Year after year it happens. With nothing but the truest and most sincere of intentions man and woman alike are sucked in. The temptation is always the same; the promise of change is an alluring courtesan. But faster than Rosie O’Donnell running from a Donald Trump rally your will power fades, the trick gets old, and you are left thinking, “next time”.
The New Year is upon us. How does one go about making the desired positive change in a way that is enduring? History proves that resolving to amend your life to quick fixes, 21-day challenges, potions, pills, tonics, and fads, all while making promises to all that is holy and swearing blood oaths do nothing in the long term. Let me suggest another way. Let this be the day you decide you are going to do things the right way.
What does that look like, doing things the right way? That can be a difficult question to answer given the nature of what many people believe to be the essence of what it is we do. How many times does the term “competitive fitness” get thrown around when talking about CrossFit? We stoke the fires by the very nature of our gym and our personalities. The White Board, benchmark WODs, coaches encouraging athletes to push harder, to hold out a bit longer, and strain to get one more repetition, athletes encouraging each other to achieve more. In all the motivation, adrenaline, and excitement what often gets lost is doing things the right way. It is a shame, because the positive change for which we are searching (and driving ourselves to the brink of insanity over with ineffective New Year resolutions) are found smack dab in the middle of it. Yet we spend much of our time looking in all the wrong places and doing the wrong things.
There are three unique, historic individuals from whom we can learn about doing things the right way: Irena Sendler, George Washington, and Chesty Puller. What can they teach us on this topic? How many of you know, who is Irena Sendler?
One characteristic of doing things the right way is that it is never easy. There are generally 3 time frames within which we work: sub 12 minutes, 18-21 minutes, and 30+ minutes. I understand and appreciate the desire to finish every workout that is started. How can finishing something not be doing the right thing? It is the short, intense workouts that most athletes have a hard time completing. The tendency, for those that are nearing completion, is to keep working past the bell in order to finish. “I only have 500 more meters.” “Just 10 more dead lifts.” Believe it or not, you are relying on the easy way in an effort to improve, rather that the right way. In order to achieve results from a sub-12 minute workout the intensity level must 100%. 100% effort means that when the bell rings you are able to do nothing other than resist the urge to vomit and focus solely on remaining upright. It is freaking hard to push oneself to that level and it takes a certain mental toughness that eludes many. Rather than focusing on finishing the workout or the number of reps you are doing, make it your mission to do things the right way and learn to push yourself to an elite level of effort.
There was an incredible woman that knew how to push herself beyond all boundaries, and she never focused on numbers, or “finishing”. Irena Sendler was a nurse during WWII who served in the Polish Underground Resistance Network. Under the guise of conducting sanitary inspections, she and her associates entered the homes of Polish Jews throughout ghetto. Using ambulances, carts, and even luggage, they smuggled out infants and small children. Irena would then get them counterfeit identification and usher them out of the country. She personally smuggled out over 400 Jewish kids. In 1943 the Gestapo arrested her. She was brutally tortured, beaten, and sentenced to death by firing squad. Her refusal to betray any of those that helped her or any of the children she saved is a testament to her drive, determination, and superhuman ability to push herself beyond normal limits. Her story doesn’t end there. She escaped from the Gestapo. Rather than go into hiding, she took on a false identity and returned to working with the Polish Underground Resistance Network smuggling out more Jewish kids from occupied Poland. Over 2,500 Jews were saved from the Holocaust because of her. I guarantee she wasn’t thinking about “hitting a number”. She was resigned to working as absolutely hard as she could to do as much as she could in the time she had.
Another characteristic of doing things the right way is there is no set time line. In 2017 embrace the fact that change takes time. Instead of basing your goals on a calendar, base your goals on the accomplishment of specific achievements. Resist the lure of tying yourself down to a timeframe. Focus instead on putting in the required work and in the proper doses. The priority should be placed on making slow, steady progress that results in an ever-increasing set of capabilities.
Lets take a look back in American history for an excellent example of where doing things the right way carried the day: The American Revolution. During George Washington’s time with the Virginia Colonial Militia in service to the crown, he developed a deep seeded disdain for part time militias. Feeling they were too unreliable, undisciplined, and lacking the commitment of “regulars”, in his view they held little value. He wanted nothing more than to lead regulars in hard fought, conventional battles with contiguous fronts where he could out wit and out maneuver his foes. Much to his chagrin when it came time to take on what was the world’s greatest super power he found himself at the head of a very green, very undisciplined, very unreliable militia made up of sundry unsavory types. His rag tag crew of citizen-soldiers were everything he dreaded most about part time militias.
Washington wasn’t fighting only the British. He was also fighting the Continental Congress who felt that, from the comfort of their hearth, he should stand and fight the Brits head on. A string of defeats left him dealing with desertion rates that would have broken most men and horrendously low reenlistment percentages. Against all odds he pressed on knowing that he didn’t need to win battles to win the war. He needed to do only well enough to keep his men fighting and the British bleeding both men and supplies. He understood that the empire would not be able to sustain that type of fight forever and would eventually be forced to give up. He resisted the urge to implement a more conventional strategy, turned away from the temptation to go for more glorious victories, and instead focused on what mattered: retaining his force, training and equipping his men, and bleeding the British. He refused to become a slave to the calendar. 7 long years later, everyone realized he was quite circumspect in his judgment. Doing things the right way has no timeline.
The last thing worth mentioning about doing things the right way is that it takes commitment. Half measures and tepid decision making has no place in the arena of success. Walking the line with one foot in and one foot out results in inaction, stalled progress, and ultimately failure. Ovid said it simply, and said it best: “Either do not attempt it, or go through with it.” In 2017 decide what it is you want to do, realize it is not going to be easy, accept that it is going to take a long time, and then commit. Put pen to paper and then tell it to the people with whom you surround yourself. Writing it down and putting it somewhere that you will be forced to see it everyday will help keep it in the forefront of your brain-housing group. I don’t mean put it in your logbook. I don’t want you to write it on a piece of paper only to get lost on your dresser or buried behind 2 weeks worth of crap from your kid’s school. Write it somewhere it will be in your face. Paint it on your bedroom wall. Write it across your bathroom mirror. Put it on a large poster board and hang it from the ceiling above your bed so it is the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see at night. Out of sight means out of mind. Keep it front and center! Letting your loved ones and fellow gym rats know of your plans will also help you remain committed as they are the ones that hold you accountable. The road to hell is paved with good intentions – you need to commit!
We can learn about commitment from the indomitable Marine Lieutenant General, “Chesty” Puller, and his leadership at the Frozen Chosen. By 1950 it was looking like the Korean War was going to be over. The Chinese had not officially entered into the fray. That all changed in October of that year when 12 Chinese divisions attacked the 9th Army. The 1st Marine Division and Colonel Chesty Puller were sent into the Chosen Reservoir in order to help relieve the beleaguered coalition forces. Facing 10 Chinese divisions (between 80-100,000 men) they were faced with nearly insurmountable odds when they received orders on 6 Dec to break out of the Chosen Reservoir in order to establish an escape route to Hungnam port. It wasn’t just the Chinese they were fighting. Temps between 25-35 degrees below zero proved an equally fearsome enemy. None of it stopped Chesty and his Marines. When confronted by a bevy of embedded reporters crying about being surrounded by the Chinese and wanting to know what he planned on doing about it Chesty Puller sternly replied, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now. We’ve finally found them. We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of finding these people and killing them.” He proceeded to lead his men towards the port smashing 7 or so Chinese divisions along the way. As incredible an action as this was, what makes it more impressive is that Chesty Puller refused to leave any man, dead or alive, or any salvageable equipment, behind. That was no easy task. It would have been far less difficult to move quickly, avoid direct confrontation, cut losses where they were able, and chalk up the missing men and equipment to the fog of war. It wasn’t as though there was not already plenty of precedent for such action. He refused. His commitment to his men and his mission was resolute. The mission of Marine Infantry is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, and repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat. To bypass the Chinese would have been to fail his mission. To leave anyone behind isn’t an option for Marines, regardless of the circumstances. It is the reason we are willing to perform such outlandish and daring missions; we know we will never be left behind. Commitment begets commitment.
The impact on the world that Irena Sendler, George Washington, and Chesty Puller had is indisputable and is of far greater import than any New Year’s resolution. To make any kind of moral equivalence between increasing the number of pull ups one can do and saving 2500 children from the Holocaust is asinine. The lesson to be learned from all of his is that Irena Sendler, George Washington, and Chesty Puller didn’t just decide to be great one day. Mrs. Sendler didn’t wake up one morning in 1942 and say, “I am going to personally smuggle out 400 children from Nazi Germany.” any more than George Washington ever believed he was going to lead a citizen militia in defeating the world’s greatest super power, or Chesty envisioned himself in a mountain pass surrounded by 100,000 Chinese. They were capable of their incredible feats because of the lifetime they spent doing things the right way. I don’t know where Irena learned it, nor do I know for certain where it was that George Washington and Chesty Puller learned it. I do know where we can: your Gym Full of Iron. Your call to greatness has arrived, and it starts by doing things the right way.
LIVE – GET STRONG – WIN