Letting Go

I have to tell you all something, and I hope you won’t hold it against me. I’m a control freak – but I’m trying to get over it – I swear. Here’s what I’ve been doing wrong, and how I’m trying to fix it.

The first step to recovery may be admitting you have a problem – but that only works if you identify the correct problem. For over a year I’ve been in a rut, or worse a downward slide. I’ve been watching gains I made in 2013 halt and disappear despite my constant attempts to work harder, longer, and more often. When that got me nowhere, I tried the time-honored week off cure. When that didn’t work, I went back to the more is more approach and by the early summer I was feeling like a very frustrated, unhappy hamster running on an increasingly heavy wheel. Working harder wasn’t working – maybe I could work smarter! I spent hour upon hour concocting new master plans for how I would finally buckle down and get in every workout, every modality, every movement I could possibly need to hit to gain strength, rebuild my lost distance running endurance, and just plain get better a CrossFit… whatever that really means. As long as I mapped out the details, and didn’t miss anything, why couldn’t I do it all, all at once? I just needed more focus, and more discipline. Probably less Facebook and YouTube time. More assistance exercises, and skill work.

Because that’s like, totally realistic. I can’t imagine why it didn’t work… but it most certainly didn’t. The harder I tried, the more disappointing the results were becoming and the less I wanted to try. Running, lifting, CrossFit – these things have been my sanctuary and my inspiration through all of the most challenging times of my life. Until they became the challenge, the new weight around my neck, the new reminder that I hadn’t done every single thing exactly as I’d planned.

And there’s the first problem I had to correctly identify: the biggest issue wasn’t that I was tired, or that I had a lot of wildly varying goals, or that my expectations were unrealistic. The biggest number one lightbulb moment problem was that I thought compulsively training for all of those goals at once counted as a “plan,” or (forgive me) a “program.” That’s not programming for yourself – it’s punishing yourself.

Kittens on shoulder
Working out with no ones input except these little devils on my shoulder wasn’t working out for me!

I had known this all along, really. For about two and a half years I’d been unable to attend classes or work with a coach, or even consistent workout partners, because of work-related moves and travel. I knew the haphazard nature of my training wasn’t going to get me anywhere, but I didn’t know where to start bringing some organization back into my life. I was definitely stuck on “random” instead of “constantly varied.” Last year I made the first baby step in the direction of rationality when I spent about 6 months on a progressive lifting program. I threw in what CrossFit I could but facility and equipment limitations kept it to a minimum. Which ultimately may have been the reason I was making progress then – I didn’t have time or resources to get it in my head that only I could know all the different things I just HAD to keep up on. I couldn’t worry that no program, no matter how experienced its author, could possibly give me what I needed to get stronger and more powerful without finding myself suddenly unable to run two miles. I couldn’t fixate on how exactly I would cram my now-customary four strength days, the five or six runs I used to do in my endurance days, AND the 5 or so WODs I was used to getting in when I was able to train at an Affiliate. And, you know, eat, sleep, and go to work. At a job that includes 5 days a week of organized PT.

I was so overwhelmed by everything I thought I had to get done that I’d often go out to my garage after work, sit down on the bench, and freeze. I desperately wanted to just go back inside and pull a blanket over my head. But the plan! I had a plan! I had to STICK TO THE PLAN!

So what finally changed? I got on an actual plan, one written by someone who knows what they’re doing instead of, ahem, someone who is just worried about doing everything, all the time. I had gotten myself back in to an affiliate that I can make it to a couple times a week, and confided in the owner that I was frustrated by being in such a massive rut. And answer to my unconscious prayers he told me what I needed to do was stop what I was doing, and follow the Invictus program with a group at our gym. And I almost said no. It was on the tip of my tongue, because all I could think was “but what about my running? And what about my lifting? What if the plan doesn’t hit something I want to work on? How can I give up control to a plan that doesn’t take into account all of those ridiculously conflicting goals I’ve been chasing – I won’t get anywhere!”

I almost said no. But I didn’t. Because I had known for a long time underneath all of that worry that what I really needed was to give up control. Not only because I don’t really have the experience to create an effective program. Not even primarily because of that. Because the pressure I had put on myself to control my workouts, to figure it all out, to fix the problem that just kept getting worse was becoming oppressive and overwhelming and exhausting all on its own. I said yes.

The very next day I stopped trying to adhere to the schizophrenic schedule I’d set for myself, and followed someone else’s program. I lifted what I was told to lift, when I was told to lift it. I set a timer for every minute on the minute, for every two minutes, for every 90 seconds – whatever was called for – and I just did it.

And instead of feeling hedged in and worrying about missing this or omitting that, I enjoyed a workout for the first time in months.

I’m working harder than I ever have before; I scale things down to my mortal proportions but even then the workouts are a lot to tackle most days. Yet I’m physically less tired and mentally it’s like a fresh new world because I’m not so overwhelmed. The work is harder, but I just have to get it done. Three weeks in it’s already working. I’m seeing movement in the right direction for the first time in almost a year, and I’m not approaching workouts with the dread of anticipated failure anymore. Maybe best of all, because I’m not trying to find the exact specific just for me answer on my own, I’m working out with company again, getting pointers and suggestions that are making me better now that I’ve finally let go and remembered that as great as rugged independence can be that doesn’t mean having all of the answers all of the time – there’s a time and a place to calm down and just do what you’re told.

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