Have you ever seen someone post a picture of their overcooked steak or their burnt toast on Facebook? How many status updates have you read that say, “Mother fucker: I Didn’t get a personal best today!”
I don't imagine very many.
People don’t boast about their fails. They post pictures of their perfectly-cooked poached eggs and bacon sitting atop a bed of fresh greens, topped with delicious-looking guacamole and a pinch of paprika. And in the idealized Facebook world, every single person on your newsfeed seems to have just set a new personal best. Meanwhile, in the real world, you’re at the gym pissed off that you haven’t hit a personal best back squat in six months.
The truth about training is that it isn’t in fact a never-ending stream of impressive performances. Training isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t involve daily PRs. It’s brutally hard, it’s frustrating, and although CrossFit Games athlete Emily Abbott boldly announced that, “There’s no crying in CrossFit,” the truth is, sometimes there is crying in CrossFit. Sometimes there’s swearing. And on really bad days, shoes or skipping ropes get thrown.
And sometimes frustration leads us to do stupid things. Like the other day. I had a bad morning session, where I failed a set of squats that I thought should have been easy. The anger didn’t subside, so four hours later I found myself back at the gym repeating the same squat sets I did that morning to prove to myself that I could get through them. Stupid.
The real truth—the one that social media doesn’t flaunt—is that there are many more fails than there are successes, and there are more days that fuck with your mind, your psyche, your ego than there are moments of complete and utter performance satisfaction.
Confession: I’m on a plateau.
In August, I made a list of goals for myself. I wanted to add 20 lb. to my snatch, my clean and my back squat by Christmas. I have achieved none of these goals. I have trained harder this fall than any other fall, yet I’ve been essentially riding a plateau in the areas of my training I most desperately wanted to improve.
My poor coach—Chris Schaalo—receives emotional texts and e-mails from me that are half frustrated and half an effort to try to stay positive.
The other day I finally admitted, “I feel like I’m on a plateau.”
Chris wrote back and said, “Usually plateaus are followed by a big break through.”
When I read his text, I remembered a book that resonated with me a few years ago: Mastery. It talks about different paths people take in an attempt to achieve success. It differentiates between the Dabbler, the Hacker, the Obsessive, and the Master. Essentially what makes the Master the best way to be is that when you’re a master, you learn to love the plateau, which is defined as long stretches of practices and repetition with no apparent progress. Ultimately, the master knows there will be more progress, and he loves the plateau because he knows a breakthrough is brewing.
As a CrossFit athlete, you’re constantly working on your weaknesses, constantly sacrificing certain aspects of your training for the sake of other movements, and often you find yourself stuck feeling like you’re not improving, or at least not improving as fast as Facebook tells you everyone else is.
It’s hard to love the plateau. Hard to be ok with your newsfeed blowing up every hour on the hour with yet another personal best. But I know there’s truth in the path of the Master. The plateau—not the personal bests—is what drives us to succeed.
And I know there is truth is Chris’ wise words, “Plateaus are followed by a big break through.” Sometimes I just need to be reminded.