That question has haunted me for most of my life and guided so many of my quests. If you know yourself, who is doing the knowing and who is doing the existing/thinking/acting? In the process of looking more closely at my psychology, my body, and my relationships, I found that the fabric of my identity and who I wanted to be seemed to dissolve. What I was left with was a much more enjoyable existence and the freedom to reach my optimal potential on the journey of life, coaching, and learning without fear of outcomes or loss.
Because I have accepted reality’s terms instead of trying to impose my idealistic expectations on the unfolding experience, I am able to more precisely navigate my emotional experience without allowing it becoming reactionary. When I created TTT I used “corpus – animus” on my company logo because I always felt there was a powerful interaction between mind (spirituality, intellect, emotions) and body. My vision for my company was to create a platform that would help people, from professional athlete to “average Joe/Jane” use their physical quests to master their inner worlds.
I just came back from The Wodapalooza Fitness Festival and as The CrossFit Games Open approaches, I have had many interactions with my own athletes and people in general who are competing for a variety of reasons. During conversations, it’s become clear to me that people don’t know why they are doing what they are doing, or they have unrealistic expectations about the outcome of their efforts; thereby setting themselves up for constant disappointments at competitions. In an effort to help people get clarity as to why they are (or should be) competing, I felt I would share some common reasons people compete, and what you should be focused on if that is your primary objective in competition.
It is a natural human tendency to crave the attention of others. It feels good to stand out as someone ‘special’ or ‘worthy’ of commanding the eyes, ears, and focus of other people. While this has never really appealed to me, I do understand why many people fall in love with competitions as a form of commanding the attention of others.
If it is attention that you seek, your primary focus should be on social media platforms, developing high-level skills, charisma, crowd control, public speaking, and understanding marketing principles. Those are likely more important than your actual skill in the sport of your choice, and competition will be less important for you in the long term. If attention is something you seek, just ensure that pursuing a deeper understanding of the things that command people’s attention is something you are excited to do.
Money makes the world go around (or so they say, I think it’s actually inertia and gravity). It is natural for us to strive to climb the dominance hierarchy of society. We want money to attract mates, buy comfort, buy things to allow us to peacock (and therefore command attention), take care of our off-spring, and many other reasons. Money can be a great motivator for success in competition.
If it is money you seek, make sure that you evaluate what drives monetary reward in your sport. Make sure you are marketable, make sure you are of the right age/size/skill level to succeed at the highest level of your sport, and make sure that you have contingency plans in case your success path doesn’t play out the way you envisioned it. There can only be so many champions in this world and the only way to know if you are one of them is to dedicate yourself to the path. If things don’t work out the way you thought they would, make sure you are making connections, increasing other personal skills, and setting yourself up for a transition into a different earning potential.
Also, be careful putting money on a pedestal. I have never been rich, and for a long time I was convinced I would be happy if I were. But I have interacted with, and intimately know many rich people. I have asked enough questions to be 100% sure that money does not buy happiness or fulfillment in life. More important than anything else are the relationships, friendships, students, teachers, and people you surround yourself with in your life.
Competition is a roller coaster of emotions. Your sensory world goes into complete chaos. The range of emotions is complete. You’ll experience fear, panic, happiness, sadness, disappointment, excitement, frustration, bliss, anger, and everything in between. Your physiology will be challenged in ways that you could never replicate in a training environment. Some people love the loss of control that comes in the chaos of uncertainty.
If this is you, just be careful that you are taking care of your biological needs as an athlete. Be careful of over stimulating your endocrine system and getting burnt out. Be sure to improve your movement quality to deal with the contraction volume. Be sure to enter competitions that have a level of volume that you are capable of handling safely. Make sure you deload after competitions, and make sure you have a sound off-season and a year round focus on good fueling and sleeping. I’ve seen many athletes who love competitions for this reason, end up over trained, beat up, injured, and stagnated in progress.
The Heat of Battle
Some people say they love to compete head to head. But I think very few people actually love competing. Even some people who say they love competing really only love ‘winning’ (attention) but don’t love to enter head to head with other warriors to see whose talent and preparation dictates the winner for that day. Competition is the ultimate test.
If you are one of these people, ensure that you retain your humanity. Understand that your self-concept cannot be completely defined by the competitor in you, and that people (yourself included) have feelings. You must tend to those needs. Remember that your fellow competitors are not enemies but allies, for without them, you would lose your opportunity to strive in the competition field.
Humans are pack animals. We divide ourselves by race, by region, by country, by dialect, by skin tone, by characteristic, and by whatever else we can invent. It feels great to feel as if you have found a tribe. You can feel that your tribe is the brand of clothes you wear, the type of workout structure you follow, the way you think about your sport, or the coach you have. Belonging is powerful and competitions are a showcase of your belonging to a group.
If you are seeking belonging through competition, ensure that the group to which you belong has good leadership and clear directives. Make sure that your authentic self is represented in the collective group and that you believe everything that is being done on behalf of the group. Remember as well that what you belong to is not necessarily anyone else’s chosen tribe. Respect people and their choices and remember that everyone has the right to decide for themselves where they belong.
Some people want to earn respect for their work. They want to know their sacrifice is worth it. They want to know at the end of the day that their suffering led them to a place of betterment. The scoreboard can be a good measurement for this.
If you are seeking validation from competition, be careful. Make sure you are seeking the validation for yourself or the validation of people who you care about and appreciate you. Make sure you are not completely tied to the scoreboard because some sports, like CrossFit™ and golf, have different circumstances and different competitive fields every time you compete. Since that is the case, sometimes your placing can be worse, but you may still be getting better. In that case you need to learn to have the right objective measurement tools so you can enjoy competition while still enjoying the validation that comes with the long grind of a competition season.
Ignorance of Path to Attain Goals
Some people think that competing is a path to them achieving a goal that, in reality, they won’t attain on their current plan. For example, some people compete in CrossFit™ because they saw a picture of Rich Froning and think if they trained and competed like he did, they would look like him. This is false logic and ultimately leads to disappointment because you don’t share the same genetics, the same physiology, the same intensity/volume of training, the same training age, the same mindset, the same insulin sensitivity, etc.
If you are doing this, you won’t know it because that is THE definition of ignorance. Strive to ensure you are not ignorant. I’ve heard ignorance is bliss, but I know that it is also ignorance. Finding out that you have been doing everything wrong can be a painful realization. To combat this, constantly seek new information, new leaders, new ideas, and more knowledge. If not, you run the risk of putting all your work into a quest and ending up with nothing to show for it. This all because you just didn’t know you were wrong.
Seeking Self Improvement
Traumatic experiences breed growth. New experiences breed growth. Intense experiences breed growth. Experiences themselves breed growth if you are open to learning and reflecting from said experiences. Competition can be a great place for self-improvement and the development of self-awareness because they are such potent experiences. Striving to be your best, in front of other people, is a tremendous catalyst for forward momentum.
If you are competing to be a better version of yourself, just remember never to lose sight of that. Remember not to let yourself get caught up in someone else’s value system and enjoy the process of growth. Your path is yours and you should feel lucky to be able to walk it in whatever form it plays out.
Creating a platform for a mission
Competitions are places to increase visibility. By winning and inspiring others you can create a platform to touch and speak to others. Unfortunately, most people who earn the ability to speak to the public don’t really have a ‘mission’ because they are younger, lack perspective, life experience, knowledge, credibility, or only have one major skill (their sport). However, if you believe something so deeply in your soul that you feel it will haunt you until you die if you can’t share it, competition can be a great opportunity to earn the platform.
Remember though that competition and a large public platform is only one way to touch people. Every interaction you have with every person you touch is a chance for you to say what is on your mind or in your heart. While you are building your platform, don’t forget to stay true to your mission along the way.
There are no better or worse paths in life. People live their lives to the best of their abilities and make choices with the most current information they have. What I’ve unfortunately found about human beings is that we have the capacity to lie to ourselves. We have the capacity to selectively take information to support us in our delusions of grandeur about our lives and futures. Self-awareness to me is one of the greatest gifts life has to offer. Truly understanding your desires, your motivations, your place on this earth, your spiritual moral compass, your emotional patterns, your physical body, and everything else allows you to truly love yourself. Without an understanding of who you are, you are constantly trying to manifest an identity or cling to an identity that others expect of you. I hope all coaches, athletes, and people in my community use our knowledge base over time to upgrade their self-awareness so they can truly find their path in life, and find joy in the process. My hope is that with the help of this article, when you next enter a competition, you may better understand why you are there.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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