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“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Sun-Tzu
As a coach and competitor for the past fifteen years, I have seen many people not reach their full potential for a number of different reasons. A common reason is self-manipulation, which includes a broad spectrum of emotional behaviors. This prevents competitors from progressing to where they want to be. Here are some types of self-manipulation:
• Guilt-baiting—unreasonable blaming; holding another responsible for one’s own happiness and success, or unhappiness/failures. Some competitors will place guilt on external forces or people, including friends, family, coaches, and of course judges.
• Victimhood—exaggerated or imagined personal issues or health issues; dependency, deliberate attempt to elicit sympathy and favor; playing weak and powerless. This type of mindset is self-defeatist in nature and tries to hide selfishness behind the veil of pity.
• Pretend Ignorance—“playing dumb” by pretending you do not understand what is being asked, or is often an attempt to pass off responsibility. This kind of behavior is frequent in children who want to delay, stall, or manipulate adults into doing for them what they do not want to do. Competitors use this tactic when they have something to hide or there is an obligation they wish to avoid.
• Manipulation of Facts—lying to yourself or your coach, deforming the truth, strategic disclosure, and/or withholding key information; exaggeration. You can do this by reporting false numbers in your check-ins, saying you feel good when you don’t, or kidding yourself into believing you were 100% on your diet when you know full well you snuck a bunch of snacks from the vending machine. In the age of digital media and electronic coaching, it’s easier than ever to cook the books and lie to yourself and to others.
What causes self-manipulating behavior? Stated plainly, it is hard to look in the mirror and blame yourself for not being where you want to be or having what you want. The hard truth, however, is that in most cases, you are the only one to blame. About 30% of the clients I train have far better genetics than I do, but some seem to fall short. They just do not have the mindset that they need to succeed. They either succumb too easily to different forms of pressure or distractions, or they simply lack the necessary mental toughness, resilience, and discipline to achieve their goals. Competing successfully requires you to do things day in and day out when you simply do not want to do them, including saying no to self-manipulation.
Everyone searches for this special process but there is no secret. It requires hard work, consistency, and the mental fortitude to carry it out over time. The body is only as good as the mind that controls it. If your mind is constantly working against you with different kinds of self-manipulation, you will not be able to progress. As Sun-Tzu said, you must let go of this in order to become who you want to be.
Ways you might be self-manipulating your progress:
1. Searching for a Secret Formula
More often than not, you are not going to tap into some secret nutritional knowledge or revolutionary training method that is going to bust you out of your plateaus. I’m not saying you shouldn’t experiment and push yourself out of your comfort zone, but too many times I’ve seen competitors get frustrated with their lack of progress (and lack of patience), then go on to do things they would normally not do in the gym, such as lifting too heavy or sloppily, or totally messing up their metabolism with strange forms of extreme dieting.
2. Comparing Yourself to Others
I understand that bodybuilding is a competitive sport where you are judged against other competitors. It’s also a hard pill to swallow knowing that there will almost always be someone out there better than you. Face it, if you are not Mr. Olympia, there will always be someone in the world better than you. Your energy is far better spent comparing yourself to your own progress over time rather than the progress of others. It is about you and only you. Where you were, where you currently are, and where you are headed. Outside distractions, pressure, and people can be detrimental.
3. Lack of Perseverance
The problem with 1 and 2 above is that it often causes people to jump from program to program and terminate training or nutritional programs prematurely. Ultimately, this slows your progress in the long term and it creates negative thoughts about yourself because you are trying all of these different things and not seeing the results you want. Don’t give place to self-doubt. Persevere and push through a program through its entirety. Quitting half way through or jumping ship is only going to frustrate you and leave you with doubts and “what ifs” about yourself. Wait until you have reached a moment of completion, take a breath, evaluate, then you are in the best mental state to make an intelligent decision about what to do next.
When you look at yourself in the mirror, you are usually your own worst critic. And perhaps it is better to be self-critical than self-delusional. But you cannot allow this to push you too far in a negative direction. If you are unable to stop comparing yourself to others, delete social media. If you find yourself struggling with one of the self-manipulating behaviors listed above, find someone who can call you out on them—hire a coach who will tell you like it is or get an honest friend to hold you accountable. Sometimes it takes iron to sharpen iron. Above all, you need to remember that perseverance is more important than any coach, program, or secret formula.