ften, we come out of a workout disappointed because the Row output showed -3.4%, Chest Press -7.0%, Pull Down -12.5%, and your all the times most favourite overhead Press -17.9%. Why is that so? And why appreciating the feeling even more than the numbers is so powerful? As the year is coming to an end, it's time to get cozy, relax, and zoom out for that more complete view, reflect, connect the dots, experience a few aha! moments. Become aware and appreciate the experiences that no power score on the screen could ever capture. Discover the richness that goes beyond the numbers – the richness of the felt experience of those 20 minutes every week trying to increase your strength.
This is a pregnant question as it has two “whys” in it:
1) Why is my workout performance output negative?
As you already know, there is a strong interplay between your physical performance and the quality and quantity of your sleep, nutrition, and mental state, and other environmental factors that heavily impact your state of recovery and readiness for sports. Four days of mild sleep deprivation of 1-2 hours decreases maximum strength by more than 20%, the accuracy of muscle control by almost 50%, and endurance by more than 10%. Your personal trainer keeps on cheering you up to “Pull pull pull!” but what he doesn’t know is that recent sleep deprivation has increased your perceived exertion by 20% and your stamina to “fight or flight” during the exercises close to zero. After all, it’s been a long week. In fact, it’s been a long year.
2) Why feeling disappointed is not worth it, even counterproductive?
Leg Press and Torso Extension green, the rest yellow, overall negative result. Disappointment follows. Was this of any use at all? Yes, it was. By doing the workout you set the stimulus to your muscles that’s optimal that specific day, telling your body to reap the 18 health benefits. But we, humans, have a scientifically proven negativity biases related to survival instincts. Our attention is automatically drawn to negative information such as the -17.9% more strongly than to positive information such as Leg Press +4.3%. Something perceived as a potential threat deserves more attention, thinks our brain. The consequence? We miss the opportunity to celebrate the amazing mixture of feelings we get when we accomplish the workout, when the dopamine sparks. We miss the richness of the moment.
“It is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.” - Zig Ziglar
Nurture the feeling of accomplishment. When walking downstairs after the workout seems like another workout in your legs, allow your mind to put a crown on your head. Isn’t it the feeling you came for to AURUM? After all, you’ve just trained like an astronaut and did the best thing one can do for ones fitness and health. You cannot measure it in Watt but you can feel it. And that feeling we develop within us is more powerful than any number on the screen. Notice it. Recognise. Appreciate. Be grateful. Celebrate. If these words were liquid ingredients, I’d stir (not shake) and would say cheers to that!
“There’s a GRATITUDE-CIRCUIT in your brain, badly in need of a workout. Strengthening that circuit brings the power to elevate your physical and mental health, boost happiness, improve sleep, and help you feel more connected to other people.”
- Alex Kolb, PhD, The Upward Spiral
There is plenty of research showing how awareness and gratitude can enhance your happiness, health, social and professional life. While practicing self-awareness and gratitude is associated with improved physical and mental health benefits, it also is related to increased sports performance. Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem which was an essential component to optimal performance.
Notice: High intensity workout doesn’t leave you any space to think of the urgency to send out the last email to your project team, of the items on the shopping list or your weekend plans. The intensity requires your instant presence. To achieve peak performance, do what an Olympic athlete would do: stay focused on the present moment and let go of results.
Take your score as a piece of information: what message does it convey? Maybe your body needs some attention? Maybe there is nothing to improve, do better, do more, but do less and just rest. Constant competition and self-optimisation can be stressful, increase cortisol and make you miss out on the positive things along the way.
Treat the 20 minutes as a break in your week, a moment to become fully aware of your body, its posture, your breath. How does it feel, when you keep your posture upright during the exercise? What do you visualise, or where does your mental focus go during the last 20 seconds – where should it go? What difference does it make, if you breathe out and activate your abs when the machine changes the direction?
There are ups, downs and stagnation periods: Appreciate the phase you are in and remember, in order to keep on achieving peak performance, you need to allow dips in your performance. When athletes plan for competitions, they schedule their training plan in stages (“periodization”). Take macrocycle, consisting of three phases: preparation, competitive and transition. The "transition" phase is important for psychological reasons, a year of training means a vacation is in order and its just as important. So allow December to be the Sunday of the year.
Celebrate: It’s not about the numbers on the screen, it’s about the feeling within. In order to celebrate, you need to train your brain to become aware of the positive. How does that power score feel like?
The Stoics believed that we should feel gratitude for all the people and events that form our lives. We shouldn’t just be thankful for the gifts we receive, and our relationships with friends and family. We should also be aware of and grateful for the setbacks and annoyances. For the nagging in-laws, the unachieved goals, the lost opportunities and whatever other difficulties we might be experiencing. Why? It is only by seeing the totality of things, good and bad, the yin and the yang, that we gain the understanding necessary to be truly grateful. That’s the richness in life.
What has made your life rich this year?
As we enter this 2nd lock-down, we wish you to focus on your wellbeing and that of those around you more than anything else this year. Say thank you. Show appreciation. Give recognition. To yourself and to others.
Happy holiday season, champion!