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.
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.
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.
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.