Posts tagged psychology
Try Harder & Change Your Story

What story do you tell yourself about yourself? That’s kind of an odd question but it has important implications. People are often not so nice to themselves when left to their own devices; meaning, most people say things to themselves that they would never dream of saying to another person. If you’re an overanalyzer, overthinker, perfectionist, etc. you’re probably extra hard on yourself. Nothing is ever good enough and when things aren’t going so great, it’s easy to pick everything apart and analyze it to death. And sometimes that analysis comes with a lot of negative crap. You know, just hypothetically speaking...not like I have any experience with being an overly analytically headcase (the sarcasm is so heavy here it almost hurts). I struggle with imposter syndrome - big time. I never think I am strong enough, good enough, etc. Regardless of whether I am or not, if I tell myself that I am not strong enough, good enough, or whatever, I’m probably going to fail. I lose confidence before I even give myself a chance at success. It sort of becomes a self fulling prophecy - I expect to fail, I fail, I internalize the failure, get negative, and rinse and repeat. Repeat this cycle enough times and eventually, you find yourself in a position where there is nothing but negative dialogue in your head, you’re blaming yourself, you’re blaming things that you believe to be outside your control, you believe that you’re too special of a snowflake for things to ever work for you...you get the idea. So how does this get fixed? What is the onequicktrick! to finding that seemingly elusive success? Well, first, there isn’t one quick trick. And second, you may just need to try harder.

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My love for a good hashtag is well known and recently, I’ve been using the hashtag #teamtryharder on pretty much every training video. While this started largely as a joke between my coach and I, it is actually indicative of what I’ve been working on doing in my training for the past few months. The hashtag and idea of “team try harder” started because my coach would constantly tell me that I needed to try harder - I’m an overthinker, over analyzer, and I often times don’t make lifts because I just don’t let my brain get to where it needs to go or it won’t shut up. I get really scared and terrified of PR attempts and psych myself out. So, my coach kept telling me to just try harder. So I did. And I did better. And I’ve made more progress in this past training cycle than I have in a long time - part of that is practice with less trained movements (essentially newbie gains again) and part of that is the fact that I’m eating a lot, my recovery efforts are good, etc. etc. BUT at a time when really, my training should be crap (I will take all of the stress and life complications, all at once, please), it’s going well. Really well. Surprisingly well. And I attribute a lot of to the fact that I’m just trying harder.

Trying harder is sort of a nebulous phrase that is open to interpretation but here is what it means to me: it means changing the story I tell myself. It does not mean going all #yolo or “no pain, no gain” and grinding myself into the ground. It means working harder on changing how I approach the things that are giving me struggle.

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The narratives we tell ourselves have powerful implications and consequences. For example, there is ample research documenting how our expectations influence our experiences of things like pain (if you expect things to hurt and tell yourself it’s going to hurt, it will likely hurt more than if you didn’t) and several other experiences. One particularly pertinent avenue of research has to do with the placebo effect of steroids. Basically, individuals who were told that they were receiving steroids as part of a study made nearly 4x the strength gains in nearly half the time as the group that was told they weren’t receiving steroids. The kicker is they didn’t receive anything. It was the placebo effect (Ariel, 1974). THAT is how powerful our own narratives are. There is also  research to suggest that there is some truth to the notion of faking it until you make it and that projecting confidence or even performing confident postures or motions (Cuddy, 2015) can result in actually feeling and behaving more confidently in high stakes situations like job interviews (Video overview). In sport psychology, this is often done by encouraging athletes to visualize success or mentally rehearsing whatever tasks are in front of them (see this article for a good overview).

Now, how does steroid research, confidence posturing, and visualization apply to trying harder? Simply put, the stories we tell ourselves matter in a very big way.  Changing your story can be a big part of achieving success. Now, it's not going to add 200# to your squat overnight, but you may just end up surprising yourself. So how does one change their story? Well, it is easier said than done but here are some strategies that have been personally helpful for me:

Identify the story: You can’t change something or solve a problem if you don’t identify the issue. Pay attention to what you tell yourself when you: feel great and are successful and when you fail and feel bad.

Get outside perspective: We are often harder on ourselves and view ourselves in a much more negative light when compared to others, so get some outside perspective. Understand others' expectations of you, ask them to describe you, and have them keep you in check. Often times, our perception is reality - change your perception of yourself and you may open up new possibilities and view yourself in a new way.

 

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Stop externalizing failure and success: It’s easy to blame others, situations, etc. for failure and success but at the end of the day, a significant amount of what you do and how you succeed or fail is in your control. Be responsible for everything in your control. Taking this type of responsibility is terrifying but incredibly rewarding. While most would think of this realization of “I am the problem!” as a rather depressing and uncomfortable thing, I think that this is a huge relief. Because you know what you have control of? Yourself. So your problem is something firmly within your control. To me, that is a much better position to be in, rather than having issues out of your control be the big problem. Analyze success and failure and learn from both.

Change the story: Practice changing the dialogue that goes on when you fail. Be conscious of what you tell yourself. It’s helpful to have someone else assist you in this and remind you that sometimes, you just need to try harder.

 

Easy? Not a chance. Rewarding? Absolutely.

 

Why Being Motivated Doesn't Cut It

Motivation is loosely defined as why people engage in certain behaviors. Anyone who has ever wanted to accomplish anything (and that’s pretty much everyone) is familiar with motivation - it’s what causes us to take action. It’s why we start swapping our fast food for real food and it’s why we do our squats each week. We are motivated to accomplish our goal - whether that be an elite powerlifting total, a new PR, or just simply to look and feel better. It’s that desire that lights the fire that gets us to take action.

BUT, just being motivated isn’t enough.  Often times what gets us to take action isn’t the same as what gets us to sustain that action. A spark of motivation is important, but it’s just that - a spark. It should be accompanied by other important changes that keep the fire light and stoke that fire when it gets tough. (That sounds like a Pinterest quote, sorry).

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How many times have you embarked on something, maybe a new nutrition plan or a new workout regimen, only to find yourself totally burnt out 2 weeks later? You started out incredibly motivated - you’re bounding out of bed on Monday morning eager to start something new. By Wednesday, you’re a little less enthused but still going strong. By Saturday, you’re not really so stoked about it. By the following Friday, you’ve scraped the whole thing and said you’ll start something else on Monday. I know I’ve done it countless times. Motivation is great at getting you started but it’s not so great at keeping you going.

 

That’s where persistence and intensity come into play.

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Persistence is the ability to continue to do what needs to be done to reach a goal, despite obstacles that may exist. It’s getting up in the morning to train even though you may not feel like it. It’s sticking with the plan because you know it works. It’s the grind that you engage in to make forward progress. But persistence is hard. It takes a lot of mental energy to sustain. This where is habits become important. Habits allows us to engage in behaviors without expending a tremendous amount of mental resources and energy - we essentially can “autopilot” some elements and save our mental resources for other items. For example, if you have to get up at 5am to get to the gym, the first week is going to be rough. It’s early and cold and dark and your bed is pretty damn comfortable.  As you make it through the first week, each week becomes subsequently easier because  now, it’s just routine. You don’t have to really think about the fact that you have get up early because it’s now a habit. Forward motion is difficult to initiate but significantly easier to sustain. By creating new habits in a sustainable fashion, you’re able to keep that forward momentum without it consuming your thoughts and actions 24/7. Let me clarify though, that persistence is NOT getting injured and then going all out once you feel the slightest bit better only to find yourself injured again. That’s not persistence, that’s ego feeding. Persistence would be resting, doing what you need to do to heal said injury, and continuing to do that despite obstacles (i.e. your ego) that exist.

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Creating habits that help you be consistent in your persistence (that’s fun to say!) allows you to use your mental resources elsewhere - like in regulating your intensity. Intensity refers to how vigorously you pursue those goals. It’s how hard you work to achieve whatever you want to achieve. It’s naive to think that we can work at 100% all the time - life doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, you can only give 50% on the intensity scale and that’s okay. If your life is full of stress, adding more stress to that equation (i.e. trying to go HARD in the gym) isn’t necessarily the answer. Instead, you’re persistent - you do what you need to do. Doing the bare minimum isn’t going to win you any awards but it’s also not going to destroy you if you have to coast along for a week. Again, creating habits and creating a habit of persistence frees up your energy reserves for bringing in the intensity.

Ramblings on Confidence + New Goals

Confidence. It’s kind of a loaded word and a loaded concept - you want to appear confident, but not cocky, humble, but not lacking any confidence about yourself. As someone who is fairly confident in herself in most settings (I’m educated, pretty smart, don’t mind public speaking, etc.), I have found that this DOES NOT translate other to my life as a competitive athlete. My last competition, I let this ruin me. There were a lot of other factors at play as to why I performed far below my capacity but complete lack of confidence was a big one. So why do I rarely feel confident when I should? Well, that’s a bit of a long explanation. http://distilleryimage4.ak.instagram.com/cfe9f738c7e611e3a93624be05cf9d50_8.jpg

Since I don't feel like writing a novel (and you don't want to read a novel!) the short version is: I’m not confident because I’m not great at it. I’m used to being quite good at most things I intend to be competitive at (which is usually why I try to be competitive in those areas). I’m not a great athlete, hell, I’m not even really a good athlete - I’m not the strongest or fastest person in my training group and I’m certainly not the fastest or strongest gal out of the girls I’ve competed against. That’s something I don’t necessarily mind since I like having people to chase - I am a highly competitive person, after all. BUT I won’t lie and say it’s not frustrating to work really hard for, at this moment, not massive gains (and I don’t expect massive gains at this point) while it seems like everyone else is PR’ing the heck out of everything. I usually just keep my head down and try to avoid the whole comparison trap but, like everyone else, I do it from time to time. I’m not one for a lot of positive reinforcement either - I don’t require a lot of “good jobs”, etc. so I don’t seek them out. I’m highly analytical and like to be told what I did right, what I did wrong, how I can fix it, etc. But apparently, some part of me maybe DOES need some positive reinforcement every once and awhile. I also hold myself to very high standards because old perfectionist habits die hard. But I’m working on it. Especially when it comes to competition day.

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I’ve also been working on trying to be confident in training. I try to walk up to the bar and KNOW I’m going to make the lift. If I don’t make it, I try to make sure that I don’t let it get to me. I take the feedback, note what I did wrong, what I need to work on, and then move on and go to the next thing. I’ve also been trying to remember that I have accomplished quite a few of my goals already. I’ve only been seriously lifting for a little over 1 year (and was doing Crossfit for only 6 months before that) - I’ve back squatted 200# for 5, I deadlift 270# from the floor, 325# from the blocks, I can yoke over 400#, I’ve loaded an above bodyweight atlas stone several times. For all intensive purposes, I’m doing alright.

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I also decided to make some new goals because I’m need of some extra motivation to get my head right. So here they are:

1. Win! Or place in a competition. 2. 2x bodyweight deadlift from the floor (330# - 60# away from this). 3. 400# 18inch deadlift. (current: 325#) 4. 1.5x bodyweight back squat for reps (225# for reps - current: 200# x 5) 5. 1.5x bodyweight atlas stone (225# stone - almost loaded the 200# this week but not yet) 6. 3x bodyweight yoke (485# - current is 415#) 7. GET BETTER AT PRESSING. All of it.

To accomplish these, I obviously need to get more confident - both in a competitive setting and in just a regular training setting. Best way to do that? Practice. And lots of it.