September 3, 2019

Tales from my Box – Pain, Perspective and the Past

text by Sara Gross

In the spring of 2011, I was coming back to full-time triathlon training after my daughter Rosalee was born and was working with a mental coach called Bob Palmer from Sport Excel. Bob had a sizeable tool kit of mental tricks, some of which I still use today. Also, blogging about my sessions with Bob allowed me make all kinds of fun and terrible cultural references about his name like: “Bobbing for Wisdom”, “What about Bob?” and “Bob the Builder.”

In any case, when I was recording with the guys from the Obstacle Course Podcast last week, one of them brought up a blog in which I had made the most competitive woman in Ironman racing (at the time), Chrissie Wellington, “disappear” in my mind. Uhh…. “Say what?”

 

I also totally buy into the notion that we create our own reality through our thinking and feelings. Not because we can change the world around us, but because if we think good things will happen, we ourselves will take micro, mostly unconscious steps towards making that shit happen in our lives.

 

This kind of left me wondering if my former self wrote something I could learn from today so I dug up this old blog to find out.  Sharing it here makes me feel a little uneasy, and dare I say, vulnerable (!!) and I want to make a couple points before we get started.

I can’t really explain why but I hate the term “the zone.” To me it feels fluffy and cheesy and all the things wrong with modern self-help culture. And frankly, I have that same feeling about a lot of the mental tricks I learned from Bob. An example I talk about later is “improving the weather” in memories to make them feel more positive. Like really?? My inner curmudgeon takes strong exception to that kind of mental exercise.

However.

I also realize that memories are not an objective history written on our cerebellum or prefrontal cortex. Memories are subjective and change with time and feelings. So why not actively change the weather in our memories if it makes us better able to perform today?

I also totally buy into the notion that we create our own reality through our thinking and feelings. Not because we can change the world around us, but because if we think good things will happen, we ourselves will take micro, mostly unconscious steps towards making that shit happen in our lives. So what we think and believe matters in tangible ways. And that’s something my brain can get around.

All of that is to say, so sorry about all the cheesy “zone” talk. But bare with me.

_________________________

 

July 18th, 2011

Pain

My last meeting with Bob started with a long talk about pain. In previous sessions, Bob told me that when you are in the zone, there is no pain and I didn’t question him at the time. But then later, I started to reflect on how I experience pain in training and racing.

The truth is, I often use pain as an indication that I am going hard enough in training. During some sessions, my specific purpose is to make use of and acquire better skills for dealing with pain. AND, on a couple of occasions, I felt sure that I was feeling pain and also in the so-called zone.

This sparked a long discussion between myself and my mental training coach on the question of pain and endurance sports performance.

We talked about good pain versus bad pain. Good pain being that nice burning you get in your legs or your lungs when you are working right on the rivet, in that place that tells you that you are doing your very best. Bad pain could be caused by injury or could be the outcome of losing the zone and giving in to the negative voices that will inevitably fill your head when you lose focus.

 

Bob said: “You need to shift your metaphors, reinterpret “the wall”, learn to love the discomfort and enjoy it.” 

 

A few things stuck with me after our discussion. Bob said: “You need to shift your metaphors, reinterpret “the wall”, learn to love the discomfort and enjoy it.” He talked about euphoric pain (is that really a thing?). I walked away with more questions than answers but one thing was clear:

As with so many things in life, pain is a matter of perspective.

 

Fatigue

From here our conversation shifted to fatigue. Bob explained that tiredness is natural, but fatigue is a learned behaviour (aha!). We used some visualization techniques to “clean up” the past and “unlearn” fatigue. I learned to brightened up the memories that were clouded with pain or fatigue so past experiences will stop affecting present experiences.

In the 2 weeks since our last meeting I have been using any down time I have to clean up all kinds of bad performances and experiences and change them in my mind to things that will make me stronger and better today.

 

Perspective

In the last few minutes of our meeting Bob talked about how I perceive my competitors. If you can see them, Bob said, they have already beat you…. ummm what? Of course I can see them, you just asked me to bring them to mind!

 

Of course, I know on a conscious level that Chrissie is a woman who has smashed records, won world titles and basically left a trail of destruction in every race she enters (amongst the men too!), but I was able to let go of all the emotional ties I had to her performances, including awe, fear and disbelief. Now Chrissie is just a woman have never met.

 

Slowly but surely, I was able to see that my competitors need to blend together in my mind and that none of them should stand out as an individual, because the one who does is the one who will beat me. I am the leader of my race and my competitors are just pawns in my performance game, there to help me get the best out of myself.

As soon as I got off Skype, I tested Bob’s theory by choosing the most competitive female in long course triathlon and trying to make her disappear. And poof! She was gone. Basically, I made Chrissie Wellington into a woman I have never met. 

Of course, I know on a conscious level that Chrissie is a woman who has smashed records, won world titles and basically left a trail of destruction in every race she enters (amongst the men too!), but I was able to let go of all the emotional ties I had to her performances, including awe, fear and disbelief. Now Chrissie is just a woman have never met.

My major “learns” since my last meeting with Bob is that I really can “clean up” any past experiences, feelings or thoughts that are affecting my current reality by brightening the memory in my mind’s eye and imagining myself in the zone during that time period.

Something as simple as improving the weather during memories of fatigue has really changed my perspective on past and present. Times when I used to feel burdened with the weight of training tiredness have become brighter memories of times when I did the work required to succeed in my sport and I can bring all those miles with me into my next race and my next season.

_________________________

 

In the end, I did learn something from my former self (or technically, from Bob’s former self). This exercise was a good reminder to be careful how we remember things.

You know how we are often told that there’s no such thing as failure, just success or learning? I suppose it’s the same with memories. Without all those dark cloudy memories of “failure” we are left remembering only times of learning and growth, or joy and success.

Maybe they really can all be sunny days?_________________________________________________________________

 

“Tales from my Box” is a weekly column by Live Feisty Media founder, Sara Gross. Here you will find stories from Sara’s CrossFit box or triathlon, or sports in general. Alternatively, you may find vagina news or other experiences related to being a woman.  

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