In the sport of weightlifting nothing is ever good enough. Could’ve been closer, could’ve been higher, could’ve been faster. And if it was all those things then it could’ve been heavier. With a hundred elements to refine it is very easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole into a place where your interior dialogue is so suffocatingly negative you feel as mad as a hatter and as hopeless as Alice adrift in a sea of her own tears.
It is important to acknowledge the areas that need improvement, and very few people struggle with this. It is equally important to acknowledge when and where you make improvements, and with this almost everyone struggles. At times I have to stand in front of someone, look them dead in the eye and demand that they say, out loud, “That was better.” With some poor souls I can stand for there for 15 minutes unbroken and they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge when they’ve done well.
The reasons why critique flows easier than praise are beyond the scope of this article and usually beyond the 60 minutes I have allotted for a session or a class. And honestly the Why is not important. Unlike a weight that can simply be too heavy the words are not impossible to say. The psychic barriers that try to stop you from saying your words of affirmation are a mile high and paper thin. You just have to open your mouth and say them, no matter how scary it is for you. “That was better. I am getting better.”
Critique only serves a function when we use it improve. When we start using critique as a from of punishment it is no longer useful.
As I write this we are in the midst of a pandemic. If you are like me you are checking numbers every day and looking for trends, trying to predict the future. If you are unlike me you are using the news media or Facebook to predict the future (don’t do that). A few weeks ago our epidemiologists and virologists were predicting that two million people would die from corona in the United States. They predicted that my home, New York, would run out of medical supplies some time in late March. A few weeks later the projected death toll was down to two hundred thousand and the supplies were estimated to run out a week into April. Today the projected numbers are down to around eighty five thousand and the supplies might run out some time next week; the exact date gets pushed out every time we get up against it. In short, the situation sounds better every day. Not good, but not as bad as it could have been.
Here is where the training we’ve done in the gym improves our lives outside (indeed, banned from!) the gym. Many of us have wrapped ourselves up in fear. Many of us have written doomsday scenarios in our head to insulate ourselves from the only slightly less terrifying world outside our doors. We’ve spread our fear around and thrown it onto other people, all in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. But it doesn’t work, does it? Just as constantly criticizing yourself in the gym does not make you better, constantly writing a negative story in your head does not make the world better. What’s more, it makes you worse in the world (trust me, everyone thinks it’s super annoying). I am not saying we should be relentlessly optimistic and pretend things are better than they are. But nor should we ignore what’s happening around us and pretend things are worse than they are. We must acknowledge what is true. If you’ve been doing this in the gym for months or years it will be a little easier. If you have not, let’s start together today.
My challenge to you is this: Take a look at the numbers coming in from the state of New York. Acknowledge the positive trend. Acknowledge that spread and death rates are going down. Acknowledge that while this is not the end, while this data is incomplete while a thousand other pessimistic thoughts try to pushing their way to the front, acknowledge that things are looking better. For some of you this will be the bravest thing you do all week.
Now, say it out loud with me…
“Things are getting better.”