Between The Ears: Train Your Brain

Good Monday morning everyone! I hope you all had a great weekend and are as excited about the week ahead as I am. I have to say this, because when it comes to those of us that take training seriously it’s like a new week is something to be looked on with great promise and enthusiasm. I’m not sure the rest of the world is quite as enthusiastic about Mondays as we are, but we are admittedly a very different breed of human. Monday means a new week of training, progress, challenges and goals to meet. We are the type that looks a challenge in the eye and says let’s get it on!

Continuing with that theme is the second installment of what I am loosely terming Motivational Mondays, if for no other reason than my whiteboard of planned posts needs a header on it for each day. The gist of Monday posts are to try and get you started each week with lots of enthusiasm and give you something to think about and to apply to your own training and philosophy. The rest of the week is spent on nutrition, training, muscle gain and fat loss, so I think this sets us up nicely to get ready to take it all on. Alright then, are you as ready as I am? Let’s do this thing!

There was a day recently where my fortitude for pain was being tested by my always pushing the envelope partner Ryan. This is just one of the reasons why I love training with him apart from our seemingly very compatible attitudes and general demeanor/dispositions. His foot never comes off the gas pedal, and his demands of my performance are always increasing. So during one particularly arduous and intense circuit that had been going on for several minutes, I stopped whatever it was that I was doing for literally a second and immediately started back in where I had left off with barely even a break in the rhythm. If you know Ryan, you know that kind of thing is not going to go unnoticed.

As I was dragging myself to our next series of tests of the limits of mental and physical endurance, he asked what was my weakness that caused that second long lapse in intensity. I offered a few suggestions and he just shook his head while tapping his temple. ‘Up here’, he said, and that was the end of our conversation as we got back to doing what we enjoy doing best-training.

Now, if you know anything about me, and by now you probably know quite a bit, then you know that the small exchange I just described above was going to set in motion many hours of thinking. Not on whether he was right, because he was. More as to why he was right. I don’t think of my self as having a weak mind, although those around me possibly may disagree, but that wasn’t it. The more I thought about it, the more it came down to intangible elements of my character that were found wanting in that situation. If I had to use the term most often used when referring to this part of a persons make up it would be mental toughness.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been through a good many situations where being mentally tough was the only thing that got me through it, but in that particular moment I let my focus waver, my guard drop and I gave myself permission to rest and reset. It doesn’t matter that it was only a second or at most two, what mattered was that I broke my concentration and my belief in myself wavered. These are some of the pieces of the mental toughness puzzle that all have to be working together to bring the picture into focus and allow for something truly great to take place.

Belief in oneself is a powerful thing, but it’s not quite as easy as just saying it. You have to live it. To have the confidence to know that in the moment that you are living in, that you can survive it and come out alright when the test is finished is not the same thing as believing in yourself.

Confidence is a funny thing you see. It seems to visit us unannounced, and then just pack up and leave without any warning whatsoever. In those moments when your mental strength is being tested you can pretty much count on your confidence to be only half committed to the situation, so I wouldn’t necessarily rely on it when the going gets tough. These are the moments where deep down you have to just know that you are going to be okay. That’s the difference between belief in yourself and confidence. Being confident in your abilities is one thing and that’s a fantastic attribute to have, but belief in yourself goes deeper.

To have belief in oneself is on par with having faith. Faith is essentially just knowing that everything is going to be alright even though there is no proof that this will be the case. This is the intangible element I was missing in that moment, and that really bothered me. Did it mean that my faith in myself isn’t as strong as I thought it was? It wasn’t a case of fatigue or weakness Ryan pointed out later, because I got right back to it. If it was either of the aforementioned possibilities I wouldn’t have been able to continue. It was a momentary lapse of my own belief in myself.

It’s true that one of the best ways to learn something about yourself is to experience something that is new and also very difficult. Something that is going to be physically taxing and be a test of what you are made of. When you make it through those extremely difficult and trying times in your life, you pick yourself up off the ground and dust yourself off, and suddenly you are more than you were before you endured whatever event you did that pushed you to your limits and yet did not break you.

Our training is exactly like this. If you’re doing it right that is. It should always be something that is a test of your inner strength as well as your physical strength, because when you really are pushing hard your ability to draw on your belief in yourself is what gets you through it. It’s not just your muscles.

You hear the expression of digging deep when referring to something that is particularly challenging, and now I get what that really means. I used to think that it meant that you had to draw upon your reserves of energy and strength to get through that challenge, and that’s true. The source of the strength and energy wasn’t what I thought as it used to mean something physical to me, but in reality it’s at those moments that we need to draw on our belief in ourselves.

This belief is like a muscle. It needs to be trained, stimulated, nurtured and given the proper amount of rest and recuperation too. In reality it’s not a never ending well that you can visit whenever anything is even remotely difficult. Your inner faith in yourself is your secret weapon that you pull out only when absolutely necessary. Up until that point your training that you have conditioned yourself to will provide you with all that you need. That’s the point of training. To train ourselves to do something, usually by way of doing it over and over again. In the case of our weight training, getting a lot of repetitions trains our bodies to know what to do.

There are times however, when we go outside of what we are trained to do. Whether it’s lifting a weight that we have never attempted before, or trying a completely new style of training, or perhaps increasing the duration of your sprints to the point of being well past your comfort zone and physical training abilities. There will always be the next goal that we are striving for in the gym. This is part of the human condition. Always wanting to go further than you have ever gone before. Then doing it again.

How else is improvement ever possible? In order to move forward you are going to have to tread on new ground that you have not yet travelled upon. This is the essence of exploration, and you have heard me say many times that everything we do as human beings is essentially just that. An exploration of ourselves and our place in the world. We long to know why we are here and where we fit in the chaos that surrounds us . That’s why those of you reading here could probably define yourselves as somewhat restless. There is something that you are looking for in your own way. This is a positive quality for a person to have.

Complacency, at the other end of the spectrum, leads to dissatisfaction. From there it is a slow spiral down to a place much less fulfilling. That’s why people like us are always looking to accomplish the next thing. We are always looking forward and looking up. This is just born into our nature it seems, but at the same time we need to keep improving to keep our abilities to do so sharp.

That is exactly why we must dig deep when we train. By digging down into the farthest and deepest parts of ourselves we discover abilities that we never knew we had. How many of you ever thought you would have accomplished what you have in your training up to this point? Yet you continue to desire to improve even further than where you are right now. This is proof that the belief you have in yourself is alive and well. If you continue to develop this deep rooted faith in yourself, then there is no limit to what you can achieve.

I hope that this post helps you become more aware of your belief in yourself, and that you work to test yourself in that regard in order to continue on in your goal of self improvement through a variety of experiences. That is of course what is at the core of our weight training beginnings: the desire to be better. That moment of shaken belief in myself that started me down this path of reflection that has led to me writing this was a great lesson, because it is rarely the victories that teach us what we are made of. It’s the defeats that teach us what we need to do next time to turn the loss into a win. Enjoy your Monday everyone and let’s meet back here tomorrow when I’ll be discussing the hamstring muscles, their function and how to best train them for strength and size. Until then my friends,

Happy Lifting!

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