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Dealing With Perfectionism in CrossFit

I used to fool myself into thinking that the only way I should do a hobby was if I was the very best at it. I could only do art if I was as good as Michelangelo, I could only do volleyball if I was going to make it to Stanford’s volleyball team, and I could only call myself smart if I was going to go to Harvard. I had this same mindset going into CrossFit -- the only way I was going to let myself do it was if I was going to train to go to the CrossFit games. It sounds stupid, but my all-or-nothing mentality takes over and I always set myself up for failure. So a few weeks into CrossFit, I convinced myself I hated it. I was constantly comparing myself to everyone around me, and I always left class kicking myself for not doing “well enough”.

Eventually, I decided I wanted to do this for myself. I wanted to push and challenge myself, but I was gonna make sure I stopped comparing myself to everyone around me. I am my only competition, and even then I have days when I don’t go as hard. It’s still something I’m working on, but being less hard on myself has helped me enjoy the sport so much more.

Take this past WOD for example; it had Double-Unders and American Kettlebell Swings (50/40/30/20/10 and 30/25/20/15/10). Two movements that I really can’t do. Especially double-unders. And I know I’ve only been doing CrossFit for a few months so I shouldn’t expect myself to just jump right into double-unders (pun intended), but I kept beating myself up for not being able to string them together. And I didn’t even do too terribly! I got upwards of 8 in a row, and once I found a rope that actually fit my height, I didn’t do too shabby. But between you and me, I almost walked out of that class. I’ve never felt so frustrated with myself and it didn’t help that the only people in the class were myself and Mike Collette, Prototype gym owner and fitness extraordinaire, (who was incredibly supportive of course, but who is also incredibly experienced and was able to do quadruple unders). Everyone was SO supportive but no matter what they said, it didn’t overpower the voice in my head that was screaming at me how badly I was doing.

Mike reminded me, “I’ve been doing it for 12 years! This is the very first time you’re doing it, don’t be so hard on yourself!”. It sank in how hard I was being on myself. Here was this new movement, notorious for being difficult and taking YEARS to learn, that I was beating myself up for because I couldn’t do 50 in a row. That doesn’t make any sense! But in my head, at the moment, it does.

One of the hardest parts about being a perfectionist is that we tend to take things personally. I know for me that I take nearly everything that’s said to me, about me, or even in my vicinity, personally. I can’t help it.

This can be really frustrating in sports such as weightlifting and CrossFit, because it’s all about form. And I want to have good form, I really do. But the moment someone goes to correct me, I start insulting myself in my head; so much that it’s become automatic and I do it subconsciously without even realizing. I’m not able to just accept the statement “don’t bend your elbows too early” as a correction to fix my clean. My mind starts racing with thoughts like, “You suck”, “You’re so stupid”, “God, why can’t you get this right!?”, “Everyone’s judging how bad your form is”... it goes on and on and on.

And I try to focus, and be present, and correct my form, but it’s hard to do when my mind is insulting me. Just imagine trying to workout while someone is screaming insults into your ear with a megaphone. It’s gonna be pretty hard to concentrate, not to mention enjoy the workout.

My parents have always said I take things too personally. And I really don’t want to, and I’m starting to get better at accepting that I won’t be perfect. I’m gonna make mistakes, I’m gonna fail, and I’m gonna make decisions in life that may not serve me well. But that’s part of life. We’re all just doing the best we can, and we’re all trying something for the first time. You’re not gonna be perfect, no one is. But as long as you give every day all you’ve got, you’re bound to succeed.

Here are some reminders for the next time you start to beat yourself up:

  • There’s going to be a first time for every single thing you do in life - you can’t expect to be a pro when you start something new. It’s just not gonna happen! Especially in movements as complicated as the ones in CrossFit, there is absolutely no way you can do it perfectly the first time you do it (or the first few times for that matter)

  • Beating yourself up never works - if it did, it would’ve worked by now.

  • Everyone is so self-absorbed and focused on themselves, they don’t care if you fail a lift, or get corrected on form. They’re so worried about whether they’re doing the movement right, or if they’re going too heavy or light, that they really don’t have the time to worry about you.

  • Celebrate your small victories and allow yourself to feel pride! Whenever I get in my head, it’s hard to get out. I fall down the insulting rabbit hole, and crawling out of it takes time. But if I can compliment myself on something small, like getting one more double under than last time, or using one less red band to assist my pullup, it can prevent me from insulting myself the entire workout.

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