The Art of Being Scared by max el-hag

What do you fear? It is a question I ask my clients frequently. The answers vary. The “tough” people like to say nothing. The honest people usually share their insecurities. They fear being fat, they fear being perceived a cheater, they fear losing, they fear becoming crippled, and a variety of other things.

The CrossFit™ Open this year made me realize how many people live their lives in fear and allow their paranoia to go unchecked. The Open is a difficult time. There are so many people competing, the tests can be simple, which means performing them at max effort hurts, and you’re allowed to repeat them, which means you can adapt to the practice of them. They are also super stressful for coaches and gyms. I try to do the best to ensure that our judges are holding the standard strictly, but judges must observe multiple points of performance on each movement, count, revert to the previous count in the event of a no rep, follow the movement of the athlete from station to station, all the while trying to remove their own personal investment in the people they train with on a day to day basis.

Humans are imperfect, so when reviewing videos it is hard to know what an acceptable human error is, and what will be perceived as unacceptable. I love the challenge, but I know I will make mistakes because I am human and therefore imperfect. I am also aware that the Open, and sports in general, can breed fear; fear you won’t qualify, fear your peers will think you suck, fear you won’t be able to earn a living if you are professional athlete, fear of letting your coaches down, fear of letting your sponsors down, fear of letting your support structure down, fear your video will make you look fat, etc. I have many of my own fears as a coach; fear I am not prescribing the correct training, fear the standards are not PERFECT, fear my athletes won’t do as well as they want to, fear I will lose the respect of the people who trust me to lead them. I noticed something this Open season. Some of the frenzy and paranoia that makes the Open so addicting and exciting can be better navigated if you learn to relax and stop focusing on the things which you fear. As I thought more deeply about that, I realized it is a beneficial strategy.

This article isn’t about strategizing the Open though; it is about using your emotions.

As I grow older and reflect, I realize how poorly I did in the past of committing actions that made my future life more emotionally balanced. Instead I attacked life with a sense of raging conquest, paranoid discipline, and constant disappointment. As things stand now, I’ve learned to react to my emotions and environment in ways that make my future better, instead of trying to constantly micromanage my existence. The lack of balance was ripping through my psyche and in turn, my body. I felt there was some value to offer to people who may be experiencing these things, whether in the Open or life. Because living a life full of fear makes it very difficult to cultivate a life of meaning.

So, some reminders as you approach fear…

Do not fear outcomes. Everything in life is temporary. We all die.

Time makes all things meaningless eventually. You think you understand what would make you happy in the future, but strive and successfully obtain enough “things” and you’ll soon realize that you don’t know what makes you tick. The human psyche is so adaptive and resilient. You can find happiness and make peace with whatever comes your way. There are studies of people who are paralyzed comparing them to lottery winners, and given a year, the paralyzed are happier than the lottery winners. If I asked enough “able bodies” which they would choose, almost all would select the lottery.

Life is funny, but it is also hard. What you think you can’t handle, you probably can if you stopped thinking you couldn’t. And what you think you can handle easily is probably a lot harder to handle than you think. We are rarely ever aware of the complexity of most situations. Allow yourself to work hard for the dream that motivates you today. But be pliable and understand that no matter how hard you try to control things and make everything perfect, it can never be. You cannot control people’s perceptions of you. Accept that you have less control than you want. If you try to hold on to any dream too tightly, you will likely squeeze the possibility of that future out of your hands, like grains of sand on a beach slipping through your fingers as you try to hold them tighter.

Don’t let fear cloud your rationality.

In the Open so many things can go wrong. What if my video isn’t accepted? What if my camera doesn’t turn on? What if my judge didn’t hold me to standard? What if I’m not good enough? Stop living your life in ‘what if’s.’ Do the best you can, deal with whatever comes. Life can be unpredictable and scary. Enough hard shit will happen. You don’t have to make it harder by thinking about all the difficult things that are going to certainly come your way. No one goes through life unscathed. When you recognize that, you can be kind for people in their time of need, and you can be grateful when you are riding the highs of life.

Use your fear productively.

If you are scared that you could be perceived as mentally weak, put yourself in a large group of people and challenge yourself to prove that you are not. Hold yourself accountable to that standard. If you are scared that you are not educated enough to be the coach you want to be, surround yourself with better coaches, read more and gain more experience. If you are scared your engine isn’t good enough, study energy systems and learn to train through the discomfort to build your body stronger. If you are scared of getting injured, take all the precautions you need to lower the likelihood of injury including: movement work, warm up, regular therapy, quality sleep, and good nutrition. It is ok to feel fear, but I don’t believe it is a good strategy to freeze in the face of your fear. Always take action. Life is change. Change requires movement…

Search the depths of your subconscious and soul for your deepest fears.

I’ve found there is a sense of freedom in understanding yourself. We are all scared of something. Embrace it, understand it, use it, work around it, share it, and tell your story in hopes that where you have ventured is somehow helpful, and will connect you to others who want to take that same quest or learn from your mistakes.

In a previous blog I’ve admitted that I am fascinated by death. As I think about my mortality, my aging body, changes that are happening in my life, political and economic changes in the world around me, the changes that are taking place in the psyches of the people I surround myself with; I recognize even more that life is an impossible game to win.

So many things are out of our control. Our fear, in some ways is what makes us human. We fear the loss of our loved ones, we fear losing our minds, we fear aging’s representation of our approach to death, and we let fear govern how we move through this world and respond to our experience. I am not going to give a “F*ck Fear” lecture and try to be a tough guy, because there are still things which terrify me when I think about them. There are things I’m not sure I am going to be able to handle. There are ways that people could perceive me that make me feel sick to my stomach.

I am intimate with my fear. I just don’t let it guide my actions. I don’t let it run my life. I don’t allow it to make me small. I don’t allow it to stop me from working towards my idea of a better future for the people who trust me to lead them and myself. And I try very hard not to allow it to lead me to looking for scapegoats.

There is a big part of me that writes this article for others in hopes they understand that a regular dude with minimal talents can over come crippling fears to do whatever it is they choose. But, most people who know me, know that my commentary will never be from a podium written in a sanctimonious tone. I know that I don’t have any answers, the doubt I have about my ideas and myself is one of the major drivers of my work ethic. Life has already humbled me and made me feel small in a universe of vast complexity. I write this more as a reminder to myself as things grow, change and evolve to hold myself accountable.

I feel grateful that I have began to find what meaning is for myself, and it is important not to let other people define me or to get lost in other people’s expectations of me. It is important to stay true to who I am, and not ever fear losing what it is I have worked so hard to obtain. There is a time for everything under the sun, and life will always bring with it struggles and change. So as it seems my life is beginning to trend in a positive direction at a fast pace, I will strive to embrace it, while I continue to allow my morals to guide me, and not my fear. I advise you to do the same, and not let fear guide your behaviors in the Open or in life.

Define who it is you want to be in the future and act accordingly.

Created By
Max El-Hag
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