You are what you say you are…
I’ve quoted Vonnegut before, here. I had deja vu when penning this post and had to go back through the archives to be sure. I had this feeling that I had broached the topic of us being “What We Say We Are”, and used Vonnegut’s quote. There it was:
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
― Kurt Vonnegut
So much truth there, and applicable to so many distinct contexts.
Recently, Alex Viada, my boss over at Complete Human Performance wrote an excellent post on the topic of training as an “Old Man”. The post really resonated with me, because Alex and I are very close in age, but it also struck a chord because it got me thinking about the mental attitudes associated with aging.
And, particularly, the attitudes associated getting injured while aging.
If you follow me on social media, you might know me as the “guy with the messed up hip”. I say this because, looking back at it, I talked about this a lot. I’m not going to put it out there and say that I never had compression issues with my right hip, nor am I going to say that associated adductor issues never happened, or that my right sacroiliac joint wasn’t giving me hell. This all happened, but the real issue with me, as I have recently figured out, is one of attitude and mindset.
You see, what also happened, through the course of recovery, was that I began to allow myself to identify as the “injured guy in his mid-thirties”.
Of course, injuries did happen (and aches and pains are part of the game of growing older), but after the acute and sub-acute phases of injury, what was my excuse?
Pain science is a complicated thing, and is far beyond the scope of this article. However, there was a point when the rehab was done, the mobility work was being done, and there was really no good reason to be in pain…other than the fact that I had identified with it. You are what you say you are, and I was telling the world I was an injured has-been. I was down in an ass-to-grass squat position with great lumbar positioning, yet telling myself: “You’re old and hurt your hip, man, you can’t lift heavy anymore.”
And so I couldn’t.
In analyzing myself, I have determined that I have a history of Ego Oriented thinking, as well as failure avoidance behavior. I’ve been fairly open about my past and if you flip through enough articles here, you can read all about it. In many ways, the length of my decreased performance can be directly linked to the fact that, on some levels, I wanted to be the hurt dude.
This may sound absurd, but it fits within the confines of what I have historically gravitated to. By being injured, it gave me an excuse to perform at a standard lower than I was accustomed to. It gave me an excuse to suck without having to accept the fact that I was growing older; my recovery was getting slower; my output was getting less…
I wasn’t fucking invincible anymore.
Being the hurt guy gave me the excuse to stop working hard when the same type of training I had done for almost a decade simply stopped working.
It was an easy way out.
I wish I could say that I had some epiphany or spiritual moment whereupon I realized the error of my ways and moved forward, but the truth is far simpler: I got tired of feeling sorry for myself.
As Alex mentioned in his article, one of the GREAT things about growing old is the wisdom you accumulate throughout the PROCESS of training.
This ties into the reasons why I preach so adamantly about adopting a mindset of mastery, and learning to embrace all of the elements of the process: the good, the bad, and the “oh-shit-this-hurts” UGLY. Progress – hell – life, itself, is cyclical. Peaks and valleys are part of the game, and all of the mountains and meadows and spaces between hold lessons that only contribute to the never-ending process of growth.
Can I train as hard and as frequently as the 23-year olds can? Probably not, I’m 35 now and I simply couldn’t sustain that – even with the wonders of modern performance enhancement. But here’s the thing:
I don’t need to.
I can train SMARTER.
Sure, I might not always have a ton of weight on the bar, but this is all part of the process of learning what training is the best. The young bucks may average more weight on a given day, while my aging ass floats around the lower ranges of Prilepin, but rest assured when it is time for me to lift at 95% – 97.5% – or MAX, those young bucks are paying attention.
Remember what I always say: there is a power in the way we talk to ourselves. In a very literal way, you are what you say you are. So be nice to yourself, dammit! The best is probably yet to come, age is only a number, and I wouldn’t trade all the brute strength in the world for the wisdom I have accumulated on this crazy journey of mine.
Think about it.