The Dreaded C-Word

By January 29, 2014 wod No Comments

As often happens in a lot of CrossFit gyms, a lot of four-letter word get tossed around. Tensions get high, people get tired and they blurt out things that just shouldn’t be heard by polite company. Recently, I’ve noticed one particular four-letter word rearing its ugly head around here and it’s time to nip it in the bud. It’s one of the most vile four-letter words and it starts with a “c” and ends with an “nt.” You know the word I’m talking about here, ladies.


Yes, my former on-rampers have all heard me give this speech at some point (keep looking for Waldo, Alice!), but some of you haven’t heard it yet and some of you need a refresher.

One thing we always harp on at CrossFit gyms is to leave your ego at the door. It might be a little more accurate to tell you to leave your preconceptions at the door. The thing to always remember when you walk through the purple door is that you have no real idea what you can and can’t do. That’s why you’re here. You want to learn how to push through barriers and do things you haven’t done before. While in your book, that might have just meant “finally being in shape for once,” you can’t do one thing you’ve never done before and ignore the other things.

If you asked any coach out there to rate how annoying someone saying that they can’t do something is on a scale from 1 to 10, we would all rate it “angry tire slams.” In many cases, especially at the start, your coach has a better idea than you of what you can and can’t do. We’ve seen people similar to you before, in experience, body composition and physical shape, and we have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to be capable of.

This isn’t something to work around with clever wordplay either. We’re not trying to get around being given an audible monkey by saying you’ll “be back soon.” (I really hope this post turns viral just so people everywhere will wonder what in the HELL an audible monkey is.) We’re talking about basic brain programming here.

For those who have made it through any of my goal, nutrition or cancer lectures, you’ve probably already heard this, but I’m telling you again. I learned early on the power my brain has over my body. If I felt like slacking at work and decided to call in sick, I’d need to sound sick. So I’d psych myself up to sound appropriately sick and inevitably would actually be sick by the end of the day.

Once I started chemotherapy, I carried that experience along with me. Each new regimen you get put on, they’ll hand you this big list of side effects. You can’t just ignore them, because there were three kinds: “Expected,” “Call the Doctor,” and “Race to the ER.” It was important to keep track of these, but I know how my brain works. Show me a list of symptoms and I’ll wind up with all of them. Instead, when they handed me the sheet, I’d pass it to Barb who kept a notebook full of all the side effects. When I’d feel weird, I’d explain it to Barb, then she would grab the notebook and see what we needed to do about it.

That’s probably the fewest words I’ve ever used to explain those examples.

The point is, your brain has a powerful effect on your body, so you have to be careful what kinds of ideas you’re letting your brain feed you. If you think you’ll never be able to lift something, guess what – you’ll never be able to lift it. You can “never get deep enough in a squat?” That phrase means you never will. Breaking your mind of its bad habits is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face, both in CrossFit and in life. How many times have you been having a completely lousy day that finally turned around when you were distracted into not thinking about just how lousy it was?

As usual, you don’t have to turn into a complete rainbows-and-clouds-shooting-from-your-ass Polyanna. Positivity is great, but let’s scale that to make it a little easier. Let’s aim for neutrality first. Think of it like a squat. You’ve been doing the same thing the same wrong way for most of your life and fixing it doesn’t happen overnight. You’re not going to go from a knock-kneed above-parallel air squat straight to a 600 pound back squat. It takes time and work to get there. You have to retrain yourself to push those knees out and get comfortable squatting deeper. Your brain is the same way.

The first step is to recognize when you’re saying these negative things. Once you become attuned to them, you’ll be surprised how often these negative thoughts cross your mind and, even worse, pass through your lips. Tear apart your thoughts and work on spotting the bad ones. Even when you think you’re paying 100% of your attention on them, someone (me) will still probably point out times that you’re still going through the same brain patterns. So the first step is to just pay more attention and pick out the times when your thinking is less-than-optimal.

Second step is to modify the thought while it’s still in your brain. Again, aim for neutrality. “I can’t lift that weight over my head” becomes “I’ve never tried this much weight before – let’s see how it goes.” “I’ve never been able to touch my toes” becomes “I’ve had trouble touching my toes in the past, but I’ll try again and see what happens.”

The third step is to actively eliminate the negative thinking altogether. You’ll get to where you can feel one of them brewing – nip it in the bud!

Also, learn to distinguish between your can’ts. “I can’t do an air squat because I have a cast from my ankle to my hip” is a very valid can’t. 98% of all other can’ts are not.

Again, this will take time and conscious effort. Be patient and consistent. Take the effort in small pieces – work on your thinking in the gym first. It’s an easy confined space to practice your mental gymnastics in. Once you’ve got it down in here, you can transition it to your outside-the-gym life.

Do you think you can work on reversing these habits? Chances are, I just gave you an opportunity to work right there.

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