me back.”

“I want to RX everything, but it just never seems to happen…”

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Click “display images” if you can’t see this pic ^

If you’ve been training for longer than a few months, chances are you’ve experienced thoughts like this. With so much external pressure to hit new PRs, “look better naked”, and keep up with your workout buddies, it can be hard to keep a positive attitude every single time you step into the gym.

But I’m here to tell you something slightly different than what most coaches will tell you:

You don’t always need to stay positive.

While positive thinking is great, it often comes in small doses. It’s unrealistic to stay positive all the time. It’s unnatural, and it’s fleeting.

In fact, unbridled enthusiasm and forced positivity can have negative effects both inside and outside of the gym. Simply trying to “positively think your way toward success” often ends up in a rock-bottom feeling of failure once you’ve exhausted your positive-thinking-reserves. Relying on untamed emotions is a dangerous game, and can leave you in a bad place.
So what is the answer? Negative thinking?!

No way – negative thinking is even worse. Negativity leads to a poisonous view of yourself and the rest of the world. It leads to an “I am a victim” type of mindset. Have you ever enjoyed spending time with a negative person? Neither have I. Don’t become one!
So what else is there?

Personally, sometimes I struggle with too much positive thinking in my coaching, yet I also used to struggle with some negative self-talk in the middle of really tough workouts. So in an effort to work on this and become a better coach/athlete, I recently I read a book called The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday.

The book has been widely read and praised by champion sports teams and amazing athletes. Here is something I found on it with a quick Wikipedia search:

“After the book’s release, the book slowly made its way through the community of professional sports, after being read number of prominent athletes and head coaches including Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs, UT basketball coach Shaka Smart, tennis pro James McGee, NFL lineman Garrett Gilkey, Olympic gold medalist Chandra Crawford, and others. On the way to their 2014 Super Bowl victory, Michael Lombardi and Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots distributed copies of The Obstacle Is the Way to their staff and players. In the 2015 season, Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider and Pete Carroll passed the book around the team’s locker room.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, LL Cool J, and Sunday Night Football commentator Michele Tafoya have also supposedly read and recommended the book.”
I don’t know about you, but any book good enough for Arnold and LL Cool J is good enough for me. 🙂

Below are a couple thoughts that I personally took away from it, and how I feel it can specifically be applied to our training. Whether you are trying to make it to the Games, start RX-ing, or simply learn your first Double Under, there are some really solid principles that can be learned.

Instead of going into major details, I want you to digest this quote:

“We are A to Z thinkers. Fretting about A, obsessing over Z, yet forgetting all about B through Y… When we get distracted, when we start caring about something other than our own progress and efforts, ‘The Process’ is the helpful, if occasionally bossy, voice in our head. It is the bark of the wise older leader who knows exactly who he is and what he’s got to do. “Shut up. Go back to your stations. Try to think about what we are going to do ourselves instead of worrying about what’s going on out there. You know what your job is. Stop jawing and get to work.” ‘The Process’ is the voice that demands we take responsibility and ownership. It prompts us to act, even if only in a small way. ”

Have you ever been distracted by something outside of your control? I sure have.

I remember clicking “refresh” on the leaderboard every 15 minutes during the 2014 Open just to make sure certain people didn’t beat me. (Ahem … anyone do that this year?)

I remember stalking old friends and wondering if I still had an edge on them. “How much are they squatting now?”

Back when I first started working out at an affiliate, I remember checking the whiteboard each day to see if “so-and-so” beat my score from the previous day.

I was constantly concerned with other people’s progress, scores, and numbers.

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“I’m the only one here who can’t do these…”

All of these things might seem good on the surface. These tendencies might serve as a little motivation, but after a while they turn into something else: distraction.

Distraction = anything that you cannot personally control.

Can you control how someone else trains? Nope.
Can you control if someone next to you is shaving reps? Nope.
Can you control how much weight your rival can snatch? Nope.
Can you control what score so-and-so got on the Open workout? No way.
The real focus must be “What can I control?”

You can control your effort.
You can control your integrity.
You can control your attitude, perception, and reaction to certain situations.
You can put in the work.
You control your actions and reactions. That’s it.

That’s what the author refers to as “The Process”. The Process is a series of small, deliberate actions that connect A to Z.

I’ve realized that “The Process” is probably the most important thing we need to understand as athletes, coaches, etc. It is the force that will keep us on track even when we don’t see progress right away. It will get us to show up and do the work even when it doesn’t seem easy. It helps us understand that incredible achievement can only come through persistence and patience over time.

No matter where you are along your fitness journey, take a moment for self-analysis. Be honest. Are you focusing on things that you can control, or are you letting emotions get the best of you? Are you putting in the work at the gym, or are you scrolling through your newsfeed? Are you willing to follow The Process or are you getting distracted on a weekly basis by shiny objects?

“…are you letting emotions get the best of you?”

While no one is perfect, we can all make this our goal:

Don’t worry about things you cannot control.

Focus on The Process.

As always, I hope this post made you think a little bit. More importantly, I hope it brings value into your life, both inside and outside of the gym. Thanks for reading!

– Ben
WODprep