In 2016, the CrossFit Games introduced an event called “The Separator.” I think normal handstand push-ups are tough. This event had ring handstand push-ups. That’s right—athletes were inverted on rings doing strict handstand push-ups. Pretty incredible!
If you watch the event, you’ll notice eventual champ Mat Fraser receive quite a few “no reps” meaning the rep didn’t count, and he had to repeat it again. How does he respond? He doesn’t get frustrated or angry. He just continues onto the next rep without hesitation.
Ben Bergeron uses this event and Mat’s response in his book Chasing Excellence to illustrate an important concept. One key to success is to focus your effort on only the things you can control and ignore the rest.
Mat even has this lesson tattooed on his body in the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.The Serenity Prayer
The Chief Task in Life
This mindset of focusing only on what you can control isn’t new. It wasn’t created by Ben Bergeron. In fact, it has been around for centuries in the form of Stoicism.
Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher from 50 A.D., called it “the chief task in life:”
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5
COVID-19 has provided a perfect opportunity to internalize this lesson and apply it in our day-to-day life.
For example, I desperately want the gym to reopen. I want to throw barbells around again in an energetic class atmosphere. I want friendly competition encouraging me to go faster, and coaches helping me do more than I thought possible. Ultimately, that’s outside of my control. I can’t control COVID-19 or our national, state, and local government approach to easing physical distancing restrictions.
What’s inside my control? Making sure I get a workout in five days per week with equipment that is available to me. Focusing on my nutrition and sleep so I don’t get sick. Touching base with other athletes to help keep us all motivated to continue moving forward. Those things I can 100% control every single day.
Why is This Important? Because the alternative is to spin our wheels trying to impact something we have no control over. The outcome is frustration. It’s a distraction from the real task at hand.
What’s In Your Control?
Here are some things that are in your control right now:
- Nutrition. Many of us have extra time at the current moment. Use it to create some new recipes and experiment.
- Movement. You’re probably limited in the equipment you have at your disposal. That doesn’t need to stop you from moving each day.
- Sleep. It’s never before been more important to get a good night’s rest. It helps to boost your immune function.
- Relationships. Yes, perhaps we’re restricted in how much we can do in-person, but video calls have never been easier.
- Habits. Remember all of those things you never had time for? You might have time for them now!
That’s a short list. There’s a ton more! The point isn’t to make an exhaustive list. The point is to build the mindset. When presented with an obstacle, you can either focus exclusively on the frustrating aspects blocking your way. Or, you can focus on what you can specifically control and get to work. The latter is much more beneficial in the long run.
Image Credit: CrossFit.com