I had a consultation with a new client yesterday. We sat in the sunshine of a coffee shop and chatted, getting to know each other and sharing stories and thoughts in the manner of two people negotiating a new relationship. You can learn a lot about a person’s hope, dreams and fears over a cup of coffee. You can also learn a lot about yourself and your own approach to some of these same fears and dreams when talking to someone new. Each new person that we meet reflects us back at our selves in a different way, through a new filter, or from a different angle, especially when the person across from you is particularly insightful.
“You have a really complicated relationship with gravity every time you lift, don’t you?” she asked. “Or maybe relationship isn’t quite the right word….”
“No, it’s a relationship. Almost a dance, in a sense,” I responded
“Because really, that’s what you’re doing, isn’t it? Overcoming gravity in a very specific way?”
“Yes, gravity.” I said slowly, “but also my mind and my brain’s natural instinct to say, ‘Nope, this is a really dumb idea. We’re not doing this today.’ I think that’s actually harder than moving the weight. If I win the battle in my mind before I touch the bar, the weight moves differently.”
It’s true, lifting things is a relationship between the lifter, the weight, the ground, and even the air around you, and so many little things influence the steps of the dance, but the biggest is that control over your mind.
When you pick up something heavy, there’s a protective instinct in the body tied directly to your central nervous system that suggests rather strongly that what you are about to do might just be dangerous on some level and that really, you’d better stop before you start and probably have a chocolate chip cookie and a glass of wine instead. Over time, with training, you learn to add a second layer to this, by practicing good technique and gradually building strength, you can tell your body, “You’re right, it might not be generally advisable for most people but I am ready for this because I have done the necessary preparation.” And your body learns to listen to this voice. And have the cookie and wine after getting the work done.
When I approach a third deadlift in a meet, it’s never a weight I’ve moved before. It’s a leap of faith in my mental and physical abilities and there’s no room for doubt. The only deadlifts I’ve missed in competition I missed before I stepped onto the platform. Knowing this has become a tremendous tool in shaping my approach to lifting and large decisions in life.
There’s another part that goes with controlling this frission of doubt, of course. In every person, there’s a part that believes that one can attempt to become something more in the first place and that part sometimes hides deeply and well behind a wall of fear. I call it Imposter Syndrome. I think most of us have it in some measure. It’s that feeling of, “I really have no idea what I’m doing here and everyone will find out soon that I’m completely incompetent and crikey I should just quit now before I prove my inability publicly.” I think that those who succeed at any endeavour are the ones who are able to push that aside and say, “Okay, today I am not going to listen to that. Today I am going to BE competent and strong and smart, even if it feels like a sham at first.” So we dress up and put on the costume that matches what we want to be and we step out into the world and act the part, becoming a rôle in the Play of Our Lives, trying on different guises until the right one clicks or we become comfortable enough with externalizing our vision and we believe it’s us. We fake it until we make it, in essence. And as we do, something changes in our confidence levels.
I’ve become convinced that the key to success in any thing is self-belief and no one can outright give you that. Other people can absolutely help you cultivate it, but you have to decide at some point that you ARE going to believe that you can accomplish your Something, even when that other inner voice is sitting there saying, “200kg deadlift? Yeah. Right. You’re fooling yourself.” I hear that voice every day. I choose to listen to the one that says, “Okay, maybe you’re right, Dumb Voice. But just maybe you’re wrong. Both are equally possible, so I’m going to throw my weight on the side of Hope and find out.”
Then you do what has to be done, sometimes believing, sometimes hoping, and sometimes simply pretending it’s possible until you believe it more than you doubt it. One day at a time, one small accomplishment at a time, building and building.
We all feel like imposters. We all doubt ourselves. The people that you see who are the strongest and most successful have learned to trust the hope and their own instincts more than doubt. They know that ability and success is built in small increments that don’t look like much to start with but add up over time. They understand that confidence is a muscle that gets stronger with use. They’re scared, but move forward anyway. They understand and celebrate the small victories and they know that in a 50-50 situation, their own belief WILL be the tipping factor.
And then they step out into the world and get it done.