The Art of the Setback (And How It Made Me Stronger)

When Life hands you lemons…
You’ve heard it a hundred times.
Platitudes are great to post on instagram and recite to other people when things are just rosy.
BUT when S***T goes sideways it’s really easy to forget that totally pithy quote. #fitspiration
All of the sudden you forget that you workout in the gym to be challenged.
And any obstacle you face, like a killer workout, is just another challenge.
Something you can come out of stronger than before.
Natalie got hurt a few months ago.
It was a huge setback. It was incredibly frustrating. And it was a total blessing.
Adversity clarifies commitment.
When things get hard, you find out how badly you want, and how committed you are to getting something.
I asked Natalie to write about her injury and recovery so if you’re in the midst of an injury, you might gain some perspective. Read on and see how she turned those lemons into lemonade.
—Enter Natalie—
In the sport that we do, we are taught to push ourselves, push our limits, get comfortable being uncomfortable. However, most of us will experience a time where our bodies push back and say, “I don’t want to do this anymore”. Sometimes we’ll listen, but other times our egos will get in the way and we’ll keep pushing. Enter the injury.
Back in July, this happened to me. Forcing myself through some hang cleans, I didn’t listen to my back screaming to stop. By the end of that part of my workout, I limped out of the gym unable to complete anything else. 
I was injured for two months. This wasn’t the type of injury where I just had to scale the workouts. This was the type of injury where I was lucky if I could complete an individualized workout, fittingly dubbed the “Lieutenant Dan workouts”, since I wasn’t using my legs. I took a lot of days off during this time. Some were because my back wouldn’t’ let me workout, and others because I was not in a good head space. 
I got really depressed as the days turned to weeks. I tried to stay positive. I tried to convince myself that I should be grateful that I could even do my Lieutenant Dan workouts and they’ll help me stay in shape. I found myself either very agitated or very down many days. I found days where I didn’t even want to go to do work that I had fallen behind on. I found myself not wanting to even see other people working out. When I was at the gym, I isolated myself in my headphones. The problem for me, is that I manifest sadness in the form anger. Unfortunately, I think my negative attitude may have had some lingering impact on my relationships. 
I have always strived to seek out the lesson in adversities. Though it sometimes takes me longer than I’d like, I think I’m good at it. If you ever find yourself injured, taking a break from the gym, coming back after a hiatus, or struggling, my hope is that something here will bring someone at least a small degree of comfort or inspiration at some point. 
Remember what we’re doing. 
There is a difference between working out and training. I believe that what we all do it training. In my mind, working out entails going to a globo-gym, doing cardio for hours, and aimlessly attempting to use machines. There’s not much intensity, purpose, or drive.
On the other hand, CrossFit is training. Pushing ourselves the way we do, grunting, yelling, and cheering for one another while also competing is training. We post our scores and keep track of our PRs in order to measure our improvements. We’re constantly testing ourselves. 
The main difference between working out and training is risk – ego and physical. Ego risk is making yourself completely vulnerable. In CrossFit, we make our selves vulnerable because there is nothing to hide behind; you get sweaty, dirty, or even make weird sounds. You are essentially putting your entire self on display in a performance of your physical abilities and your mental toughness.
Working out typically has little risk. There isn’t much pressure to perform nor are testing themselves or posting their scores for all to see (except maybe a nicely quaffed gymselfie). However, every time we go to the gym, we’re setting goals for ourselves, we’re pushing our limits, and competing with yesterday’s self. Being in a group setting ups the ante even more. There’s substantial risk occurring here. 
Also, in training, there is inevitable physical risk. Not in a reckless way, but pushing your limits carries risk. Remember what we’re doing. Sure, we could play it safe and go to a globo-gym and do endless sit-ups, but that’s not how us CrossFitters are. The risk makes the reward that much more humbling and meaningful.
Once I realized that what I do in the gym carries risk, both for my self-identity and physical body, I felt less angry at myself for being injured. I wasn’t necessarily okay with it, but it helped with the acceptance of my situation.
Remember who you are.
We sometimes attach our identities to arbitrary things and cling tightly to the roles we are given. I realized that in my time of doing CrossFit, my identity became CrossFit and I was the “fit one” amongst my friends outside the gym. I realized that I felt a sense of embarrassment because I wasn’t able to fill this role and identity that I attached myself to.
It’s easy for an ego attachment to take over and to a degree its normal. When we want to achieve something our heart is set on, we need to deeply commit ourselves to new behaviors and ways of thinking that will help us reach the goal. However, there is a fine line between commitment and obsession.  I’m sure like many of you, I had to change many things in my life to reach my definition of success in CrossFit. I changed my eating and sleep habits, my wardrobe changed, my daily routines changed, and much more. Unfortunately, my entire perception of myself became dependent on how I did in workouts. I would tell myself I am weak, lacking in mental toughness, a loser, etc., even though I was being successful and achieving other great things in and out of the gym.
Sustaining this injury forced me to look at all the events in my life in order to make a judgement of myself. I was to see that I had amazing mental stamina, possessing extreme perseverance and resilience, and I am a strong BA chick.
Remember that you are not CrossFit. You are not your job. You are not your possessions. If you ever find a day where adversity strikes you, remember that you are an amazing multifaceted person who has amazing strengths.
Use your time constructively.
No one likes being told they can’t do something (even from their trainer) and its normal to get upset about it. It’s also all too common for people to sit and anguish in these feelings. However, that only perpetuates the negative feelings. If you are unable to do something, make use of your new found extra time. Remember all of the things that you’ve been wanting to do, but never had the time. The sooner you can make positive progress in your life and begin accomplishing new tasks/goals, you will regain your sense of efficacy.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of being sidelined for me was that it reestablished my curiosity about strength, the world around me, and overcoming obstacles. I was able to observe fitness, strength, and my whole self from a more objective perspective because I was not as engrossed in it.
I have always been an academic-sort and I often find myself geeking-out over things. Once my anger and depression lightened, I started researching things about all things fitness. I explored different warm-up techniques, lifting ques, visualization techniques, accessory movements, conditioning programs, breathing techniques, and the list goes on. I listened to and read everything I could find about mental toughness, ego barriers, and being mentally strong.
Your gainz will not disappear.
I have never been good at listening to my body, but I could have avoided my injury if I would have. If you’re not feeling 100% on any given day, rest! Taking a day off will not spoil your gainz. You’ve have been training for x number weeks to get to where you are, so you won’t suddenly become a bump on a log after some time off. Think of it this way, eating one salad doesn’t make you skinny, just as one cheat meal doesn’t make you fat.
Coming back
After two months off from training and competing in a competition, I was tired of being injured. I felt good mentally, but I missed CrossFit. About a month ago, someone suggested to me that I should try hot yoga and I now have a new love affair with it. Not only did it significantly help my injury, I have been able to practice many of things I learned during my time being injured. I get to practice telling my competitive ego to shut up when I have trouble in a balancing pose that I nailed the day before. I get to practice staying calm and present through my breathing.
Coming back has posed its challenges. I’m not exactly where I was two months ago nor did I expect to be. Sure, I could be mad about it, but that doesn’t help push me forward. Acceptance does not mean to declare defeat. You have to be able to tolerate the discomfort long enough to make it productive. You have to acknowledge where you are if you ever hope to turn this adversity into a strength.
Though my injury has passed, I still have things to work on. Physically, I am still working on getting back to the level I was at before. Mentally, I am still working through somethings. Not training for two months did a number on my body image and the efficacy I feel towards being able to complete workouts. What I have learned through this is to work with myself, not against it.  I train now with more purpose and intention than ever before. I see this challenge as another WOD. Yes, it is going to be tough, but if I can stay focused and just concentrate on the next rep, I will succeed.

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