Every single Crossfitter knows the feeling of pain and suffering during a really hard WoD. Those negative thoughts of failure that crawl up your neck and ingrain themselves into your brain.
- “You can’t do this”
- “You will never finish”
- “If you skip one or two reps, no one will notice”
- “Take the easier version, you won’t feel so much pain”
- “Just give up and it’s over. Right here and now and the pain will end”
Every athlete feels like this once in a while, but it seems like Crossfitters are especially prone because their workouts demand so much from them regarding physical and mental strength.
HOW TO COUNTER NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
Luckily there are some pretty easy psychological tricks you can apply to destroy these negative thoughts and stop them harming your confidence and performance.
1. BE INSPIRED BY YOUR FELLOW CROSSFITTERS
You know what one of the best parts of Crossfit is? The community. During a real hard workout it’s time to use this to your advantage.
In Crossfit we earn each others respect by going all out during a WOD and trying as hard as we possibly can. There may be people in your box who are not able to finish a certain WOD during the designated time cap. But more than once you may have seen them finishing a WOD anyway, even after the time has finished.
Or you have that really strong guy or girl at your box who does things you thought were impossible. Both of those are inspirational in their own way because they are pushing it to their very own limits. If you find yourself feeling terrible during a WOD, thinking you can’t go on anymore, take a look around you. See anybody else quitting? No? Then you shouldn’t either.
Be inspired by the other athletes at your box – you can’t read their thoughts, but you will see a mixture of suffering and willpower in their eyes. Use this for yourself and crush that WOD.
2. ADOPT A HERO-VERSION OF YOURSELF
The second option is fun: adopting a secret identity. As Jane McGonigal writes in her book “Super Better”, a secret identity helps you to practice your own strength and willpower whilst also reinventing and exploring yourself.
Therefore, think of a hero you want to be, like Hulk or Xena or Iron Man or any other character from your favourite book, movie, video game or the like and use him or her to create your own secret identity by displaying your own strengths. When you feel like you can’t go on anymore during a WOD, think of your secret identity as a mantra, something like “I am the mighty XY and I will do everything to get stronger and slay the WoD-monster.”
This may sound silly at first, and of course you don’t have to scream this out into the world. But by saying this to yourself, you are programming your brain by positive affirmation. By adopting a secret identity on top of this you will feel like a different person, a hero who can conquer any obstacle. So, have fun, go crazy and invent that super hero version of yourself before your next WOD – and as a bonus you can write something like a symbol or the name of your identity with chalk on the floor to make yourself remember it.
3. ACCEPT FAILURE AS PART OF THE PROCESS
Don’t be scared to fail. First, remind yourself of the reason why you are doing Crossfit. Maybe it’s because you like the people there, want to get fitter or maybe you need it to counter depression and the stress you have in your life.
Whatever your individual reason, all Crossfitters are united by the fact that we want to become better versions of ourselves.
To accomplish this you have to push yourself to your limits and then exceed those limits during a WOD. That also means that you have to FIND your limits as well. These are the points, places and times at which you fail. Failure to hit a certain weight, perform a specific number of reps or finish a WOD within a time cap does not mean that you will never be able to do these things, it just means that you can’t do them right now. You want to get better, hit those targets and improve, then you need to put in the work.
If you succeed at every WOD, you always PR with every lift and you’re always first, then you simply aren’t pushing yourself hard enough (or you are Rich Froning). Failure is part of the process, and it makes it all the more rewarding when you finally hit that lift or WOD time you’ve been chasing for months!
4. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness just means being mindful of your surroundings, observing certain things that you otherwise may not focus on. During a WOD you can use mindfulness in different ways.
– Control your breathing
Breathing techniques can help to calm yourself down if you feel anxious during (or especially before) a WOD. Concentrate on making your breathing regular, and adapt it to each exercise. It is amazing the effect this can have on diminishing negative thoughts during workouts.
Another method is to breathe in and count to four. Then breathe out and count to eight. Try to exhale for twice as long as it takes you to inhale. Doing this for at least a minute increases you heart rate variability and puts you into a much more calm and relaxed mood. Because you have to do this for at least a minute for it to really work, it is a great way to calm yourself before a workout or competition.
– Think about WHY negative thoughts occur and WHERE they come from
Another option is to pay attention to the emotions and negative thoughts you feel, and think about what is causing them. Observing them rationally may help you to use logic to diminish them. Being hangry (angry and grumpy because you feel hungry) is a great and example of this. In this state your mood and thoughts are being influenced because your body needs feeding. The way you think is affected by your body. In a WOD when your legs are on fire because of the Wall Balls for example, try to rationalise this pain. I.e. “Well I only have 10 left to complete…there’s only 30 seconds left on the clock…At least I can rest them when I move onto the Pull Ups” etc.
Understanding why you are feeling something will help you to create a distance between yourself and those negative thoughts that make you want to quit. you are smart so use your head as well when you work out.
5. TRICK YOUR BRAIN BY REFOCUSING YOUR THINKING
You can use this trick to gently distract your brain away from thinking about the pain and the suffering you could end right now by quitting the workout. This trick is especially useful during longer workouts that include tabata or cardio sessions, but it can also be applied during any other exercise.
When you feel exhausted and pain ridden, your brain concentrates on certain aspects in your body which are send to it by your nerves. What you have to do now is to distract your brain from these impulses by totally occupying it with something else. During a Crossfit WOD, the easiest way to do that is by giving yourself a mental task to complete.
Do your times tables, list every capital city in Europe, or play the following game with yourself: (Think of as many words as you can that contain two certain letters, like K and P for example). This way you deliberately distract your thinking away from the source of pain. It sounds trivial, but this technique can help the time pass when things get tough and that clock seems to be moving at half its normal speed!
So, that’s it. Do you like these tricks? Or maybe you have some of your own? Share your thoughts about this article in the comment section below.
 See McGonigal, Jane, Super Better. A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient, London 2015, p. 291.