Why?

This is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Why do we do any of the things that we do? Ok, that’s a little too philosophical for todays post but you know what I mean.

The biggest mistake I ever made in my 8 years doing CrossFit was losing sight of my real ‘why’ and getting distracted by the superficial reasons to train. No, I don’t mean superficial in the sense of abs or body fat percentage. I mean superficial in the petty competition that can sometimes rear it’s head in an environment like a CrossFit gym.

You know the feeling. It’s something that most of us experience one time or another in our CrossFit evolution. It’s when you start checking the whiteboard at night to see who beat you. It’s when you start becoming increasingly incredulous about those who did and instead of ‘hot damn they did great’, thinking ‘no way, they must’ve cheated.’. It’s when you start looking at the WOD in the morning, spend your whole day gaming it and strategizing, and then getting to class where you’ll only be happy if your name is next to the highest score or the fastest time or the biggest weight. Maybe you even start to shave a few reps here and there, because you can’t let Paul think he beat you (Paul’s not real, I made him up). When you’re not going home feeling satisfied if you got bested because YOU are the star of the show. 

If may sound dramatic and over the top, but this is something that happens in gyms everywhere to some degree. I see it often as a coach as people enter their second year of training. They achieve fast gains, beginner gains, in year one. They start feeling like a rockstar (as they should). But as they start to plateau into more steady progress that comes from more seasoned training, they start to lose sight of why they started in the first place, and get caught up in the daily bullshit of competition that doesn’t matter.

If the person who walked into the gym on your day 1, could see the things that the you today can do….they wold probably tell you to get over the bullshit because you are doing some awesome things. We go from, ‘I just want to get one pull up’, to ‘I should really be able to string like 20 pull ups together by now. Why can SHE do so many?! I suck.’

Competition is good. It drives us to push a little bit harder. It’s, in large part, why CrossFit yields such results for those of us who have chosen it as our method of fitness. It also allows for distraction, and toxicity.

No one started CrossFit for the purposes of ‘winning’ Thursdays workout. No one. It’s not why any of us train.

I recently had a conversation in where I asked someone why they train. ‘To kick ass’, they replied.

The truth is…that doesn’t really mean anything. I was angry wit myself for not pushing further. “What does that mean to you?”, should have been my follow up. 

To kick ass, as in, in life? To be able to carry your belongings without needing help? To be able to hold your own in the world? To simply push yourself physically and mentally beyond what you though? Great. That’s a motivation that will keep you not only committed, but happy while you train because you’re working towards something that matters. Your capability, strength, and in the end, safety, are all improved with better fitness. That’s never-ending. That keep your eyes on the horizon to do more.

Or to kick ass…as in ‘let everyone else in class know they’re not as good as me?’ If your why is based on others, on others perception of you…if your why requires that someone else feel inferior….you need to dig deeper. That’s not truly why you train. You think it is because of the short term satisfaction that comes from seeing your name at the top of the scoreboard, but you know deep down that that score will be erased tomorrow and it won’t mean anything. You need to be honest with yourself. WHY do you need to feel that satisfaction in that way? Why is simply knowing that you did your best not enough? Why does it require that others feel inferior for you to feel powerful? These are important questions to ask in order to uncover your root motivation that will let you train happily, long term.

What is the feeling that you are looking for

The truth is, until we uncover our true motivation, beyond the bullshit, we will not find the joy in this movement and the joy in the suffering that makes CrossFit the empowering force that it is. 

For years, I thought I had to win every single workout and lift the heaviest weight. I had to be ‘better’ than everyone else by beating them on the whiteboard. I had to do this in order to prove myself. To prove my value. To be a leader. The result, though, was quite the opposite. Getting stuck on the score didn’t make me a leader. It made me toxic. It made me angry. It made me paranoid. It made me a cancer. Always eyeing up everyone else reps. Never satisfied with my performance if anyone did ‘better’. 

The danger in all f this doesn’t come from wanting to excel in a workout. It doesn’t even come from wanting to win a workout. It comes when we pivot from wanting to win as a result of pushing ourselves as hard as we can…to wanting to win to feel like we’re better than everyone else. When we start validating our worth through whiteboard scores.

Eventually, I realized that the feeling I was chasing: being valued, leading, looked up to, wasn’t going to come from having the heaviest clean or the fastest Fran time. It would come from scaling when I needed to. From caring about our members successes. From helping them do their best and showing them the I was doing mine. From doing every rep with virtuosity. Pretty work, not just fast work. Putting my head down, and getting the work done. I didn’t need to be loud to be a leader. I just needed to be there. That’s when I found the joy again.

Why do you train?

REALLY why?

If you find yourself caught in the needing-to-win-every-fucking-workout, let me offer you some advice. This mentality is eventually going to ruin CrossFit for you. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but one day it will.  You’re not going to be the best at everything. There are things that you’ll have to work on for years to even be OK at. You need to let go of how you stack up against everybody else and start worrying about how you stack up against the you of yesterday. It doesn’t matter if you were better than the rest of the class. What matters is if you got better today. That’s it. You don’t need to go faster than the people next to you. You need to go as fast as you can go.  So how do we get out of it? How do we break the cycle? We ask ourselves….why?

Why do I want to win this workout?

What will happen if I win this workout?

What will happen if I don’t?

Keep asking yourself these questions until you get to the root. The root isn’t going to be a ‘reason’, it’s going to be a feeling. You’re going to have to be honest with yourself here. Like, really honest.  Once you uncover that feeling that you’re chasing, you can sort taking steps to feel it, instead of chasing it with a WOD time in a race that will literally never end. If you don’t know what you’re actually working for, how do you know what it’s time to stop searching?

One of the things that asking these questions did for me, is point out how ridiculous I was being. My value does not rest in my score on a random Tuesday night. Literally no one was going to think less of me if my name wasn’t on the top of the scoreboard because literally no one gives a shit what your score was. Everyone is too busy worrying about their OWN shit to worry about what the fuck you back squatted today or if you did the workout Rx or not. 

Fitness should be fun. We should walk into the gym every day excited. Not because we’re going to leave giving ourselves a big pat on the back because we got the most reps in 6 minutes out of everyone in the gym, but because we got just a little bit better. Because we accomplished something. Because we probably did something today that we couldn’t do not too long ago. 

Most of us will never make a living because of CrossFit. We’re not professional athletes. We’re just normal ass people who chose functional varied movements done at high intensity as the way we like to work out. We chose a path that requires more soul searching that most when it comes to general physical fitness. We have to confront things about ourselves sometimes that we don’t like in order to get better. Don’t let the bullshit cloud the good.

I’m not saying don’t push yourself, or use your classmates as motivation What I’m saying is harness it. Use it to push further, but don’t let yourself get so wrapped up in the competition that you are only having fun if you’re ‘winning’. You need to be able to have as much fun finishing first or dead last. 

I’m not inspired by the people who win the WODs. I’m inspired by the people who can’t do double under, but decide to try it anyway and spend 10 minutes whipping the shit out of their legs one day…and then a few months later I see them banging out 30 in a clip. I’m inspired by the people who can’t run a mile without walking, but force themselves to jog the last 400m in a 5 round workout…even though the rest of the class is finished. These are the people who make me want to pick up the bar a little faster next time.

It doesn’t matter what’s on the whiteboard today. As soon as you walk out, it’s erased and a new challenge waits for you tomorrow. You will lose the fun, lose the joy, if your drive is based on others. I’ve done it. I’ve seen it.  

Keep asking why. Ask and then ask again. Get to the toor of WHY you train.

Find your why.

Find the joy.