Written by Dr. Valerie Gonsalves
After more than a decade as an endurance athlete and over three years in the CrossFit community, my experience tells me that individuals who commit to physical fitness are extraordinary.
The people I have met, who are dedicated to their physical health, tend to be motivated to constantly challenge themselves, to be a better athlete, a better employee, a better spouse, a better friend and generally a better person. The culture that we live in and then the subculture we chose to immerse ourselves in, supports the constant push for more and better. This journey can be amazing.
Until it isn’t.
The problem with constantly striving for more is that this practice can detract from experiencing, and subsequently enjoying, the now.
Think about the moments that should be joyous: receiving a promotion, hugging a friend, getting a PR. Then think about how many times, shortly afterwards, the joy fades and the quest for more continues.
It’s easy to overemphasis what is missing and underemphasize or simply underappreciate what is present. This practice of striving can actually rewire our brains and thus impact our ability to experience positive emotion (nerds: I’m talking about the prefrontal cortex).
The solution is simple: we need to rewire our brains back. We need to expand our capacity for positive emotion, which can lead to a more pleasurable life.
The happiness formula is savoring, experiencing, and bringing a nonjudgmental awareness to each moment of life. It is mindfulness.
What does that have to do with CrossFit?
As some of you may be aware, there’s little about the movements in CrossFit I actually like. In particular, anything that involves squatting makes me want to curl up and cry. So last week, when the WOD called for thrusters and rowing, I entered my own personal hell.
During round 2, my brain screamed at me to STOP. I had to do three more rounds of this nonsense. Ridiculous. Not possible. After round 3, I became acutely aware of my breath. In the one minute of rest, instead of focusing on the torture I was about to endure, I focused on my breath, with the intention of slowing my rapid breathing.
What seconds earlier had been suffering, turned into a tolerable exercise. Mindfulness didn’t make me love that WOD, in fact, I’ll even say I wasn’t happy to do the WOD. But suffering turned into acceptance.
Nothing in CrossFit is designed for excelling at the gym. Rather, the goal, as Coach Nikole says is to remain out of the nursing home. It is to develop skills that transfer to everyday, real life. Life outside the gym.
Think of the suffering in your life. Mindfulness is a skill you can cultivate in the gym that can permeate all aspects of your life.
Happiness is in your control.