Tag Archives: CrossFit

Overcoming Fear of Failure is a Path to Happiness

*The following is a draft of a section for my next book on Happiness and College Life.  Feedback is appreciated.  I thought I’d include a bit of my experience with Cross Fit in the manuscript.

Fear of Failure

Let’s dismantle this idea of failure right away.  There is no such thing.  Fear and failure hold power over you if you allow it.  Failure is just a perception.  You have a choice:

  1. I’ve failed therefore I give up.
  2. This is a lesson, therefore I now know what needs work.

Which option will you embrace?  As I write this I am in the throes of an extraordinary exercise regimen called Cross Fit, and I am far outside the bounds of my comfort zone.  There are two moves in particular that have my stomach in knots: a tire flip and dead lift.  Both begin with a squatting position and then upward motion with the thrust of the thighs and glutes.  While lifting the weight, one’s back cannot round but must remain straight so that all of the lifting comes from the legs and glutes.  I cringe whenever these are listed as part of the routine for the day (or WOD for you familiar with Cross Fit).  I’ve even pleaded with the coach: “Can’t we do sit-ups or something else?”  They smile and point to the weight.  I stare down at it and know that I must try again to lift.  I have yet to accomplish this movement.

The difficulty for me encompasses more than the weight itself.  My struggle in this instance resides with confronting a weakness.  When I look at the bar (or tire) I am a bundle of frustration. A mental tug of war brews.  Part of me feels like unleashing tears and questioning myself for even joining Cross Fit.  I’m embarrassed.  What in the world am I doing here?  I’ve never been athletic.  But another part of me sees this as the potential to redefine myself.  Fortunately that voice seems to be winning the mental war.  Believe me, I want to pass the weight by, move on to an exercise  I can manage, and then head out for Starbucks and snacks.  But, what would that do for me?

When we step outside of our comfort zone and “fail” we are actually being alerted to an area of ourselves that needs work and attention.  If it weren’t for these “failures” we might not be aware of an opportunity for growth.  That is why I’d like to rid you of the idea of “failure,” because they serve as life sign posts and lessons.  Failure, if you let it, means stopping and resigning.  On the other hand, lessons entail awareness, recognition, and determination to reassess our approach.

It is not easy for a weakness to be highlighted in our trials for growth. It is extremely easy to avoid discovering them and running away.

The day will come when I step up to the tire or weighted bar for the lift and my legs will carry me up.  It will happen.  I’m determined.  But the only way for it to happen is if I continue to confront the challenge and build the muscle.

In Tips From The Professor I wrote about identifying weakness and making it your strength in the context of the classroom.  I’ve had students come to me with a deflated look due to a low grade on a paper or exam.  They’ll say things like “Philosophy isn’t my thing” and “I’m just not a good writer.”  A low grade on an assignment is not a definitive statement about your ability.  The grade addresses an area that needs more energy and time.  You haven’t failed.  You’ve learned!  Now, get a move on and try again.

This attitude translates to enjoying life itself. A few years ago I traveled to Poland, and before the trip I hastily studied a bit of Polish.  On day one in Krakow when entering a shop, I proudly greeted the cashier with “Good morning,” or so I thought.  After noticing how his eyebrows knit, I realized that I actually blurted: “You’re welcome.”   What a way to walk into a store! This must have sounded silly.  I chuckled at the goof and immediately made a note to self: practice “good morning.”

It’s okay to make mistakes!  What is important is our response to them.  Delving into the unknown means accepting ridiculous moments here and there but that is essential for growth, which in turn brings us happiness.

Find something new and challenge yourself.  All of the “greats” from musicians to scientists have stumbled. Keep in mind, happiness and excellence were not achieved in spite of stumbling but as a result of learning from mistakes and having the confidence to continue.  People who flourish do so because of their method in the face of obstacles.  There need not be a fear of failure.

If you try something and the result is not what you had hoped for then stop and observe.  Ask yourself: What is there to learn here?  What do I need to strengthen?

The Teacher Becomes the Student

“Focus,” he said. “Stop talking.  Breathe.  Now, push that bar up.”

Eyes closed, face scrunched, forehead veins popping, I sucked in a breath and pushed the bar up summoning all of my might.  When I let it back down I opened my eyes with relief.

“You’re stronger than you think,” he said.  “Next time we’ll put more weight on.”


Three months ago hubs noticed a Crossfit gym open across the street from us.  Rather nonchalantly he suggested  we give it a try. Why not?  I phoned and scheduled a time for us to come in.  Keep in mind, I did this with only the vaguest of vague notions about class workouts such as Sweatin’ to the Oldies by Richard Simmons or Jane Fonda videos.    Yay for group exercise!

Hubs couldn’t make it that first day so I wandered into the gym solo.  The first thing the coach went over were squats.  Sure, I could bend my knees.  No probs.

“Good, but you need to go further than your legs parallel.”

I tried again.

“Get your butt below your knees.  Then drive back up.” He then demonstrated the movement with grace and an apparent immunity to gravity.

The bending wasn’t too bad, however standing up from that position (and quickly) was a different story.  Whew!  So, what’s next?

“Give me 20.”

“I’m sorry?  How do you mean?” I asked.

“Do 20 of those squats.”

I was going to kill hubs for this.

And the rest of the session didn’t get much better.  There was rowing, push ups, and an awkward attempt at a pull-up that left me swinging from the bar squealing, pretty much offering empirical evidence to the theory of evolution.  I came home exhausted, shaky, and sweaty.  I needed wine.  It didn’t matter that it was 10:30 am.  “I’m drinkin’ the good stuff!”

For the next few days I shuffled rather than walked.  Even the simplest of movements like turning the key in the ignition caused pain.  A few of my students asked me if I was okay.  “Crossfit,” I said.  They nodded sympathetically.  Limping and saying “Crossfit,” around youth, it turns out, gets them to hold doors for you and assist carrying books.  During a class break, one student who does Crossfit handed me a little list of recovery activities and smoothies.  He gave me hope that things would get better.

My sessions at Crossfit continued.  In all honesty I felt like Sisyphus with each new set of exercises because it didn’t seem to get any easier for me.  I was the runt of the litter, perpetually out of breath and the last to finish.  As a professor, I spend my days walking into a classroom being an expert, but now I was entering a situation where I found myself the dullard of the group.  The challenge humbled me.  I needed to follow, not lead.  I needed to listen, not instruct.  I needed to embrace the fact that I had a lot to learn.  I needed to trust.

Then one day in the midst of a set of exercises my mind silenced.  Huffing, puffing, and sweating, my body continued to go through the movements.  I experienced a strange sort of numbness, not in my body but in my mind.  The voice in my head usually counting-down and praying for the end suddenly stilled.  I just kept going.  My muscles took charge and I surrendered to them.

Much to my surprise, my gradual increase in strength and endurance has prompted a rather emotional inquiry.  I can do more.  But accepting this means coming to terms with a buried long held habit of turning attention away from my body.  As a child, I was brutally teased by boys for being chubby.  My solution to the problem involved wearing excessively baggy clothes, and in Catholic school I spent a few afternoons in detention for not tucking my shirt in all the way; however, I preferred the baggy look and detention administered by Sister Jean to tucking my shirt in and showing any sort of form to my body.

This mentality stayed with me but not in an obvious manifestation, more in terms of an absence.  My attention over most of my life has been almost exclusively directed to the development of my mind.  I read.  I write.  I go for walks to ponder what I have read and what I need to write.

A relationship to my body has been virtually non-existent.

It’s not “me.”

“Me” = devoting afternoons to unraveling Hegel (with coffee and snacks).

Jumping into the grueling exercise program that is Crossfit forced me to confront the source and the perpetuation of my feelings towards my physical self.  I absorbed the taunts of the boys even though I put on quite a front with my hands on hips yelling sharp come-backs like, “Oh, yeah, well you’re a stupid-head!”

This has me thinking about the power of buying into others’ beliefs, consciously or not.  I accepted as true that my body was subpar.  I therefore set a definition of myself as if that were static and couldn’t waver.

How much do we hold ourselves back because someone somewhere said, “This isn’t for you,” or “You’re not capable.”?

The boys are long gone now, and I’ve surrounded myself with people who encourage and push me to do more.  At the moment I’m learning how to improve this area of my life.  There is still more work to be done and goals to set.  Most importantly, I’ve learned to shift my thinking from “I can’t” to “I’m getting there.”

*My deepest gratitude to the coaches and crossfitters at CrossFit Madre.

Operation Relax

Not too long ago I tweeted the following:

photo-29 copy

I am addicted to working.  When I am not teaching I am grading, and when I am not grading I am reading, and when I am not reading I am writing/journaling, and when I am not writing I am thinking about writing, and when I am not thinking about writing I am drinking coffee while thinking about how I ought to be thinking about writing.  Chocolate.

I juggled a few projects over the last year and a half that left me little time outside of…hmmm…anything else.  The last of these projects was a paper I presented for the Simone de Beauvoir Conference in Alicante, Spain.  While putting the finishing edits on the paper I turned to my dear jet-lagged hubs and said, “After this I will take a break.”

He smiled and said, “We’ll see.”

Oh!  I sensed a challenge!

“One month,” he said.

“Okay, one month.  No working.” I chimed.

“We’ll see.”

So here we are, folks, at what I am calling “Operation Relax.”  I’m terrible at it!  In the beginning I chatted up a friend at a dinner party about this “operation.”  Within seconds of the conversation the sweet allure of writing about the meaning of relaxing knocked on my mental door crawled out of the well of my mind like the girl from The Ring.  How do people relax?  Why is it necessary?  What is the difference between relaxing and idling?  Is this a cultural problem relating to the constant need to produce?  Possible health issues?  Physical manifestations?  How about the impact of meditation?  I bet Camus wrote something in his journals on this.  I really must research the dynamics of…

okay stop!

Intuitively, I know that I need to allow time for my brain to re-boot, but accomplishing this is surprisingly difficult.  My goodness, how to relax?

In the book The Art of Learning, author Joshua Waitzkin (chess genius) advocated embarking on long breaks in order to return to any work or craft refreshed and with a brighter perspective.  In this spirit, I’m putting some faith in this plan and trying new activities.

In the last 3 weeks I’ve done the following:

1. I joined CrossFit.  This has by far been the most insane daunting thing I’ve ever done.  For those of you who are familiar with it, you’ll understand when I say that every time a “WOD” (Workout of the Day) is posted I gasp: “No (expletive) way.”  On the bright side, the physical activity draws me out of my mind and into the present.  My students will never again be able to look at me with their big worrying eyes and complain that an assignment is “too difficult” because if this gal can run, row, do burpees, push-ups, and whatever hellish exercise they throw at me, then no one is ever getting away with saying “I can’t” in my presence.

2. I indulged in a shameless TV binge of  seasons 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones.   I couldn’t bear to wait for Season 3 so I bought the book. Armed with said book I secured a place at Starbucks and have come to know the local Starbuckians, but  I know to avoid Tom because he mistook my study of Philosophy for an invitation to tell me at length his thoughts on The Book of Revelations and the impending Rapture.

3. I am re-doing my patio and learning the basics about plants, like which ones are most likely to survive.  I put every plant in a pot with my fingers crossed in hopes that I don’t kill it. “You must live,” I whisper.  The neighbors might be concerned.

4. I reached out to friends and mildly drifted from my classic introverted persona.  This has confused everyone involved, but in a good way 🙂

5. I’ve been to two comedy shows because why not?

A few days of this “operation” remain and I’m still somewhat stumped by the complexity of it.  No doubt, I am guilty of immersing myself in a project, and near the conclusion, immerse myself into another one without stopping to relish the moments of the project itself.  Relaxing, ironically, has fallen into a similar category for me.  However, in my defense, I do know this: I’ve found a profession, namely Philosophy, that has gripped me in such a way that I don’t necessarily want to let go.  I read classical and contemporary works with an overwhelming feeling of being grateful for the opportunity.  That being said, with this “operation” I am also learning I must experience the world more fully in order to be thoughtful.

*By the way, this blog entry doesn’t count as working and, yeah, don’t tell hubs, okay?

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