Mental Clarity: An Over-thinker’s Dilemma
I’ve been posting a lot lately, a ton about random life things, food and Crossfit, work, but not very much about myself in any honest form. On days when life takes over, it’s easy to get wrapped in more trivial things. What good are words from a stranger on the internet without some backing foundation? So consider this a first installment; bit by bit you’ll come to find I have no business blogging other than pure self-indulgence.
I’m a neuroscientist, I like the brain, I find the many facets and interactions of brain and behavior equally exhilarating, fascinating, and plain confusing. Not hard sudoku confusing, more like string theory, mystery of the universe, unraveling the cosmos confusing. I’m not pretending to be smart, because I’m not; my point is only that the magnitude of human cognition is not lost on me. This is going somewhere I promise. Some people, seemingly everyone but me, have the quite handy ability to remove themselves from a given moment, to be physically present but mentally separated. This is what I’m referring to as mental clarity, and it serves athletes particularly well.
On the other side of mental clarity, is an ever-present mental awareness of things around you. Not awareness in the sense that you won’t bump into things, but awareness of states. How each part of you is feeling, where it is, why it is, all the cue’s and things you’re cycling through to get where you are. This is most often my domain, not by choice mind you, more often than not I am thinking about one too many things that a rational person wouldn’t even consider. Self consciousness is a huge factor, how what I’m doing, just did, or about to do is being perceived by those around me. The other factor is rationalization, always having an answer even if no one asked the question. I find myself blurting them out, when I miss a snatch and you’re within 5 feet, you get the reason why I missed it. Sorry. This type of thinking is distracting, and just as with poor mechanics, it’s inefficient – it wastes energy.
The logic then is to get from a place of inefficiency to a place of higher efficiency; if mental clarity were a squat, we’d practice, mobilize, and cue to improve. I’ve done something similar with my mentality – it’s taken years, but gradually the mind gets quieter and quieter and free’s up that energy to focus on the bar and the movement at hand. I found the trick for me was to compartmentalize. Being analytical isn’t bad, but it has a place, under the bar isn’t it. I found a big part of the process for me involved music, no surprise there, finding music that lets you focus is huge, I want all that mental energy to be focused in a positive, constructive direction, save that energy wasted on overanalyzing and use it to push harder. I don’t think it’s any secret that the right soundtrack can set the mood for just about anything, I’ve found work in the gym to be no different, whatever strikes that balance for you – go with it. The second piece of the mental clarity puzzle was more of a spiritual one, I liken the gym to church quite often. No one goes to church for the crowd, it’s not about them, it’s about your personal connection to whatever spirituality you place your faith in. I distilled this simply to mean, “I’m here [at a box] to better myself in whatever shape that takes today.” The last part, a part I didn’t grasp until recently, is surrounding yourself with supportive people that you trust. At a globo gym full of strangers this will be impossible, at least for me, I will never cease to be on edge there. My box has become a second home – whose uncomfortable in their own house?
I read this post by Julie Foucher this morning and it made me want to revisit this for three reasons.
- Preparation – I completely neglected having a plan, planning, and the mental patterns that keep me sane. Preparation is a HUUUUGEEEE (like 400lb deadlift huge) part of my quest for mental clarity. Here’s the logic – the more I plan, the fewer things I have to be worried about, the less I have to think or distract myself with. The last thing I want to be thinking about before a clean is what I’m making for dinner, or if I brought my protein shaker with me that day. Plans change, and there needs to be flexibility (something I’m awful at, but getting better), but preparing properly can make all the difference. I already made a list of what I’m brining to HOA, and what I want to post next week.
- Committing 100% to whatever it is you’re doing. This goes hand-in-hand with my thoughts on compartmentalization. It means mid-WOD, give 100% to that WOD, not 90% to the WOD and 10% to whatever life problem is distracting you that day. Believe me, it will be there 12 minutes later when you’re a sweaty mess on the floor, but you’ll feel better having given 100%. It will also keep you from having to think 10% about the WOD once it’s over – if you know you gave it all you had, you can leave it behind you. Being present in the present sounds simple enough, but is something I think most people could do with some practice.
- Perspective – Again, this is something I’m not great at, I touched on it in my Discomfort vs. Injury post awhile back. Keep the big picture in mind, don’t get bogged down by how you’re snatch went today, instead be occupied with how well you’re snatch is doing compared to 6 months ago, or that first one. It’s a struggle, but if you zoom out far enough there’s always something to be proud, grateful, or energized about.
What’s my point here? Obviously what works for me might be different to your situation or style. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones, athletic performance doesn’t come with the added bonus of “analysis paralysis” in which case I don’t know why you just read all this. The rest of us will benefit from this, over-thinking is burdensome and inefficient; stop thinking and do. I’m going to go hardcore nerd here and cite Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” The implication being that “try” is a word we use when we’re giving ourself reasons to fail, or rationalizations for failure. Neither of these are productive use of energy. I’m not a psychologist or yoga instructor; I don’t have a mantra to help you or a scientific paper for you to cite. Mechanics, strength, endurance, power, all words that get a lot of attention when it comes to improving performance; mentality takes a back seat – let it ride shotgun, I bet you’ll improve. Then again I could just be over-thinking this…