What we do, why we do it and how we go about it is unique to each of us. We each have our own approach and the complex elements that combine to determine the degree of focus, motivation and commitment an individual is prepared to devote over the long or short term is, in part, the cumulative result of various experiences dating back to childhood, that have shaped the person he or she has become. For example, you may have a fixed mindset or a progressive mindset and each of these can 'inadvertently' be instilled into a child before they have even started primary school! It is also possible to shift from one to the other, in either a positive or a negative direction. The important thing is to be aware of various elements of 'sports/life' psychology, including how they can be manipulated to optimize performance, including from a very early age. Fortunately, there is a considerable amount of easily accessible literature available on this subject, written at a level that can be easily understood.
Two books I have read recently are The Chimp Paradox and Bounce. Both of these books have had a positive impact on my approach to training and have helped me understand the totally unexpected successes I have had in the gym over such a short period to time. Moreover, they have also helped with my focus for future successes. Chapter 4 of the book Bounce by Matthew Syed discusses Mysterious Sparks and Life-Changing Mindsets and in this blog post I will discuss these in the context of my training.
I had been aware that Jane was due to compete in powerlifting (July 2016) for several months and was keen to keep up with her progress prior to the event, but for no reason other than 'team' support! I had no impulse or drive to do it myself, even though I regularly saw her training with Lee in the gym (Full Contact Performance Centre, Rochdale). Indeed, I did not even understand what the sport was about. However, when I watched Jane compete from home via the online live-feed this all changed ... instantaneously!
With Jane Girdlestone at Full Contact Performance Centre, Rochdale
Even my kids got involved with supporting her during her squats and now my youngest daughter Amelia wants to be 'a powerlifter like Daddy' and is constantly showing me her guns!
My kids watching Jane compete
Gun show on the beach from Amelia
Due to other plans I was unable to watch the full event, but even this short exposure was the totally unexpected and Mysterious Spark that hooked me! It is worth noting that in addition to breaking a record, Jane also won the overall best lifter award ... not bad going for her first ever competition! I can't wait to see how she gets on in her next one in November, but have no doubt that she will smash it!
As for theLife-Changing Mindset, this happened a year or so earlier. When I first started in the gym I was heavily overweight and spent most of my time on the treadmill and various other bits of cardio kit (see blog post 1), which overlooked the rest of the gym. I used to watch other people milling around and going about their workouts as there was not much else to do whilst walking uphill and going nowhere. One guy in particular used to come in most mornings and get down to business. He looked to be in great shape, but I found it very difficult to judge his age. We got chatting one day and he mentioned that he was 50-years-old, which was four years older than me. I was very impressed indeed and it was at that very moment (without me really realizing it at the time) that something switched on. I had been inspired in a big way and that does not happen very often! Not so long ago somebody (I cannot remember who) posted a meme along the lines of: When someone inspires you tell them! ... more as a gesture of thanks than anything else, but I did not act on this at the time and the chap in question is rarely in our gym these days as he is traveling all over the place. So, here goes ... thank you Graham Bancroft! I don't expect you had any idea about this ... but there you go.
In blog post 14 I made reference to the impact of powerful memes that I am exposed to throughout the day once I leave the gym, as they randomly pop up in my social media feeds. A few examples are quoted below, but remember when these are accompanied with a powerful image then their effect is magnified.
A river cuts through rock not because of its power but its persistence.
It's not about how fast or how far you need to go, it's about digging deep and pushing yourself to keep moving forward.
Wake up ... kick ass ... repeat!
You may see me struggle, but you will never see me quit.
Do sharks complain about Monday? No. They're up early, biting stuff, chasing shit, being scary - reminding everyone they're a fucking shark!
There are many more, but these do not constitute my sole source of motivation. They merely help to fuel the drive that is already present within me. Where this comes from I have no idea, but I can safely say I have always had it, from as far back as I can remember. You may not think so from looking at the photos of me in blog post 1, but previously much of my drive was more intellectually oriented, rather than physically oriented ... though there have been the odd physical moments too. I have a BSc and a PhD, but my highest academic qualification is a DSc (higher doctorate), which was awarded for a 623-page thesis based on 22 years of research. Not all universities in the UK offer higher doctorates and of those that do, most do not make more than one of these awards each year ... and more often than not the frequency of these awards is much lower. Hence, there are lots of hurdles to overcome in addition to intense focus required over an extended period in order to get this result. I suppose I am now applying the same drivers to my powerlifting that I have previously applied to my academic work.
It is worth mentioning that it has not all been a simple and easy journey. In the first 1-3 years of secondary school I tended to be in the top 2 or 3 of the class for most subjects (there were exceptions that I just found too boring to give much consideration to). However, in the fourth year (if not even slightly before) I went totally off the rails! I was doing all sorts of things that were bad for me and I very rarely went to school from then on (though my parents had no idea about most of this). Eventually I left with the equivalent of 2 GCSEs at average pass mark (grade C ... O-levels NOT A-levels)! What changed to lead me on the DSc road? I took risks! I was not one for the easy life, I kept stepping out of my comfort zone and have kind of been doing this ever since. Some examples, I quit my first job (as a croupier) and moved to London when I was 18 (I had no job to go to or no real plans but ended up living and working there for five years), I quit a well paid London job to go to University in Manchester as a mature student when I was around 23 (I had been doing day release studies from work [which gave me the entry qualifications] and was the first in my family to go to Uni). I was in the right place at the right time for a PhD at the end of my BSc, after which I got a job at a Museum and did not exactly see eye-to-eye with the Director, so quit that and went off to India for five months, I came back and did around five years of post-doctoral research work before deciding to go and live in West Africa (again with no real long-term plans) for three years (I had turned down a funded post-doc in the USA to do this). I found myself back in the UK (unexpectedly!) in 2009 with a 13 month-old daughter, a laptop and the clothes I was wearing, but with little else apart from a few grand in the bank. Since then I have been self-employed as a writer and publisher, with no formal training in the majority of skills/knowledge required to run such a business ... but I find what I now do very rewarding at a personal level. You can see my publishing website by clicking here.
These experiences have kept me mentally alert (it is probably more easy to sink than to swim in many of the aforementioned cases, but I am a determined individual when it comes to the crunch) and along they way have presented me with numerous and interesting opportunities ... Anyway, that is a brief synopsis of 35 years in one paragraph of text, I'd better stop before I get too carried away and bore you all to death! The bottom line though is that I expect that constantly putting myself our of my comfort zone is what has most likely kept me moving forwards. Also, I am not one to give up ... I find the best in any given situation and focus and build on that. However, I have my limits. To some, it may seem like the above synopsis of my life contains a lot of quitting ... but I don't see it like that. Another saying from my dad: You must enjoy what you do for your job because you spend most of your life doing it. When I have found myself in a position that I consider untenable (and this is usually due to other people thinking they can treat me like a ****) I will not accept it. I stand my ground and fight back. Once I have won I make changes that lead to better things. This has usually involved jumping in at the deep end of some totally unknown ... reiterating the idea of getting out of my comfort zone on a reasonably frequent basis! Many people are not prepared to do this ... they would rather stay put and take sh*t and make a whole host of feeble excuses for doing so. Fcuk that!
However, rant over and back on track ... external or self motivation alone are not enough. Even for the most hardy of us, there will be days when motivation is at a low. So, what happens then? Is it permissible to write off a training session or two under these circumstances? If you rely on motivation to get you to the gym then of course it is. However, if you are committed to your training then a low motivational status on a particular day is of no consequence, because the committed person will go to the gym regardless. I like to think of myself as committed ... with a healthy dose of OCD thrown in for good measure! Of course, the camaraderie at FCPC is motivation in itself. It is always great to get in there and work out and people are happy to share advice and experience.
Be warned, the above mentioned mental switches can happen anytime (they just seem to come out of nowhere) ... if you keep reading these blogs, maybe they will happen to you too!