Part 1 - Mindset and that Inner voice
As per usual during this blog I’ll talk about my personal experiences and thoughts on this subject. I feel like everybody is so different that generalisation and broad statements can be pretty ineffectual and potential harmful in this case. I’ve gone through the full spectrum on this topic personally and I’ll be going pretty deep so if you’re nosey/intrigued then read on. Again, this can be a touchy subject, but I have no qualms or embarrassment about spilling the beans so let’s get into it!
In this first section I’ll try and take you through different mindsets and states of mind I’ve found myself in and hopefully some strategies that I’ve learnt to apply that have helped me.
The first time I can remember making conscious decisions about altering or developing a mindset towards physical activity was playing sport as a kid. I vividly remember standing on the sidelines for Stowmarket Under 8’s football team on a snowy, blizzardy Sunday whilst my pals were getting soundly beaten by a strong and well drilled Stowupland outfit. We had maybe 5 minutes left of the game. I’d shadowed the gaffer for the whole game and was keen to get on and make a difference, determined to improve my goal scoring record of -2 for the season. My Dad had politely suggested I might see out the game and have a run about. The coach instantly declined, “No, he’s too slow, he’ll be no impact.” I was a broken man/eight year old. He was right, I was a chubby little bruiser, I was better at standing still and kicking people and booting the ball forward. Now, I agree children should learn that success comes from merit and you can’t just dish out joining in medals. However, I do think that kids hold onto stuff you don’t expect, and they carry that sh*t for a long time! PLUS I WAS 8!!!
Before sitting down to write this I hadn’t really made the connection between this and my hatred of running! Maybe that was the trigger!
Consequently, I quickly decided that Football wasn’t for me, so I joined the local Rugby team. Game changer, fully inclusive and super friendly. Plus, you got hotdog and chips after training and games!!!
After finding out I wasn’t too bad at this Rugby lark I progressed through club, county and regional levels and later for my military college and Army age group teams. I was never a physical specimen, but my mental game was insane. I was the most aggressive, the most violent and the most determined player on the pitch. I was always the captain and absolutely loved it. The glory days. The competitiveness and the confidence I gained from being quite good at something gave me a huge advantage on my next brush with being mentally challenged.
I joined the Army at 15 passing the Army Officer Selection Board and attended Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College. My first year was a massive culture shock and looking back seems pretty mentally taxing. However, I never struggled with being away from and soaked up the macho and hardnosed approach fostered by the Army. This approach is pretty obvious from the outside, it looks barbaric and is without doubt polluted with a bullying culture. This may not be the case anymore but it definitely took place when I was in. It would seem pretty obscene to an outsider but seemed fairly tame from within. It was obviously dealt with if brought up or reported, but unfortunately snitches for sure get stiches. Now this doesn’t only apply to the Armed Forces and happens in all workplaces but it trickled into how soldiers are motivated.
This brings me onto different types of motivation and man management. The Army is fairly unique as an organisation, it requires its “employees”, on a fundamental level, despite your job or rank to “close with and kill the enemy”. That’s some heavy sh*t, pausing for thought or questioning the logic behind decisions is dangerous and gets people killed. Having this mindset means you can achieve some tough things but it gives you a massive amount of confidence. This aspect never phased me and good or bad I loved it and the environment and culture I was in; I definitely still miss it and wish I still had aspects of that mindset. My ability to push myself into the darkest of holes during demanding exercise has all but disappeared recently and that’s something that’s hard to get back.
I never struggled with anything during my time with the Army except one part. The 1.5 mile run!!!! I could carry a heavy Bergen in full kit for miles and miles and be sound. Never the fittest but never the poor bloke at the back being made to get in the meat wagon and go back to camp ashamed of his/her “weakness”. I actively enjoyed being in the pain cave and emerging from its dark, dank chasms of pain and misery without a care in the world.
The 1.5 mile run was the staple of Army fitness at the time, my whole world was gearing me up to lead men in combat right. Running a mile and a half in my shorts shouldn’t be hard. It was a nightmare however, I never managed to beat that demon. I once absolutely smashed it after a week on the piss in Miami….but generally I would pass it, fail it, scrape through but never really succeed at it. Scraping through “was not befitting of an Officer, was it Mr Hook?” Now I agree on some level, if you want to achieve something you should push yourself and be able to ask of your body something it is completely capable of, however, the mind is pretty powerful.
How many times have you been in the middle of a WOD and thought?
“I can’t finish this”
“I actually could die running up this ***** street”
“You’re sooo sh*t at T2B”
“Maybe I should just call it a day and be fat and sassy for life”
Ok maybe they’re just my thoughts but you get the gist. This inner voice can be a great tool or a complete wrecking ball. However cheesy the inner encouragements you give yourself and however much you laugh at them they really help. I’m sure even the time it takes to think “Just do 5 more reps”, you’ve done 2 more and you’ve not thought about your lunges exploding. On the contrary, thinking “REST, your legs are far too weak” is only focusing your mind on the pain and reinforcing that self-doubt.
I think the skill of motivation and coaching someone should be adapted between different people and environments. Doing some Snatch technique work on a Thursday evening doesn’t require much screaming, shouting and inventive name calling. The last 10 seconds of sprints on the Assault bike in a competition may require a little more abrasive intervention. Although, it seems the fitness industry gets this wrong sometimes and scares people away from gyms and exercise. There’s lot more room for empathy, compassion and calm but firm encouragement in the fitness industry I believe. Maybe that’s the lefty, softy snowflake in me.
Below are examples of three different people doing the exact same workout next to each other. The workout will demand exactly the same amount of effort from each person. They may find certain aspects easier as their technique may be better. This would mean they’d be more efficient and require less effort. However, if they scale it properly it’ll be the same and they’ll be working with incredible technique.... (See past blog, scale stuff if your tekkers isn’t there yet you nutters!).
Person 1:They have asked to be shouted at and will be actively upset if they’ve not been told they’re weak and need to get a grip of themselves at least once a day. They know it’s not a personal attack, it’s an understanding of what makes them find another gear.
Person 2:This person may be really self conscious about even being there and doing exercise around others. They may need some motivation to keep going. They aren’t down for the patronising, cheesy BS they’ve heard a thousand times. It’s more of a reassuring nudge to just keep moving and fight the good fight. They don’t want a huge amount of attention, but trust is mega important. Yelling in their face won’t achieve that.
Person 3:This person would rather you just left them the hell alone. Within the timeframe of a workout they can generate dangerous amounts of hatred towards anyone that isn’t suffering on their level or they deem to be responsible in any way for this apocalypse unfolding before them. You both know they’re working hard and battling but they don’t need the added stress and pressure of an audience, however well meaning.
I think most people are a mixed of all three and it can change on a daily basis. I think all the coaches at Boar City are pretty solid at reading the class and seeing what people may need on that specific day, back to the need for empathy.
I’m conscious this is turning into a novel and you’ve all got lives to get on with, so I’ve split this blog into two parts. The next part will look at progression, PB’s, competition, self-esteem and Ego.
For now though a little bit of homework (don’t worry I’m cringing as well). Next time you’re doing a workout try some self talk. Just as a negative thought comes to mind just tell yourself a positive. If you see wallballs and 400m runs on the board, brush it off and throw yourself into the workout. Essentially lying to yourself and repeating “I’m smashing these wallballs, I’m not very gassed at all” works!!!