Preach. John O’ Talks Mental Toughness.

Thanks to EAD | CFAH athlete John O’ for taking time to share his thoughts with his fellow athletes; this is John’s fourth blog post. An EAD | CFAH athlete since November 2011, you can usually find John O’ training with the early morning crew weekdays and on Saturday mornings. Have a thought or two you’d like to share with your fellow athletes? Let us know … we’d love to hear from you!

One of the most important elements of CrossFit is rarely addressed by most athletes — mental toughness.  It’s that little something extra you need to push yourself to heavier weights, faster times, or to tackle that certain something that scares the hell out of you.  I love being a member of the EAD | CFAH family primarily because of the people, but also for the support given by fellow athletes and all of the coaches as I grind through the focused exercises and the workouts.  We are all members of EAD | CFAH because we want to get better.  We want to look better, be stronger, be fitter, be able to get off the toilet when we are 70, etc.  A big part of this process of getting better is pushing ourselves and our limits.  By doing so we are also strengthening our mental fortuity.

We have all had that feeling when we look at a workout and think to ourselves, “Holy crap, I can’t do any one of the movements in today’s workout.”  Or, “I don’t think I can do another rep or run any further.”  Those are the exact times we need to act to become better and get mentally tougher.  When you get that feeling that you don’t think you can go any further, do one more rep.  When you push through that initial feeling of defeat and fatigue you will surprise yourself.  There is one mantra in the special operations field that states that people are capable of doing 20X more than they think they can.  I personally don’t know if this is true but it is an interesting concept to think about.  What limits are you putting on yourself?  What are you scared of trying in the gym?  Ask the coaches for help and they will get you started on the right path.

When I first went through the Training Essentials, Coach Rory (Editor’s Note: The flag that hangs in EAD | CFAH was given to us by Coach Rory, a former marine and current member of the Chicago Police Department. The flag flew over Coach Rory’s base in the Middle East.) gave me three simple rules that I have continued to follow for the past five and a half years:

  • Show Up. By showing up when it’s cold, rainy, or you feel tired, you are strengthening your resolve and your will. You are making a commitment to get better and becoming mentally tough.
  • Keep Showing Up. Again, you are committing to yourself that you are not going to be defeated. You are going to continue to work and push and get a little bit better in each EAD | CFAH session.
  • Finish. No matter what the workout or how you have to do it, grind it out and finish. All of the EAD | CFAH coaches support everyone’s goals no matter how small.  Do what you can do, and ask for scalable options.  Focus on the work at hand — no matter how terrible — and finish.  You will immediately see a benefit in your mental state the next time something seems too hard or too scary.

I have talked many times to Coach Jim, Coach Karen and Coach Web about mental toughness.  I am constantly amazed at the athletes in our gym and feel very envious at times because I want to be really good at everything.  However, my reality is that I am bald, fat, and 51.  I sit on my butt for eight hours a day and go home to four crazy kids every night.  But what I can control is my mental approach to coming to the gym.  I work on doing more reps without stopping. WIN.  I go heavy or RX during the workouts. WIN. I finish the workouts in a vertical position. WIN.  All of these little wins in the gym follow me home and to work.  I am able to adapt better to unforeseen circumstances and approach problems with a better mindset and mental toughness.  Instead of thinking “Why did this happen to me?”  Or, “Why do I have to do this?”  it’s now, “How am I going to get this done?”

My challenge to my fellow athletes is to work on our mental approach to each workout and to encourage all of us who are struggling to learn new movements or to finish the workouts.  Each one of us can “Embrace the Suck,” do what scares us, push ourselves, HTFU, and get a little bit better each gym session.  By doing so, I guarantee you will quickly become more mentally tough.




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