I recently had the honor and the joy of watching my CrossFit friends compete in the Crossfit Open Games, in which close to 60,000 people across the world do the same exercise for the most repetitions, the best time, or the heaviest weight, depending on the exercise.
Being the wuss that I am, I did not enter the competition, but I did take the opportunity to “coach” and cheer my friends on.
Not only was the competition fun to watch, but more so, it was interesting.
You see, this last week, each person had 7 minutes to do as many burpees as they could. If you are not familiar with burpees, they are really, really difficult. I can do about 10 before the wind is sucked out of me. It takes strength, agility, stamina and perseverance to do them in any event, let alone over a 7-minute period.
What I found to be amazing, was the time and again, around 50 burpees, the athletes would start wobbling, losing their form, and I could see that a part of their brain was saying, “You can stop now. You are so tired. You can barely move. Just stop.” While the other half of their brain was screaming, “No! Don’t stop. You can do it!” Despite the negative talk in part of their brain, they kept moving. As the number of burpees done climbed, their energy and determination visibly waned. Would the “tired” brain win out even though there were 2 minutes left to go? So just as they began wobbling—in the millisecond of the brain’s decision to stop or go—I would scream, “Keep moving!”
And they did keep moving, over and over again until the 7 minutes were up.
The ability to keep the brain focused and positive is quite a feat. The negative thoughts and the actual physical fatigue signals the body to stop and rest, as one would generally do if they could. But if you remove the negative thoughts, is the body as fatigued? Can it go one more step or one more burpee? Apparently so!
Not all brains are alike. Some individuals tend to be more negative, others more positive in their thoughts and outlook. When posed with a challenge, especially being under pressure, the same is true—some will face the challenge with courage and a belief that “I can,” while others will experience trepidation and fear, or fall apart. I am not sure I would have “kept moving” in a burpee challenge as I am not sure which side of brain would win over, but I do know that I have this mindset when faced with life challenges. I think many of us have experienced challenges where we felt confident and others, fearful. It’s like there is a flip of a switch in the brain. So, what is the driving force that flips this switch in the brain–to make someone push themselves beyond limits and beyond fatigue? Is it mental?
To be a great athlete, you have to harness the ability to perform under pressure, the capacity to stay confident and strong, even when competition conditions get tough, and the skill to remain relaxed and focused despite feeling pain and fatigue. These are actually the qualities of resilience. And these qualities of resilience help you “keep moving.”
All of us at some point in our lives, and perhaps even now, have struggled through hardships—physical, psychological, financial, etc. Perhaps you even got to a point one or two times of wanting to give up. But you didn’t. You continued to plow through until you came out on the other side. Or perhaps you are still in a difficult place, and still, you have not stopped, given up or given in.
It makes me think about heroes and heroines who keep moving, despite cancer, despite seeing their fellow soldier killed, despite losing all their worldly possessions. And if you look closely at all these folks who are able keep moving, you find within them, resolute inner strength and courage. You find a mental state of mind that says, “Keep moving. You can do it.”
You might also find next to these resilient people…other people. Usually, there is someone or something that helps propel courage and confidence forward–be it a friend, family member, coach, therapist, work-out partner, or the belief in a higher power or purpose. This support helps you stay positive and ultimately, “keep moving.”
What is the message for you? Keep moving, of course! And if you need encouragement, find someone to help you.