What do Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Josh Bridges and Kris Clever all have in common – aside from being generally awesome and having a huge fan base? While these individuals, like each of us, differ in background, strengths, weaknesses, shape and size (see picture of Josh and Aja), they all share at least one common characteristic: the ability to maintain self-confidence in the face of adversity or “failure.” While self-confidence is not one of CrossFit’s 10 fitness domains/general physical skills, I full-heartedly believe it is an integral part of the foundation for success in our quest to improve personally, professionally and athletically.
Webster’s Dictionary provides four definitions of the noun “confidence.” The key definition for our purposes is “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers, or of reliance on one’s circumstances.” This definition taps into the driving force behind self-confidence: we are in the driver’s seat. Failure is a relative term. Unfortunately, we often use the term failure and disappointment interchangeably. When you hit the bottom of your third thruster with twelve more ahead of you during the second round of Fran, that little voice in your head will usually start whispering something to the effect of “you suck.” Likewise, that inner voice whispers similar sweet nothings if your professional work is not up to par or your 15-month-old son does a reverse swan dive off the couch (I caught him…). While disappointment is part of life (and actually quite healthy if you are setting challenging goals, see George’s article on goal setting), characterizing disappointment as failure is unnecessary. It is the kryptonite to maintaining self-confidence.
While I lack the experience and wisdom of CJ and our stellar coaching staff at Invictus, I can make one guarantee based on my personal journey: not everything in life can be completed unbroken. At some point, everyone will drop the bar. Whether it is in the gym, at work or at home, it will happen. The opportunity for negative self-talk will invariably ensue and you will be at a crossroads. The easy and tempting path is to honor that negative self-talk, which is a road peppered with self-indignation and excuses. “I missed a few weeks of training, I can’t go back.” “I need another minute before I pick the bar back up.” “I ate terrible while I was traveling, I’m done with Paleo, ice cream has some protein in it.” Sound familiar? This path is a one-way ticket to a decrease in confidence and self-worth. Moreover, this path will, with very few exceptions, spill over into other areas of your life and impede your overall happiness, health and well being. By no coincidence, one of the examples Webster’s provides of using “confidence” in the proper context is “He lacked the confidence to succeed.”
The other, more challenging path is one ripe with opportunity. Can you acknowledge that you, and you alone, are in the driver’s seat? Can you silence that inner voice and genuinely believe that each “failure” presents a new opportunity to dig in and overcome that obstacle? When you get kicked to the ground, do you get up because you have to (although CJ would probably let you sleep in the gym if you asked) or because you are hungry to regroup and move on to the next challenge? Are you happy with complacency or do you seek out the “difficult-difficult” challenges (see article on difficult-easy). The decision to take control and maintain our self confidence in the wake of any shortcoming will play a pivotal role in our ability to succeed in the future. I submit that this skill or “domain” is equally as important as learning the proper mechanics of a deadlift or clean.
A common misconception equates physical appearance with confidence. Those who buy into this media-fueled notion are deeply misguided. Anyone can wear flashy clothes, a fancy watch and buy the latest (expensive) Crossfit gear. But even the most expensive clothing, an extravagant Rolex and the lightest Inov-8’s will do little to appease that inner voice when an individual falls short of a goal or is genuinely challenged. During a partner WOD where one partner works while the other endures some form of physical stressor (holding Kettlebells, etc.), I want the guy/gal with heart and confidence, not cool shoes.
A former professor of mine who has served for decades as a federal judge in Boston put it quite simply. During a trial advocacy class, the judge was discussing confidence in the courtroom. He shared an example of how he taught his grandkids to maintain their confidence in the wake of “parental adversity.” When his grandkids would spill something at dinner or fight over a toy, he would say “WHOGAS!” (pronounced “who-gas”) in a playful voice when the kids looked to him for reassurance. His grandkids picked up on the underlying message, learned their lesson and trudged forward. While the judge’s son and daughter-in-law always thought that WHOGAS was a silly word to make their kids laugh, the judge never shared that WHOGAS was short for “Who Gives A Sh*t?” The point of his story was simple, but well received. When you drop the barbell or spill the drink, in the gym or in life, you have to ask yourself WHOGAS. Is breaking up your thrusters (because 155# is the new 135#, which was the new 95#) or disappointing your boss really a bad thing if you can use it as an opportunity for growth? Learn from the experience and trudge ahead. Within adversity or “failure” lies the opportunity to get stronger.
Success stories of individuals with an uncanny ability to maintain self-confidence in the face of adversity are woven throughout history and deeply engrained in our evolving Crossfit culture. Michael Jordan’s unforgettable “failure” commercial illustrates the point perfectly. Similarly, Steve Jobs 2005 commencement speech at Stanford crystallizes the importance of maintaining self-confidence. Can you imagine the internal monologue that went on after being fired from a company you literally started and invested your life in? Was missing a PR on today’s WOD really that bad…
In the Crossfit arena, I can only assume that Josh was not mentally high-fiving himself after the second event at this year’s Games. (Hopefully the Navy and Marine Corps will integrate a softball throw into their basic training since apparently it is a useful tool for gauging overall fitness….) Regardless, Josh stood his ground, maintained his self-confidence, crushed the remaining events and wound up on the podium. Josh eludes to the importance of self-confidence in his October 31st article by providing insight into his strategies to deflate that inner voice and “break through the mental barrier.”
As another example in the Crossfit arena, Kris Clever, whether she liked it or not, became the face and inspiration for countless female athletes after winning the Games in 2010. Like Michael Jordan in a playoff game, the Crossfit community silently expected perfection every time Kris competed. While Kris clearly deals brilliantly with pressure, at least on the surface, I guarantee she chooses the right path when confronted with adversity. Kris’s continuing ability to perform is a true testament to her willingness to maintain her self-confidence despite countless challenges. I had the privilege of attending my Level 1 certification course with Kris a few years ago. After paying our dues to Fran, Kris had the same infectious smile on her face that she shared from the podium the past several years and will continue to display in the future.
In conclusion, confidence is an unwavering belief in yourself, regardless of external or internal criticism, when you are confronted with adversity. The critical question the next time you “drop the barbell,” whether it involves a project at work, the gym or your young son ignoring gravity, is how will you let it affect you? When your moment comes, stand your ground, believe in yourself and success will follow.