I made my CrossFit class so mad at me last week. We are in a new training cycle, and the workout called for double unders, where the jumprope passes twice beneath your feet on every jump. Usually we tell people they can do three single unders for every double under, so if the workout calls for 30 double unders one could do 90 single unders. But this week I told everyone that didn’t have double unders consistently that only double under attempts would count. Single unders, the easy, safe, accessible crutch, would count for nothing.
To watch the devolution of these athletes during the first few rounds of the workout was almost hilarious. I’ve written before about double unders and how frustrating they can be until you get them. I could see the anger and nasty thoughts people were sending my way. (Fortunately, I joke to my members, I feed on their suffering.)
But how many people got double unders that class? All of them.
Many of them got double unders for the very first time.
It’s my typical pattern to avoid people hating me At All Costs. So it was very interesting to truly feel all the frustration and resentment being directed at me and know that I was the cause of suffering in that class. If not for me and my arbitrary rules, that workout could have been just a challenging physical workout and not a grueling mental battle.
Perhaps being in “coach” mode protected me from taking their frustration personally. But I think the true quality that protected my ego from being hated was empathy.
I knew that their frustration wasn’t about me. It wasn’t even about the double unders. They got hooked into an emotional pattern, and the double unders started to mean… more. It became personal.
I hate this. I suck at this. Double unders suck. Why am I so terrible? I’m terrible at everything. Why can’t I be like that guy? It looks effortless for him. Why does this suck so much? Fuck you Kathryn for making me FACE THIS.
There are two reasons this is easy for me to see this and hold the space for you to feel this:
It’s useful to have a coach. It’s useful to have someone who can help you have your stuff without making it theirs.
But you can also cultivate this relationship with yourself.
All you need is time and space for expression. It’s hard to do this in the moment; it’s easier when you’ve been noticing your triggers (without panicking or fixing them) often enough that you can see the patterns.
Soon you’ll start to notice that most of your patterns are the same.
Not being able to do something “right” might trigger you because being perfect and a great achiever is the way you know for sure that you’ll be loved and accepted. So not being able to follow the perfect diet or have the perfect body or do the workout perfectly means more than just not looking like that woman in a magazine; it means that love and belonging are out of your reach. No wonder you get panicked! No wonder you try to insult that bitch over there. It’s survival of the fittest here.
Turning to food to suppress your emotions might have been the coping mechanism you used as a kid because no one allowed you to have your emotional experience. It wasn’t safe for you to feel rage, or grief, or frustration, or even delight and joy. Safer to push all that down.
Believing you aren’t changing because you’re a willpower weakling is a message you probably got from society at large and is nonsense, quite frankly. No wonder beating yourself up hasn’t worked yet.
My favorite way to unravel these patterns is by writing. You might like talking to yourself, or talking with a therapist or coach. But you’ll start to notice that your triggers aren’t isolated. They don’t happen in a vacuum. When you get frustrated with double unders, it’s not really about the double unders. When you binge on ice cream or cookies, it’s not about wanting ice cream and cookies.
Notice. See if you can identify the qualities underneath your reaction. See if you can find out what you’re really hungry for. This is all psychology is: noticing patterns and following threads.
If you can cultivate your tolerance to discomfort, eventually you’ll see yourself getting triggered and say, “oh that’s right, I’m feeling afraid/embarrassed/anxious/nervous/etc. This is my pattern with this emotion.” And just like that, you’ll have pulled yourself out of the spiral and you’ll have the opportunity to act from wisdom.
So try it. When you feel that familiar stress response, the shoulders tensing, the belly tightening, the breath getting shallow and quick… see if you can just soften your belly. Notice whether or not you’re actually in danger. Name your feelings and look for patterns.