When I moved to the East Bay, doing a little research revealed that the cheapest gym in my area was CrossFit. I had heard rumors about the brutal WODs ("Workout of the Day"), intense coaches, and fanatical quality of CrossFit adherents. So it was with a cautious spirit that I attended a Saturday morning introductory class in July.
We put sandbags on our shoulders and ran 400m. We jumped on boxes. We did wall-balls (throwing a medicine ball above a designated line and catching it in a squat). We sweated profusely.
I could barely sit for days. We used so many muscle groups I had rarely engaged that moving from sitting to standing reduced me to moaning like an elderly person with serious injuries.
But it was fun. I had tried running for six months without seeing noticeable physical changes, so I thought I would give weight lifting a shot. I signed up for an "on-ramp" training course and began an accelerated intro to weight lifting and the various movements that are commonly incorporated into CrossFit workouts.
My on-ramp coach was a freaking beast. At 5'2", she probably weighed 125 lbs. But she was a world-champion lifter and a phenomenal teacher. She was patient with me when I couldn't master the squats ("Sit back on your heels!"), and despite only having four days of on-ramp, she covered most of the movements we would use in workouts.
So I started attending the WODs at least three days per week, with a couple weeks off for travel here and there. It was slow going, and I had no idea what I was doing most of the time, but I was learning.
And my body reflected the effort: I went from 155 lbs to 175 lbs, most of which was muscle. I had crazy thigh muscles, crazy back muscles, and crazy sore knees from all of the jumping and squatting.
But I started noticing a disturbing trend.
I would go to CrossFit feeling excited about working out after a stressful day. But after weeks and months of coming in last at every workout (they tally everyone's times and amount of weight lifted on the board), I started feeling really dejected after every workout.
Intellectually, I knew what was happening:
1. The fact that I was disappointed meant I had subconscious expectations that weren't being met. I didn't think I had expectations, but I guess I thought I would be doing better after a couple of months.
2. I was comparing myself, and comparison is the root of dissatisfaction. I looked at the board after every workout and saw that I was the slowest person in the gym and lifting the least amount of weight.
3. I started to see myself as "bad" at CrossFit, so I claimed ownership over that identity. I intentionally did the minimum amount necessary for each workout. And I justified it by telling myself I was just trying to avoid getting hurt.
Here's the crazy part: I knew all of this was happening and that it was completely normal. But sometimes our emotional response to situations conflicts with our intellectual understanding.
Intellectually, I knew I was doing CrossFit for me, and it didn't matter how much progress I made relative to everyone else. But emotionally, I felt crushed.
So how did I resolve this conflict? I made a commitment. I signed up to do one year of CrossFit, and I gave myself permission to quit if I still felt the same way after one year.
The time to quit is not when you feel most hopeless. It's when you've proven that you can fulfill a promise to yourself.
People lose money in the stock market because they pull out when the market tanks. Alcoholics stay addicted because they take a drink when the withdrawal is at its worst. Weight lifters make gains when they push through failure.
I don't know if I'll stay with CrossFit in nine months when my year is up. But I do know that I will have given it my best shot, and I won't quit until it's done.
What situations in your life do you struggle with emotionally even though you intellectually understand them? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.