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... But I Can't Do That!

You Play the way you Practice

“I can’t do that”.

I wonder how many times we’ve limited ourselves by those 4 words. They sound pretty innocuous, some would say it’s even a sign of knowing your strengths and being realistic. But is it really?

As both my regular readers will know, I find a lot of life’s teachings can be learnt in the gym and if you’re one of those who rolls their eyes at that, now’s the time to switch articles.

Awww, look at you, you little rebel, reading on and all.

So... I was in the gym the other day and we were working on front squats, with 6 sets of 3 reps at 85% of your maximum for 1 rep (the numbers aren’t that relevant). Anyone who knows me knows I hate squats. A lot. Mostly cos I’m no good at them. But I’ve been working real hard on them lately so thought to myself I’d better put in a good shift. And so I built up to 85% of my 1 rep max and on the 3rd set turned to my coach and said, “this is really hard,” before it occurred to me that I’d miscalculated and was actually at 95%.

It may not sound like a big difference but from a capacity perspective 95% of your max is significantly more difficult than 85% and my immediate response, curiously, was “oh no, I shouldn’t be able to do this. I need to dial it back”, before my coach (horrible amazing person) said “looks like you’re going to have a new 1 rep max when we next test it”.

I remember walking home (on wobbly legs) thinking about that exchange and my initial defeatist mindset. My immediate reaction surprised me... “no this is too heavy, you shouldn’t be doing this.” When I thought about it though, I realised I’d been working hard on my squats, from foot positioning, to building strength, various muscle activation exercises, to how I rack the bar, so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the improvement. Yet there I was, actually doing it but thinking I shouldn’t, couldn’t be.

Professionally, I’ve seen similar behaviour where people work hard to gain a promotion or an opportunity to take on new projects where they can put the skills they’ve been developing to the test and yet when the opportunity arises, freeze and get hit with self-doubt, then start self-sabotaging. Occasionally this is because the individual thinks the promotion or project is the destination, a mark of ‘making it’ rather than a chance to develop further, but usually it’s from not actually believing they can, even though they’ve actually worked really hard to get there.

This is very different to a person not doing any exercise for a year then deciding to run a sub-4 hour marathon and being devastated when they can’t complete it. More so it’s about self limiting views that we seem to have conditioned ourselves to believe. And if you don’t think we’re conditioned to think that way, go to a suburban park and observe parents with their kids and count the number of times the kids are told not to do something because it’s too dangerous, they’ll get hurt or just get told “you can’t do that”.

Seth Godin addresses this conditioning in his book The Icarus Deception and I recommend that as a real eye opener. In the meantime, if you catch yourself telling yourself you can’t do something, perhaps stop and ask yourself if you’ve done the work to ready yourself for the challenge. If you have, then take two deep breaths and put everything you’ve got into making it work.

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