“Just because you’re excited doesn’t mean you have to lick me a lot and smell me.”

For the past few months I’ve been thinking a lot about how critical the “right” mental state is in Crossfit.  But what is the right mental state?  Thoughts about confidence, pride, humility, conceit and how those qualities interact, started bouncing around in my head after reading a couple of athlete’s post-Games blog entries.  Ricky Frausto’s reflections on his and the Crossfit Omaha team’s performance at the Games was really informative (http://rickyfrausto.com/) and of particular interest was Lindsey Smith’s “I Wrote My Own Fate and Here Is Why”  (http://crossfitchron.blogspot.com/2011/08/i-wrote-my-own-fate-and-here-is-why.html).  Lindsey talks about her mindset for the year of training leading up to the 2011 Games being focused on finishing top 16 and qualifying to compete in all the workouts for the weekend (although as it turned out, this year only top 12 moved on to the final workouts).

2011 Games- Lindsey, with me in the background

What was so striking to me in reading this was that Lindsey Smith, a Rogue Athlete (www.roguefitness.com/athletes/ and multiple Games competitor wouldn’t have been gunning for the podium.  As a Crossfit newcomer, I 100% view her as a podium contender every time.  It doesn’t take much interaction with Lindsey to observe that she’s an incredibly gracious, kind and humble athlete.

“Humble?” said Charlotte.  “’Humble’ has two meanings.  It means ‘not proud’ and it means ‘near the ground.’  That’s Wilbur all over.  He’s not proud and he’s near the ground.”  -Charlotte’s Web                                                     

It’s this last attribute whose role I started to question in an athlete’s life.  I wondered if it’s possible to be too humble, and how does humility coexist with confidence?  Sometimes apparent contradictions can and must coexist.  It reminds me of when I snatch, I think about being both patient and aggressive at the same time- on the surface these things seem contrary, but like humility and confidence they work together.  I have always considered myself to be a very humble person and have even gone too far at times to ensure that I never come across as if I think I’m better than anyone else.  Seriously, I think it’s a complex from being called stuck-up when I was a kid.  Humility keeps you working hard, but confidence is essential, too.   A number of years ago I read Matthew 5:16, a Bible verse that reminds me you should never dim yourself for anyone, or be ashamed of your abilities or talents.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”- Matthew 5:16

Reebok showed out taking care of Games athletes with gear.

As I continue to develop as a Crossfitter I feel my confidence growing and I won’t lie, it feels awesome and pretty remarkable given the amount of time I spend working on things I’m not good at.  Maybe that is what the challenge of Crossfit does for all of us– it forces us to rise to the occasion and break down physical and mental barriers and by doing so we build ourselves up.  Very predictably though, as soon as I start feeling myself something in the cosmos is set off and I catch a dose of reality.  I also have people around me who will quickly and consistently check me, and I receive the message—I have a TON of work to do.  In the brief time I’ve been competing in Crossfit, at least one thing has become unequivocally clear.  I perform better when I act with confidence and self-assuredness.  Think about getting under a lift- what happens when you’re not quite sure you really want it overhead?  It’s not going, that’s what.  Self-confidence doesn’t have to translate into arrogance, but I think it’s ok to carry yourself with a little swag if that’s who you are.  Besides, if you don’t believe in yourself who will?

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”- Marianne Williamson

Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

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    • Thanks for asking. The competition went great! I had a blast and look forward to more competitions. I came in 9th out of 21 (women’s 40-44); very pleased with my effort and my results. I think I’m still on a high from the weekend. Now back to the gym to keep working on weaknesses. Love your blog, keep writing.

  • Funny. I just wrote something about my daughter’s confidence level. I hope she never loses it. Quiet confidence is the order of the day. It’s never necessary to voice how awesome you are. Others will do it for you. Just go about your business doing things well, quietly. That’s being humble.

      • I have to say I struggle with confidence all the time. Internally. I try not to let it show. My only remedy is to try and “practice” and over-prepare. My hope is to be in a position where I have seen something before (in practice) and can reference that. In my football days I would watch film on the opponent obsessively. When gametime came I felt “confident” there’s nothing they could throw at me I hadn’t seen before.

        At 41 years old, and competing with 20 year olds, I have to keep both my ego and confidence in proper perspective. It bothers me that I can “win” every wod I complete. But I have to realize where I am in life. Then on the other hand I’ll bust out a time on a wod that is up there with the big dogs. I did two wods recently, the rope climb/clean & jerk wod from the 2011 Games and the power clean, pullup, kettlebell swing from the 2008 NE Regioinal. I killed both times and scored in the top 10 on both. I get my ass handed to me as much as I kill a wod. Confidence, ego, humility… they are all delicate and I’m constantly working on the balance.

        Ranting… but like I said. The best solution I have come up with is to simply try and practice every scenario possible. Or learn from the trials and errors of others. Why reinvent the wheel?

      • Sorry. Some errors in my previous post:
        – It bothers me that I CAN’T “win” every wod I complete in.
        – 2009 NE Regional (not 2008)

  • Elisabeth,

    I recently interviewed Olympic longer jumper Brianna Glenn (for my site – My Athletic Life) and asked her about mental preparation for competition. I think her response might be of interest to you. Here is what she said.

    It is by far the most important tool to success. I believe in the following sentiment– “success is 99% physical and 1% mental. But it is the 1% mental that determines the 99% physical.” I am certain I already possess the tools physically to be as good as I want to be. What I need to work on the most is mentally allowing myself to be great when it matters. Sometimes it’s harder than you think because confidence can be slippery and you lose it sometimes or deal with injuries and setbacks that you have to come back from. It is something I work on constantly and know is the biggest tool to achieving what I hope to achieve.

    All the best,


    • That’s awesome Tim, thanks for posting that. It seems like similar sentiments are expressed time and again by accompished athletes. This Graham Holmberg quote caught my attention awhile back, when he was asked what is his greatest athletic attribute.

      “Honestly, I would say that my mindset, competitiveness and heart is what helps me out the most with CrossFit. I’m not the strongest, fastest, or even most skilled guy out there. But I always see myself in the mix because I hate to lose and will never quit workouts.”

      Mental fortitiude!

  • Great article. I agree about the quiet confidence. I think that it is totally appropriate to be proud of yourself and your accomplishments especially after all the hard work you put into an endeavor. I think that the line of when confidence becomes arrogance is when you put others down to make yourself feel better. You can be confident in your abilities and talents as well as uplifting a positive to others. Its like when I am in the box and I finish before my friend. I don’t make fun or him or look down on him. I go over and cheer him on as he finishes. I expect him to push me as well.

    • Agreed Philip, I think that kind of approach (supporting and uplifting others) adds to your own experience as well. I have found that people who may be slower than me on workouts single day are very inspiring in their tenacity and work, no different than watching a Games athlete give it their all.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Hey girl–this might have been my favorite post thus far. As someone who is fascinated with what’s going on behind the eyes, this is something I often think about.

    Based on a mixture of my own opininon and some recent scientific research, it seems that having confidence and feeling powerful is first and foremost. Dana Carney, a professor in management at UC Berkeley, finds that those who are feeling powerful are more likely to act without hesitation–it’s chemically ingrained. Just standing in a powerful pose (e.g., opening up and standing tall prior to an Oly lift) actually causes increase in testosteronei n the body–which we all know is great for explosive energy. She’s actually starting to pursue some questions along the lines of embodiment–how feeling powerful actually makes weight FEEL lighter, distances seem shorter, etc. It’s really exciting stuff…for me anyway 🙂

    So while I feel it is important to be humble, I don’t think it should be part of your thought process in the heat of the moment in a WOD–I think it is something that comes in handy when planning future performance and reflecting on past performance. By all means, strut into the box like you f*cking own the place–it’s going to give you the best results in your output. But plan smart (i.e., pace yourself, be reasonable) but don’t leave room for doubt. Humility comes into play when you sit back and look at the craziness you just accomplished–be humble and greatful. To yourself. For the opportunity. To the people that got you there. And like you said, if you fall short, use it to your advantage to help you bounce back and grow.

    That’s just my two cents.

    • Fish, I knew I could count on you to bring the scientific research perspective. I agree with what you said about confidence while you’re in a workout, etc. It becomes even more interesting when a workout is not going well for someone- the challenge of keeping self doubt out of the equation when you aren’t performing up to your expectations is a big one. Being able to adjust and not lose that mental edge is key.

  • I totally agree. It seems like the key is really just keeping your mind clear while doing the deed.

    I highly recommend Sian Beilock’s book “Choke” if you have an itch to learn more about this kind of thing–she shows that high cognitive workload (e.g., ruminating about sh*t while you’re trying to perform) leads to “choking” or slip-ups in a variety of contexts (e.g., academic, sports, etc.) To the extent that positive self-talk is fluent/easy and doesn’t tax the system, it should help. Anything that gives you more to think about is going to muck you up.

  • Now your talking Rachel. This really resonates with me. I have found that short simple task oriented ques can be helpful to me. For example, in the swim at the Games, I kept repeating “just keep moving forward”, and the killer kage is another event that comes to mind where alot of positive self talk came into play, concentrating on reaching each individual rung.

    It’s this type of mental process where I think a gymnastics background is really helpful. Within a routine or between events you have to think quickly and focus on the movement at hand- you can’t be thinking about the movement/event you just completed or the one that’s coming next. If you screw something up you have to quickly let it go and focus on the next thing. I noticed the need for this while working on my snatch the other day. I didn’t get extended on the second pull because I was still thinking about the fact that I knicked my knees on the way up. Even on a movement as quick as a snatch, you can’t get caught up in what you did wrong, you’ve gotta be focused positively on what you need to be doing.

    Sorry I keep using lifting for examples, that’s what I’m doing alot of right now!

  • I agree with Feesh, this is my favorite post yet. Not only because it is another wonderfully written entry, and I love the quotes and pics, but also because it speaks to an issue I deal with all the time, simple self confidence. It’s certainly a factor in my daily life, but another layer of it was exposed when I joined CFC, and continues to be tested. One thing I never thought Crossfit would teach me was to believe in myself, but that may be the biggest change I’ve had in the past year throughout this journey. I joined to get into shape, but it’s helped in so many other ways. I’ve discovered that a low mental state can definitely prevent me from performing at my best, while a positive state will allow me to push myself harder than I ever thought possible, and this carries over outside the box.

    As for the seemingly diametric concepts of humility and confidence, I’d say they are mutually exclusive; you can be one or the other, or both, or neither. However your humility does control how your confidence comes across to others. I can think of plenty of people who are confident, but if they lack humility their personality is difficult to interact with, because they are simply braggadocios. Also the overly humble person can be equally challenging to socialize with and I think it’s difficult to find that balance. I struggle with being able to articulate accomplishments or things I’m proud of without sounding demeaning or stuck-up, but I hear it in others and the balance of humility and confidence is evident.

    Now that I think/write about this more, I can see how humility could end up affecting your mental state. My humility is sometimes a product of poor self image, and that can eventually bring me down in confidence, and hence in performance. I don’t know if you’ve “gone too far” in your humility, but I definitely see it in you and hear it when you respond to any random praise from fellow CFCers. And also when you feel uncomfortable speaking up when you need your own space or feel like you’re in the way. I know I’ve probably said similar things to you in our brief box convos before, like “who gives a fuck what they think?”, but your quote says it best, “let your light so shine”. Both meaning just do you and stop worrying about it. You ARE powerful beyond measure, maybe we all are, just don’t be an ass about it. 😉

    • Thanks JK. Isn’t it amazing how many ways and in how many areas of our lives that CF influences us? People can call it a cult, or whatever they wish, I know my life is better having CF in it! I love what you wrote about having difficulty claiming you own accomplishments- I can relate to that. It’s taken an effort to just accept compliments/recongnition with a ‘thank you’ vs. denying them. Personally, I like the confident CF JK!

      P.S. I already know I’m not going to have any space. I’ve learned to lift in a 2×6 foot rectangle. 🙂