Sometimes I think it would be easier to be a religious person. There’s a certain appeal in the idea of being able to hand off ultimate control to some intangible, omniscient entity, a relief in the idea of not holding your own destiny firmly in your two hands every hour of every day.
But I’m not made that way. While I would consider myself a spiritual person, I don’t believe in the real existence of an all-knowing god of any sort, nor in fate, destiny, divine providence, or any of those other human concepts that remove control from the individual.
I think it’s all down to me, the individual, to sink or swim by my own powers and choices. (Your mileage and understanding may vary, of course, and that’s as it should be.) We are our own driving engines and we are our own brakes.
So when I have several weeks in a row of workouts that get the job done but feel lacklustre, flat, lacking a crispness or drive, and that just aren’t as sharp as I’d like, it’s a real mental challenge. I need to trust that this feeling will not last and that there’s a process and a plan that will ultimately pay off. In essence, I need to have faith and confidence enough to hand off control to The Plan and accept that where I am in this moment is the right place to be and will pay off ultimately. For me, that level of trust is counter-intuitive and not one that comes at all easily, especially on the tail of having had a tough competition last month.
I realized this while pulling deadlifts on Saturday. As I approach the bar for a deadlift, be it a rep set or a heavy single, I know that I need to fully commit to that bar coming off the floor. No matter what weight is on the bar, regardless of whether I actually CAN lift it or not on that day, I have to approach that bar with complete mastery, with the knowledge and confidence that it is coming up, and without even a trace of Doubt. Doubt can kill my deadlifts before my hands even touch the bar and has little to do with the weight thereon. When I attack that heavy deadlift (or squat), I have to be prepared to risk utter failure by committing fully to whatever it is that I am lifting. It’s a mind game, through and through.
Saturday, Doubt was sitting on my shoulder, second-guessing everything and saying insidious things like, “If I weren’t here and hadn’t been for the last couple of weeks, there would be another 10-15lbs on that bar right now,” and “Just how exactly do you think you’re going to get rid of me, hmm?” And because Doubt is every bit as clever as I am, she (yes, she – Doubt is an utter bitch and that’s not a word I throw around lightly) was pretty darned convincing. So convincing, in fact, I’m still not sure she isn’t right.
But here’s the rub: despite the screaming voice of Doubt in my head, despite me second-guessing every lift and every approach, despite feeling flat and slightly off-form, the planned weights still came up and with decent speed. (I videotaped them to use as a weapon agains Doubt.) My body didn’t feel at all hammered after. My back wasn’t at all tight, my legs didn’t ache in the night, and I didn’t feel overwhelmingly exhausted after. The job got done and well within my capabilities.
And while I am not a religious person, I did spend many years studying the history and sociology of religion and was fortunate enough to read scriptures from many faiths, all of which contain some pretty realistic insights into the human psyche. This one quote in particular stuck in my head from the Old Testament:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
So perhaps what I need is to find faith in this process again, to focus on the “evidence of things not seen” that is before me; the bulk of the training has been done and the plan is clearly working if even on a mediocre day after several tough weeks I can pull decent weights without fanfare or hype. And as for the “things hoped for”….. just continuing to do the work, taking care of the additional procedural elements of training (extra sleep, good nutrition, and hydration), having the right people around me, and enjoying the parts of life that relax and restore will take me where I hope to be in three weeks time.