Lifting weights has been a part of my life for over two decades. As much as I simply love the feel of training, let’s be real: Training is most satisfying when you’re working towards a goal, when you’re so connected with your effort that you can literally feel that ascent to success. It’s in these expectations we set that we derive much of the fortitude we need to continue, powering both our gains and motivation. Who doesn’t like reveling in the feel of a job well done? However, there’s an exceedingly easy mistake to make here…
Expectations are powerful. They translate imagination into action. That power can become destabilizing, however, when we allow our expectations to be debased into entitlements. Today I’m going to tell you about a time when my expectations went awry, derailing my progress, and holding me back from one of my lifetime goals: a 700lbs Deadlift.
Working hard is important. If you’ve had any success in… well, anything, then you know this. At the time that I was attempting to go for this record, I was working hard. I was Squatting 4x a week, Benching 4-5x, and Deadlifting 3x. I was moving over 60,000kg broken up into 5, 3 hour plus workouts a week. In my head, no one could tell me I was doing the wrong things. After all, I had trained myself to a 600lbs Squat, 430lbs Bench Press, and a 675lbs Deadlift. What was 25lbs more? I knew what I was doing…
Except every time I scheduled a date to test my max and take that record of 700lbs… I missed.
Every few months I’d “peak,” and every few months I’d fail again. I’d end up repeating this pattern for a whole year! Where did I start to go wrong? Feelings. That’s where.
“This is how I’ve trained our athletes to break hundreds of personal records. This is how I trained myself to even have any business attempting a 700lbs pull.” Of course I was doing the right things! I was convinced. I had never actually challenged this notion, this simple yes or no. Was I getting better?
It doesn’t matter how good you are at something; when it comes to you, you need to be constantly questioning your thought process. Especially if it’s something you’ve never done before! Truthfully, I probably knew things weren’t correctly planned… I just wasn’t ready to face it. I’d already put so much effort in…
Go look up sunk cost fallacy if you’re not familiar with the term. That last sentence above is what everyone tells themselves. It’s kind of like the notion of “breaking.” Put enough effort into something and eventually you’ll think you deserve success. Expectation, when corrupted by an overload of disappointment, becomes entitlement. When that happens the bedrock of your endeavor erodes, turning to quicksand. Just like the real stuff, you only sink faster the harder you fight.
My solution to missing that elusive Deadlift record was to add even more work to an already brutal program. I increased my Deadlift volume by 10% like that frustrated toddler who insists that, with a hard enough swing, he really can bash that square peg into the wrong hole because “GODDAMMIT, YES I CAN!”
My “solution” resulted in injuring the tissue around my sacroiliac joint, leaving me unable to Squat or Deadlift for 4 months. That was (finally) my moment of clarity, where I realized that I needed a dramatic change because if it was my intention to be a 700lbs Deadlifter, then, I was definitely not on the correct path. Intention is the key.
In my mind, it was unquestioningly my intention to become that strong… At least at the start. Once I was in the thick of things, with an annual pass for the Struggle Bus in hand, something changed. I definitely had the desire to be a lifter that strong. But, did my actions reflect the intention to pull 700? Or was it for the consolation prize of “I tried.” A willingness to commit to what I presumed it would take or feel like to become a lifter of this caliber was certainly necessary. The mistake was not adapting the plan, as I knew more.
You can’t commit to a process without some assumptions about what the experience might be like. You need that to set your expectations. If I hadn’t expected thighs to be hard, then, I wouldn’t have even come far enough as a lifter or coach to attempt a 700lbs lift. The mistake I made was clutching even tighter to my presumptions despite learning more. I wasn’t adapting. I was resisting.
To become strong, you must necessarily make yourself vulnerable. That’s how it works. You apply stress, take time to recover, and come back stronger. We take that for granted because our bodies do it for us, unconsciously. However, not all stressors can be adapted to unconsciously or unintentionally.
Continuing on my path, training as I did, was just noise; activity for activity’s sake. Ever notice that in social situations, especially when something important is on the line, even momentary silence can be agony? I committed to the lifting equivalent of small talk. I didn’t get anything further out of my training cycle because I was missing an expectation: expecting things not to go to plan. My foundation was incomplete. Beyond auditing your intentions, the one other factor that you can use to avoid expectation descending into entitlement is to expect that you’re going to get some of it wrong. You can’t affirm becoming something unless you also affirm the challenges that will come your way, known and unknown. Expect to be derailed, and have a strategy to resolve it.
In the end, the big lesson I’m trying to get across is this: don’t ever confuse desperation for deserving something. Expect to work hard, to get it right… by expecting that, somewhere along the way, you will get some of it wrong. That there will be roadblocks you either failed to or couldn’t reasonably predict. That, in the end, all we’re truly entitled to is the sum of our actions.