Response-Able

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Language can be a pain in the ass, and as I read and re-read this article, I feel as though some things may have been lost in translation. As such, I consider this to be a “living” document and will revisit this as I find a clearer way to articulate it. Any feedback is always welcome

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I’m a big fan of Viktor E. Frankl. In fact, if you haven’t read his classic work Man’s Search For Meaning, close your browser and do do that.

I’m not kidding.

Frankl was a Viennese Psychiatrist who ended up in a Nazi Concentration Camp during WWII. I cannot possibly do the story justice here, but the short version is that, through all the indignities he faced, he discovered that he had one possession that the Nazis could NOT take away from him:

The power to CHOOSE how he would react to his circumstances.

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

– Viktor E. Frankl

He could respond to life by exercising his ability to respond. He could be…”Response-Able”.

As Frankl discovered, when life throws us a beating, we often find ourselves in a place, between the stimulus and the response, where we can make a conscious choice. Brian Grasso refers to this as “Owning the Space”, and it is fucking POWERFUL. It is the ability to find ourselves in a situation, analyze what is going on, and make a conscious choice as to how we will react.

This ability to choose is a direct result of human beings having a “self”. Indeed, there are other animals that exhibit rudimentary levels of “self” (i.e. Chimpanzees recognizing themselves in a mirror, as opposed to thinking it is just another chimp) but we have, by far, the most developed. As I talked about in a Facebook LIVE post some time ago, this is a good thing! Having a sense of self allows us to plan, think about thinking, and…CHANGE.

At the Macro Level, most people ARE responsible.

I was reminded this about a week ago when I read a dreadful T-Nation article. In it, the author basically blamed the entire obesity epidemic on the fact that people refuse to take responsibility for their health and fitness. The irony here is that if people weren’t at least taking some kind of responsibility for their weight, they wouldn’t be on a website like T-Nation looking for answers to their problems, in the first place.

In practice, I find it very rare that a person doesn’t take outward responsibility for things. It is simply too difficult to brush this off without looking delusional or immature. For example, it is kind of difficult to blatantly brush off responsibility for a work project not getting done on time.

Outwardly, we are very good at maintaining composure. Oftentimes, professionalism requires this. In these instances, we may APPEAR to be responding, but are we?

Where we fall short is at the Micro Level

To use the above example, someone may take outward responsibility for an incomplete project while simultaneously blaming people, things, and events around them (This is a VERY loose example but you see where I am going with this).

I once called a client at an inconvenient time for them. They responded by exclaiming that I had “ruined their morning”. This is a classic example of failing to take responsibility at a micro level. A person that is truly responsible would understand that I did not have the power to ruin their day, but rather they could CHOOSE to let me ruin their day.

Of they could choose not to.

Sometimes this is evident in the language we use. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “I wasn’t going to have a beer but Rob bought me one.”
  • “The guy hogging the rack made my whole squat workout miserable.”
  • “I was fine with my diet compliance until my wife made me eat a donut.”

Listen, I’m no angel. I have been guilty of the same things throughout my life. I spent years blaming my mother for some of the twists my life took. In the end, regardless of the circumstances, I still had a choice in every situation. It was on me to decide and, sadly, I wasted years of my life by choosing to blame her for the various reactions that spewed out of me.

Don’t do this.

Admittedly, this is something that is easier said and done, and requires a lot of awareness and introspection. Here are some points to help you:

Tips and Application

  1. Start Journaling – Journal, diary, notebook…look, I don’t care what you call it, but get one and start doing it. Oftentimes, the linguistics sneak up on us, and we don’ even realize the inner dialogue we are having. By journaling thoughts, this can give us objective information. With enough journaling, we can begin to see patterns in our thoughts and feelings.
  2. Commit to taking responsibility – I don’t care how you do this. You can quietly vow it to yourself, or you can plaster it all over your Facebook wall. Whatever works for you is fine, but at some point you need to acknowledge that you are in control of your responses and commit to taking action and personal responsibility (see what I did there?)
  3. Be aware of your languageTHIS INCLUDES INNER DIALOGUE. You may find it helpful to set a phone alarm to go off at intervals so you can take a few moments, throughout the day, to be aware of your current circumstances and any language associated with them
  4. Check Congruence – If you ARE shirking responsibility. Fix and reframe that shit. ASAP.

Of course, in practice this is a lot more involved, but the above steps will give you something to start with. So go for it: starting now, be aware of your responses. Are you demonstrating you are able to respond, or are you putting the responsibility on others? This is your life.

Think about it.

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Self-Efficacy: Mastery Experiences and Strength

Self-efficacy is an important concept in sport.

The term is often used interchangeably with “confidence”, but there are key differences. “Confidence” is more of a loose term that indicates a belief in oneself without specificity. “Self-efficacy” is a more precise term that concerns one’s belief that they can be effective at a certain task. According to Albert Bandura, these are more than minor semantic differences, as self-efficacy is a descriptive term that fits within a theoretical framework. (Bandura, 1997). In this case, the framework is Social Cognitive Theory (SCT).

So, let’s stick with Self-Efficacy for precision’s sake.

Albert Bandura is the father of this stuff. Incidentally, Bandura is also the mind behind Social Learning Theory, and the “Bobo Doll” experiments (this is worth a Google search), and is the 4th most cited Psychologist of all time…but I digress.

Within the framework of SCT, Bandura (1977) outlined four ways in which self-efficacy can be developed. In order of effectiveness:

  1. Mastery Experiences
  2. Vicarious Experiences
  3. Verbal Persuasion
  4. Somatic and Physiological State

NOTE: How this fits into the context of Social Cognitive Theory will become a bit more transparent when we discuss vicarious experiences in the next article.

Self-efficacy and the Deadlift

Mastery Experiences are the most critical and and also the most sketchy with regards to maximum strength efforts, so we are going to start there.

Mastery experiences are the single most powerful way to boost self-efficacy. Simply put, if you have succeeded in an endeavor before, you will have a strong tendency to expect to succeed in future instances of the task.

Hit a home run in the major league? You will have more self-efficacy with regards to home run ability.

Hit an NBA 3-pointer? More 3-point self-efficacy… Hit the game winning shot? Major boost!

Unfortunately, things aren’t so cut and dry in max effort sports such as powerlifting. In the case of a Personal Record (PR), how can one have a mastery experience if the weight is uncharted territory for them? Does this make the concept of mastery experiences useless for powerlifters or other max effort strength athletes?

These are things I ponder.

Ordinarily, one would assume to simply move down the line to vicarious experience, verbal persuasion and arousal states. However, there are some ways to leverage mastery experiences in the case of a PR, and I want to outline some further detail and practical application.

Performance Aspects of Mastery Experiences

There are three of them:

  1. Consistency – Not just in training, but also with regards to the pattern of sustained experiences of success. It is important to note that we are not talking a couple of victories in a sea of losses, we are talking about a pattern of wins, even small ones, that can generate momentum.
  2. Recency – Succeeding yesterday holds more weight than succeeding ten years ago. I could write an entire article about what I used to squat before I screwed my hip/groin up, but I won’t bore you with my woes. Suffice it to say that what I used to squat four years ago has no bearing on my feelings of self-efficacy for squatting the same weight under my current program.
  3. Quality – Is the success happening on easy task, or challenging ones? The higher the quality of success, in terms of difficulty, the better the self-efficacy. Worth noting: this also works inversely. Succeeding in easy tasks provides less of a boost and failing at any tasks, regardless of  difficulty, damages self-efficacy.(Burton & Raedeke, 2008)
    Practical Application for Strength Athletes

Now, here are some practical, actionable tips for getting the most out of mastery experiences:

Goal-Setting

I could argue that this is a “chicken or the egg” type of conundrum. That is: do effective goal-setting techniques lead to enhanced self-efficacy, or does self-efficacy lead to a more effective approach to goals? I wrote an entire guide for this that goes into depth about effective goal setting (sign-up for my email list and I’ll send it to you), but here are the highlights.

  • Be realistic with what you want to attain, yet don’t shy away from an appropriate challenge. Generally, a good rule of thumb is 10% higher than your current capabilities, but take this with a grain of salt. If you are already an elite squatter, for example, lifting 10% more than that might be a bit outrageous for a short/mid term goal (or even a long term goal, depending on where you are).
  • Set up midterm goals that have clear performance milestones.
  • Don’t forget about process goals for the short term goals. We are looking to develop goals that stress consistency, effort, and technical mastery. These goals will give us a pattern of success that will provide momentum to our performance goals and eventual PR.

Remember, by nature, a PR is uncharted territory, so we need to psychologically experience as much success in skills and habits that have transferability!

Training and Programming

Here are a few thoughts:

  • When looking to set percentages for programming, be honest with yourself and calculate them using a recent 1RM (or another applicable RM). This sounds like common sense, but many people, myself included, will pick an “all-time-best-ever-lift” to calculate their training ranges. What you lifted 15 years ago, as a college sophomore, isn’t applicable. Sorry.
  • Training to failure should be avoided. There are caveats to this, but from the standpoint of strength sports, there should be an effort made to succeed as much as possible. Strength sports will concern performance and outcome goals, so the chance of failure is unavoidable, but contingencies should be in place to reduce this.

Remember, setting up a pattern of success is critical!

Wrapping it up

Even in the context of performance markers that are out of the realm of what we have ever achieved, we can still leverage the power of mastery experiences to boost our self-efficacy. I calculated effort to pack a training/meet preparation cycle with as many success experiences as possible will go a long way to raising our confidence when it is time to compete. Combining these master experiences with vicarious experiences, persuasion, and arousal control will provide a potent boost in mental performance.

Stay tuned for more on self-efficacy techniques.

References

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Burton, D., & Raedeke, T. D. (2008). Sport psychology for coaches. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.