What is your primary reason for training? Perhaps you want to lose fat, gain strength, improve in your sport, or complete a mud run. Maybe you simply want to feel more capable and confident as you move through life. Perhaps you have a reason for training that is entirely your own. Regardless of our respective reasons to train, we all want to improve. We all want to progress. We train to be better.
While progress and improvement provide the motivation to train, they can also carry the unfortunate side-effects of discouragement and discontent. Commitment to progress and laser-focus on our goals can leave us feeling incomplete and inadequate. If “better” is the reason to train, then right now, we might not be “good enough.”
How do we guard against discontent and discouragement in our training? How do we strike a harmonious balance between a hunger for progress and contented appreciation for where we are now?
Gratitude and Looking Back
“My best moments come when I dwell in the house of gratitude”
I believe it is more productive to have a direction than a destination. Choose the areas you want to work on, rather than maintaining a focus on a specific goal. Strictly defined goals lead us to measure our progress against them; that is in fact the point of goals. This can provide motivation for some. For others, goals only give a quantifiable measure of the gap between where we are and the (often arbitrarily chosen) place we would like to be.
High-level athletes need this detailed examination of progress to measure their specific regime’s efficacy. Most of us simply want to feel stronger, faster, more capable, and more in touch with our bodies. Do you need to see a specific number on the bar to tell yourself that you feel stronger?
Abstaining from setting a specific goal eliminates our forward-looking frame of reference. We must then look back to past performances to measure progress. This change proves subtle, but profound. Shifting our perspective cultivates celebration for how far we have come, rather than discontent over how far we feel we have left to travel. Be happy today, and never relinquish pride in your progress to some future, imagined end point.
Without hard goals and perfectly-crafted programs, we need to pay more attention to what each rep and each movement feels like. We work from perception, rather than percentages. Full embodiment and self-awareness are far more valuable than any PR.
Training with Gratitude
Whether consciously or not, we take stock of our physical state every single time we set foot in the gym to train. An off day (or simply falling short of our expectations) tells us we are less-than, and can breed discontent.
Use each training session as an opportunity to celebrate your progress and express gratitude for your training. As you warm up and progress through early sets, remember your excitement when these same weights and movements first came as PRs. Appreciate all that your body can do, and rejoice that you don’t face the challenges and limitations brought about through unfortunate accidents, different birth conditions, or simply those who have put in less work.
Find gratitude that your life allows you the opportunity to train. You live in a country that allows freedom to move and express your body in nearly any way you see fit. You live in a culture that values health enough that you have access to amazing training facilities, coaches, and fresh food.
Celebrate yourself. You have committed to make space today to train. You have the courage to take honest assessment of your body. And you have the self-love to begin this process in the first place.
Training is hard work. You will confront hard truths and find yourself vulnerable. Fill the vulnerability with gratitude. Rejoice in how far you have come and the opportunity to continue moving forward. I maintain a personal mantra in my training that I hope will bring gratitude and celebration to yours: