Mental Toughness and Semantics (Part 1)


Speaking is simplest terms, mental toughness is all about how your words influence your behavior. What you think, say to yourself influence your actions. The ultimate goal is to have positive and encouraging thought patterns to help you align how you perform in the gym and in your work field.

However, this is not a realistic goal. Calling yourself a stupid idiot when you do something foolish is just a part of human nature. I know. I accidently grabbed a red-hot teakettle the other day and I’m sure the whole block heard me screaming at myself and calling myself all kinds of derogative names.

After the swelling in my hand came down, I still felt like a dumbshit and I’m sure my body expressed my mindset. If I would have videotaped myself, I would have been able to identify my slumped posture and sad sack look I had on my face.

So, we can all agree that our thoughts are central to how we behave. Thus, it is in our best interest to make sure we have positive thinking patterns and uplifting dialogues with ourselves. However, this is easier said than done. As the human language is very subtle and just the slightest change in word usage can have a profound effect how the brain interrupts meaning. If we repeat negative statements, our mind unconsciously embodies the unfavorable message.

The most common understated negative statement I hear my clients, CrossFitters and bodybuilding gym rats say all the time is “The workout kicked my ass.” When you say you just got your butt kicked, you are implying that something or someone got the better of you. What this statement suggests is that you lost the fight or got beat.

I know this is bit nit picking, but what you say can affect your mindset, whether it is subconsciously or not. I have seen it both ways. Most of the time, when a person says, “The workout kicked my ass,” they say it with a strong sense of accomplishment. They feel proud and elated that they just got pass a challenging training session. You could see it in their body language as well as their posture is erected and head is held high.

On the other hand, I’ve seen CrossFitters mumbled “I just got my ass handed to me from the WOD,” in a very defeated manner. Again, the dejected comment is internalized in their body as well. Shoulders are slumped down and head is low. A look of somebody who just put their puppy down and not someone who just finished a demanding WOD. They may mentally feel the thrill of accomplishment, but their comment does not reflect their joy. They may even be pissed at themselves for barely making it through.

The point is, what you say does revel your mindset. So we must be aware of how semantics can uplift us or put us down. Sometimes, it only takes a flip of a few words to change the whole context of a sentence. Instead of saying, “The WOD destroyed me,” you should say, “I destroyed the WOD.” The next time, a hero workout nearly gets the best of you and you meekly want to say, “The workout beat the crap out of me,” turn the statement around. Be proud of yourself for making it through and say, “I beat the crap out of the workout.”

By putting yourself as the subject that is victorious and not the direct object of defeat, you are making a proud statement to yourself and others.

Let me remind you all again that mental toughness training is about how your thoughts and remarks influence your mindset and behavior. You want to optimize your thinking pattern and vocals in your favor. More importantly, the goal of this training is to take the positive momentum you get from the gym and apply it to the real world.

This is essential because most of the time our mind is mostly filled with negative clutter and doubt telling ourselves how inadequate and useless we our. In order to counterattack the normal self-put downs, we must find every opportunity to rid the negative toxins that are festering in our minds. Finishing a daunting workout is one of the best ways to prove your toughness and validate your strength. And more importantly, training can be an immediate way of proving the negative voices that ruminate in your life that they were so wrong about you. For me, every time I finish a WOD, I”m basically telling the enemies and haters in my life to “Go shove it.”

The pleasure I get from saying to myself “just kicked the WOD’s ass” is immensely pleasurable for me and should be for you all as well. In my past life as a weak man, I rarely kicked anybody’s ass and was the one getting the regular beat down, so getting the chance to repeat my dominance over and over again vs. the WOD-enemy is extremely addicting.

So why would you say something demeaning about yourself after you just got through big challenge? This condescending self-talk is a bad habit and has been contributing to your years of living like a scaredy cat. I’m not suggesting you plaster your achievement all over social media either because that too is lame.

What I am suggesting is that you acknowledge your achievement.

The next time you finish your WOD, make sure you make a strong statement about yourself with the same enthusiasm and confidence as the fighter that is standing up with his hands in the air while your opponent is on the mat, knocked out cold.

Be adamant as hell with yourself.

(To be continue)

Today’s CrossFit WOD


“Fran 3 rounds as fast as you can with the following rep scheme: 21-15-9

1. Thrusters

2. Pull-ups – if you can do kipping pull-ups, go for it. But, if you can’t them, do dead-hang ones instead.

“Fran” is probably the central CrossFit workouts that everybody is measured against. It’s a great benchmark to see how fit you are or better yet, see if how will you can survive a near heart attack. The elite athletes can do “Fran” unbroken without any rest between sets. Although this may be your goal down the road, your immediate goal with “Fran” is just to finish it and walk out the gym in one piece without any medical assistance.

“Fran” is another deceptive girl in the CrossFit world. It’s only three sets and it looks pretty ease, but it’s one of the hardest WODs to finish. The extreme huffing and puffing and muscle burning that “Fran” will inflict on you, will be much more discomfort than you ever experienced. For some, this state of uneasiness will be so severe; you’ll never want to do “Fran” again. I’ve done “Fran” consistently for over 7 years now and I always collapse to the ground when I’m finished. Your family physician may advice you to stay as far away as possible from “Fran”, but in terms of a good mental toughness teacher, this bitch is the best.

Getting through the first set is hard enough with all those thrusters and pull-ups, but the real test is when you start the second set. At this point, your lungs will be so expanded that you wished you had an oxygen tank and the burning sensational in your muscles will be excruciating when you move ever so slightly. The overall physical pain is near unbearable but the mental nightmare of “Fran” is just beginning as your mind will spin out of control with excuses and reasons for you to quit the WOD.

To get through “Fran,” you must have a will that’s stronger than it’s ever been during this training.  Your will can help you gain your composure during your near mental melt down and remind you that the discomfort that you are feeling is more psychological in nature. I’m not saying the agony in your body isn’t real. It is. But, it’s how your mind perceives the severity of the exhaustion that is of utmost importance. It’s all a judgment call on how bad you label the hurting. A common coping method that many rookies in toughness training use is that they tell themselves – “I have felt worse from other WODs and every time, I am able to get through the misery.” By using this comparison method, it will down grade the level of pain that you are feeling and at the same time, use pasts accomplishments to help motivate you to go on. This training will teach you that all discomfort is manageable and can be control through the mental process. You want to overcome the suffering in your head first before you can re-energize your body.

One of the best ways to offset the physical discomfort is to stop focusing on how much your body is hurting. This is putting you in a defensive state of mind. Instead, you must switch your attention to your will. Listen to your will speak to you. Your will should be screaming at you to never, ever give the fuck up. When this message becomes loud and clear, you know you have no choice, but to continue the fight. By redirecting all your attention back to the battle, your mind is totally engaged with only one singular goal – to do whatever it takes to get you to finish. When your mind is on the offense once again, your body will be revitalize with a new level of strength and the pain that you were just feeling, becomes almost an afterthought.

Let your will guide you back to the thrusters and pull-ups to finally put an end to “Fran.” Make a statement to yourself and finish her off as aggressive and as feisty as you can be. When you are done, congratulate yourself. You just made a huge leap in your mental toughness development by finishing off the mother beast of them all. My favorite girl, “Fran.”

Scaled back versions of “Fran” –

1.  Use a Woody band for the assisted pull-ups

2. Horizontal body rows can done be instead of the pull-ups. They look like this –

3. Jumping pull-ups are good too. Here’s what they look like –

4. Rest at least 3 minutes between each set.

5. Alternative rep scheme: 12, 8, 6.

6. Do only 2 sets.

Suitable substitutions for this WOD –

1. You can do military presses instead of the thrusters,

2. The recommend weight for the thrusters is 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for woman. However, unless you are an experienced CrossFitter, be conservative and go light. Using just the barbell will be more than enough.