It changed the way he trained. He stopped working from the outside in - building physical strength in order to become more confident. He started working from the inside out: building courage, forbearance, serenity to boost his physical performance.
- Learning to Breathe Fire, J.C. Herz
If I were to be completely honest, I don’t read much. I honestly go through more GIF sets than I do articles and books, combined. I’d like to blame this on having a day job that requires sprints on concentration, instead of mental stamina for to last long and dreary meetings - alas, that would be a defeatist position to take, and I can’t allow myself.
The truth is this: I don’t read anymore because lack of practice has made it taxing to stay focused (and away from my phone, gasp).
So imagine my surprise when the narrative on Learning to Breathe Fire gripped me like a nervous driver meeting steering wheels for the first time. It wasn’t until 50-odd pages in, however, that I felt compelled to put it down to write my thoughts on it.
Just a few days ago, I had a conversation with my coach that went this way -
'But you don't understand. I need to be able to do this. I have to snatch 115 lb. off the ground - today, and right now.’
Why now, and why was it so important that I made that lift? I couldn’t articulate it. As much as a told him that he didn’t understand, I was equally clueless.
Two years, a back injury, and a wrist hairline fracture into CrossFit now, I found myself walking into the box looking to switch off my brain. I knew what I was physically and realistically capable of, and where the safe-zones were. When the clock beeped to its final countdown, I told myself - embrace the suck; it’s Go time. I switched off. There was no time or energy left to think about how much I dreaded work, no fear of not completing the workout, no anxiety before approaching the bar - I was in a high intensity workout, with zero intensity. I switched off.
When the workout ended, I was on the floor and gasping for air, but there was no post-workout euphoria. Nothing about my life changed from that 15 minute trip to-and-fro hell. I dusted myself off the ground, walked over to my bag and mentally willed myself to work after a quick shower.
For weeks now, I couldn’t understand why I’ve defended CrossFit as an ‘necessity’ on more than one occasion, or why it mattered so much to be able to execute lifts that I’ve previously done. While reading Herz’s account on Amundson’s experience with the muscle ups, I finally understood. I was drawing willpower and courage from being physically capable to do all these things - telling myself that if I can snatch the weight equivalent of a teenage girl, I can mentally survive another day of work. I took my physical strengths as benchmarks and reasons-to-believe that I can stick it out in a job that I had very little faith in.
Every failure in these physical efforts drained me mentally.
I’ve always thought that ‘The greatest adaptation to CrossFit happens between the ears’ meant that with enough repetition, and enough toughing-it-out, you’ll be mentally strong enough to do what you think is impossible.
I just found out: I’ve been wrong all these while.