Competence for Confidence

October 26, 2019

I have been struggling during this first weightlifting training cycle since I joined East Coast Gold. I began this cycle after I competed at Masters Nationals in March this year. I thought I knew what training was like, the peaks the valleys, ups and downs, and understood that it was about trusting the process that would show results of progress. I had been a [Level 2] CrossFit coach for several years and I knew what it was like to train for certain races and challenges. So, weightlifting couldn’t be that different, right?

“Embrace the process, don’t focus on results anytime soon”. That is what my coaches said and what I told myself despite knowing that I am a progress junkie. Despite this, I didn’t expect to get PR’s anytime soon, but I thought I knew what I signed up for – training is a grind – and I wanted to do it with a great team, some of the best coaches in the sport, and be a competitor.

What I learned through this long training cycle, is that training in weightlifting (maybe any sport) is no different than what I see or experience at work, or maybe life in general. There are peaks and valleys, ups and downs, and also plateaus.

Yet, what I did not really consider nor fully understand was how these ups and downs (mainly the latter) in training were going to affect me on a deeper level as well as an emotional and mental level. My valleys lasted far too long and I became increasingly frustrated. I didn’t understand why my body was doing what it was doing.

My squats were getting stronger. Yet, I didn’t see that strength transfer into my lifts (i.e. snatches and clean & jerks). In fact, I was barely hitting 80% and 90+ were in my programming! I wasn’t even close. Naturally, I felt I was getting “weaker” in my lifts or my technique was simply getting worse, both of which, were NOT moving the progress needle in a positive direction.

Weeks turned into months. I was convinced my body was completely different than all the other athletes on the team. That my body was just revolting against all this training. It was so frustrating; there were days that I could not even look at my coach because I just wanted to cry or punch the wall and sometimes both. He tried to explain to me this was “natural”, and part of training. He even sent me an article that explained training periodization which actually helped me tremendously.

However, what the article, nor any others in athletic/human performance that I read, did NOT address is how connected we are to our feelings during the various phases of training. And from what I know about human behavior, we act on feelings – we are emotional beings, and if we feel uncomfortable or hurt, we change or do something that makes us feel comfortable again or stop the hurt.

While training, I learn to be more aware of how my body feels when I make a good lift, and when I make a bad one. When my coach tells me I jumped back or moved a certain way that caused me to miss the lift or why I caught it badly, I try to remember how my body felt in those positions that resulted in landing that way or causing me to miss. I make the correction the coach says to (or try to at least), and hopefully feel the correct way to do it. Some people video their lifts which is another great way to see yourself move and then make corrections. Both techniques are useful and some are more visual learners. Me, I am a more feeling learner (and I simply don’t want to take the time to video lifts, unless I’m lifting alone).

As a feeling learner, I also realized that the long stretch of valleys and very few peaks (in squats) depleted my confidence especially over 80%. As soon as I knew how much weight was on the bar – anything over 50kg (snatch) – I simply “couldn’t” make the lift. Not only that, I started catching it in the wrong place and potential injuries began surfacing – right shoulder, left elbow, right knee, hip flexors. So, we limited the days per week – from 5 to 4 days – and I began physical therapy first to ensure I hadn’t inured myself and then for preventative action.

My confidence was so low, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I felt like I was tearing my body down more than building it up – physically and emotionally – I began to question whether doing this was worth it. Why in the world would a grown woman, who never trained or competed in a sport growing up (with the exception of 1.5 years playing volleyball in high school), begin competitive weightlifting at 44-years-old? What was wrong with me?

Yet, I still went in to train, begrudgingly on many days. But I embraced the grind and did it anyways.

Quite honestly, it made me think about some employees at work, who come in to punch the timeclock, do the bare minimum, and punch out merely to get paid. To some extent, I was one of them, except I wasn’t getting paid to do it. I am actually paying for it! Seriously, what is wrong with me?

“Trust the process” they say. “Don’t expect instant gratification” says my coach. My frustrations were not about a lack of trusting the process, nor was it about wanting instant gratification on seeing results – hitting specific numbers on the bar – per se. I couldn’t quite explain or articulate clearly exactly what I was feeling, other than I simply lacked the confidence in lifting heavy weight.

It was that simple. And I was at a loss on how build my confidence back up.

So, I thought if I just managed my emotions, that could maybe help my confidence?

Just go in, do only what is on the programming. Just hit the percentages, and hope to god there isn’t anything over 80%. If there is, try it. If you miss it, you simply need to NOT CARE. If you don’t care, then you don’t feel. If you don’t feel, then you won’t get frustrated. Yes, I know… I don’t need a psychologist to tell me this is a defense mechanism.

But this is what I told myself to get through training many days. And anyone who knows me, my work and research — this NOT CARING is completely antithetical to the way I try to live my life or interact generally. So, I’ve been conflicted and struggling with all of it, especially while at the gym, where lifting was supposed to be my stress-reliever — the place I felt good about myself because I was doing something I was good at (supposedly) — a place of growing and improving.

I could feel the gym resorting to that place where I needed my defenses to avoid feeling helpless and that place where I needed to not care. Perhaps, I needed to take a break from it and find new areas to feel confident in. I began thinking this was what I needed.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I reread my dissertation and my graduate research flooded back to something I want go back to again…and jus this week, it came to me!

I may not know how to build confidence in my lifts, but I do know the antidote to helplessness! The answer is in my nursing home research in graduate school, and I have written about in previous blog posts about the plagues of nursing home life.

The answer: Just like how competence “cures” the plague of helplessness among nursing home residents, competence is what I needed to build, not confidence.

Competence is doing something successfully, in this case, lifting. Confidence will come as a result of successfully making the lift. But it is about lifting the weight that I KNOW I can lift that will enable competence. The more I lift what I know I can do – not what I think I can or should do – the more I can feel it. The more I feel it done successfully, the more I will believe I can do it. Competence is about building on what you know, and feeling it. It doesn’t mean I won’t miss lifts or get frustrated. But I know what I can do because I’ve felt it. The answer isn’t to not care, not feel. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Passion fuels fire — the fire needed to make us fight for what we believe.

And the more I believe… well, hello Confidence!

It isn’t a rocket science break through, almost common sense really, but a break through in mindset for me nonetheless. A much needed one. And one I feel much better at tackling in training from now on.

Keep passion burning. Keep caring. Keep feeling. Build competence, and confidence will follow.

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