“I got 88%. What did you get?”
Remember when you got tests back in school and the questions would fly? There never was a “right” answer. If you got a better mark, you might feel momentarily better while other kids would call you a show-off or make flippant comments about how you ALWAYS got good marks (the implication being that you didn’t work for them). If your mark was lower, you were left inwardly cringing with a piece of paper bearing a number that was somehow linked to your self-worth in ways that made no sense. It was a question whose asking assured that someone would feel better and someone else, worse. And no one won.
When you start lifting weights, running races, building a career, forging a long-term relationship or doing any other meaningful pursuit, the ghosts of the schoolyard can come back to haunt you, if you let them. You start looking at your squat numbers or spouse or salary to see if they’re “any good” and comparing them to other peoples’. Just as with the test marks, you can feel better or worse depending on who you compare yourself to.
After all, there’s always someone stronger, smarter or richer out there, just as you are that person to someone else.
By making these simplistic comparisons, we forget or ignore the most important things: Process and Focus.
Results generally reflect process and your ability to apply consistency to a focus. The marks you got in school by and large reflect the hours and years of studying and learning that you did and your ability to choose what to focus on. A long-term marriage isn’t about the flashy wedding day, nor is it about the number on the anniversary card, it’s about the time spent learning about yourself and one other person, negotiating the hurdles of life together, and the increasing desire on the part of both parties to continue. The amount of weight that you can heave up reflects the training, nutrition and consistency that you have put in over months and years. “Results” are just one spot-check in the chain, a photograph of a moment in that process. The process extends out from those moments in time, in both directions. You control how you get to a moment in time and you control where you go from there. Don’t like where you are? Examine your focus and change your process.
You cannot reliably control what anyone else thinks, says or does. Ever.
The only person over whom you can have absolute control is yourself. You can decide what you want to achieve and you alone can go after that. No one else can do it for you. Yes, the people with whom you surround yourself can certainly help, but their help is often largely due to them supporting your process and respecting your focus. In the end, it’s all down to you.
Results also always have a context. When you see someone else’s financial situation, marriage, athletic career or life from the outside, you have a limited vision of what got them to that place. What sacrifices or compromises they may have made for certain achievements or what personal struggles they may have overcome are often hidden. We show the world what we want the world to see and sometimes the messy bits, where the real battles happen, remain hidden quite deeply. Meaning is not found in the numbers, but in surviving those messy bits and stepping out stronger than you were before.
Recently I decided that I wanted to pursue competitive powerlifting and see where that might take me. When you start looking at a competitive situation, comparing your bests to those of others is inevitable. You wonder where you might rank. You try to figure out how you stack up against other potential competitors and what you would need to be to match them.
But here’s the rub: apart from providing a certain amount of motivation, knowing what their potential best is doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change what YOU can achieve, nor does it significantly alter the process by which you need to get there. Knowing what’s out there in terms of competition or examples can help you establish mental preparedness for the field of play, and shape your goals, to a certain extent, but it really doesn’t change your potential.
That was there all along.
The only sure-fire way to get results is to become addicted to the process with a clear eye on your focus. Want to build a great career? Decide what that means to you and invest yourself in what you do every day. Work hard, work consistently and play hard and consistently, too. Want a great marriage? Become fascinated with what makes the other person tick and in love with simply spending time with them. Quality time comes from quantity time. Prioritize them above others. Want to raise a decent child? The everyday, mundane parenting stuff is where it starts. Decide what matters to your family and fight the battles that need fighting. Want to excel at powerlifting? Get used to making all the little details count, from what you’re thinking as you approach the bar to what you have for lunch; make your actions and lifts, big or small, add up to a bigger You with every passing week.
The point at which you stop worrying about the end results (other than as a periodic check to make sure you’re on track) and focus on giving your all to what you have to do is the point at which the results start to flow steadily. It’s also the heck of a lot easier mentally to train and live when you let go of the results and hone in on the act of doing. There is no risk of failure in process, only an ongoing determination to improve.
This is why little things like training logs are so important. They let you track your process, find out what works, what doesn’t, what you have achieved and where you started from. They let you compare your current status to your past, providing context for where you are now. They are the only meaningful comparison you can make: your self against your self. They show you how you got to where you are and give you a tool for forging a path forward.
As an aside, another recent tool that I’ve started using to focus my mind and visualize how the little pieces add up to the larger picture is my PR jar (painted by my daughter, Katherine). Every time I log a training or competition PR of any sort, I write it on a slip of paper, tack it to a bill and chuck it in the jar. Every time there’s a training session without a PR, I do the same with a smaller denomination, because every step forward counts. Every day of eating on track gets a dollar chucked in (starting this week).
The little pieces add up for me visually as well as athletically. My constant pursuit of bettering my own standards results in continued progress and personal achievement, no matter what some other weightlifter in another part of the world is doing. Success fuels success. Progress guarantees improvement.
Then, when it comes time to step out onto the competition platform, it doesn’t matter who else is there or what they can do. What matters is that the person standing in your skin is the best that they could be in that one moment of time. When you know you can’t do better than that, you’ve already won. The rest is just scoreboards.
At the end of March, I’ll whack open the jar, lay out nine months worth of small victories, and see what they’ve totalled in terms of overall progress. The savings will also allow me to make choices about what to do with the results of that training, should competition travel be an option.
And then I’ll start again.