The problem with these quippy little slogans is 2-fold. First, they are so prevalent and overused they lack impact. We hear this stuff so much that it has lost pertinence. The punch is gone. The message gets lost in the hokey verbalizing and rhyming and then is played to death like a top-40 pop tune on FM radio. It's become bubble gum and we want meat.
The author, J.M. Blakely benches 710 at the 2001 York Barbell Strength Spectacular. Photo by Jake Jones.
Second, these quick and easy 1-liners never go on to tell us just how to go about the business of believing! Stop telling me I've got to have a good attitude and tell me how to get that attitude! Give me something I can use! Tell me what it means!
Well, apparently the slogan - slingers can't get that all distilled down into a catchy little phrase.
So, leaving the rhetoric behind, but fully agreeing with the idea it represents, let's explore ways to understand what "you can do it" means and how to begin to believe that all things are possible-not just for the few but for all of us.
ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT: WHY NOT YOU?
One way to adjust the way you think about a difficult task (such as a 500-pound bench) is to recognize that others have done it. Coming into line with the obvious fact that is is not impossible is a great help. Yet all too often we look at a challenge as if no one had ever been able to do it and make it seem way bigger and more difficult in our mind. This sounds too simple but look deeply into what this implies.
As silly as that sounds, look at the way people approach an obstacle that plenty of people have passed before, but somehow for them it seems to be extra difficult. They really act as if it just can't be done. You can hear it in the way they talk about it. They can't see the possibility of themselves doing it. They know full-well that others have done it, yet for them it just somehow seems undo-able. What utter nonsense.
I went to a Fire Walkers workshop several years ago and the leader of the seminar brought this point to light very clearly to me. There were 100 or so participants at the meeting and the leader began talking about possibilities and impossibilities and how people see them.
He asked, by show of hands, how many people believed that there were some people in this world who could walk across live burning coals and not be burnt. He asked if we believed that there were some people who could break boards and concrete slabs with their bare hands. He went on asking questions to determine if the audience believed that these feats were actually possible and that some people in the world were indeed capable of performing them.
In almost every case, every member in attendance raised their hands to indicate that these feats were not in the "absolutely impossible" category. The audience was in grand agreement that these things do happen. People do them. From what I could see this was unanimous.
Then he turned the tables on us. His next question was, "How many of you believe you can do these things, tonight?" Only two people raised their hands! "So," he said, "you all think that these things can be done ... just not by you!"
Then he demanded, "Why not?" "If others can do them I will assure you that you can too." He described his experience over the last 6 years and based all of the preparation of our impending stroll with what was still at this time a giant bonfire outside the simple fact that we were no different essentially than the others who had passed over the coals before us and that only two things held us back ... our belief that we, indeed, were able to do it and our fear. He did little to dispel my fear, but he made perfect sense in showing me that if I believed that others could do it, it was inconsistent for me to believe that I could not. All but 8 people made the Fire Walk. It was a convincing argument.
By dropping the "impossibility" of an event we take one step. By acknowledging that if others have done it then we can also, gives us another step.
In powerlifting you must have no limits. But if it is too much for you to say "If Mr. Coan can squat 1000 then I can too," then say "if these other people here at this meet who are pretty much just like me can squat 660 then so can I." (But in truth, I'll be damned if I will evere tell you can't squat a grand! Who knows! Why not you?)
Shifting your attitude begins with accepting the possibility that you have the ability (however hidden away) to do the same things that people like you have already done.
In plain English, you've got to come around to the conclusion that lifting big iron isn't just for the other guys. It's for you too. You're not all that different than they are. Why not join them? Really, why not?
Don't even begin to give me any crap about genetics! I won't hear it. Force your genetics! This is a whole other issue but I will defend my genetic-schemenetics position with one point; I have seen countless amazing feats of strength and athleticism performed by the "genetically challenged." You must admit you've seen guys without great genetics do well. So that ends that argument. I repeat: force your genetics! No excuses!
IMAGE IS EVERYTHING
This all gets us to a principle of modifying our self-image. This is different from self-esteem. REPEAT: self-image and self-esteem are different.
Self-esteem is connected to feelings of worth and value and goodness and badness. That's not what I'm talking about.
Self-image is more connected with how you see you. And it is non-judgmental. Self-image is the roles you see yourself playing, the hats you can visualize yourself wearing. Examples are: husband, father, teacher, leader, farmer, lawyer, fullback, 500-pound bencher, mayor, whatever.
When something is not in your self-image and it presents itself then there is conflict. It is possible for me to be the next President of the United States (ridiculously improbable, yet possible) but that, quite frankly is not in my self-image. That is, I can't picture myself in that role. If it were to start to become a reality, I would grow increasinly more uncomfortable with myself and probably engage in some form of self-sabatage. I just can't picture myself doing that.
This happens all around us in the gym, especially with veteran lifters who have paid their dues and are beginning to reach goals that are past their originalexpectations. These people think they are past their potential. They've had some success and think they are near "the end."
What is happening here is that they are stronger than they thought they would be and their self-image does not include them being at this level. But the years of iron work have brought them here and now they are stuck. They don't move ahead because they have not redefined their self-image to be able to accept the next level of strength.
A 450 bencher must be able to see himself (and accept himself) as a 500-pound bencher or the excuses and injuries and untold woes will start to fly. A lifter must picture himself as the lifter he is aspiring to be ... and be OK with that. If he cannot, self defeat will creep in and he will "prove" to himself that he cannot do it even if his training indicates otherwise.
What I am saying here is that you must dare to think bigger than you are. This is far from arrogance. This is all inside you. You picture yourself doing the lift you are as yet unable to perform and as yourself, "Do I really believe that I can be one of those guys?" Do you? Can you imagine yourself as a 500-pound bencher? How easy is it for you to see that in yourself? If you can't see it, then it is less likely that you will be able to pull it off. If it is easy to swallow, you will probably do it soon.
Again, this is an internal process. You keep it to yourself and you keep your mouth shut! Arrogance only occurs when you begin to talk about what you are going to achieve. Avoid that. Talk liberally about all the work you are doing to get there though. Positive talk about working for a goal is motivating. Bragging about unrealized aggrandizements is foolhardy. Keep it real or you'll sound like a clown.
To change your image is to accept possiblity. If the possiblity exists, and you recognize it, you can begin to see it happening for you. If you can't, self-sabotage will attack and excuses will dominate your career. You'll always be "this close" to doing it. But what can you do to include new visions of yourself in your self-image? In a word PRACTICE.
PRACTICE MAKES ...
You learn to see yourself in new roles with practice. Continual, unrelenting, pervading tenacious practice. You force it. Your force it down your own throat. We were all told when we were young that we could be anything we wanted, even President! But, really, how many of us actually thought of ourselves as the President? How many of us actually built in a Presidential self-image? I'll wager few indeed. Likewise, as we grew up how many of us thought of lifiting huge poundages? Large poundages, OK, maybe. But really huge ones? Not many again, I'll beet. We just don't buy into it as a real possibility. So we don't have a clear picture of us doing it in our paradigm. We must create that picture from will.
We can modify and amend our self-image. We can start to imagine ourselves doing things that are (or were) outside our view of ourselves. People do it every day in their careers. Those that can see themselves clearly in new positions with new responsibilities thrive while those that can't soon get a pink slip.
So it's possible that your self image did not include you benching 400 pounds. But when you lifted 350 you began to see 400 as a possibility. I'm sure at 385 you had a clearer picture of yourself doing 400. You changed your vision. So why at 450 can't you change it again to 500 or 550 or 650 for that matter? You can. And you must.
I'm telling you to see yourself doing 500 pounds. You may never actually do it but it has been done by others who have great genetics as well as by some with poor genetics so it can be done. Whether it can be done by you is not the question, but rather will it be done by you is the question. Maybe yes, or maybe not. But if it is not in your self-image included in a list of "things I have the possiblity of doing" then certainly not.
Remember: I'm not talking about the probability of you benching 500 but only the possibility. If the possibility exists, you can work with it and your self-image can grow. Can you honestly say that your are 100% certain that at some point in the future it is impossible for you to bench 500? No, you can not. Even the most slight possibility completely erases impossibility. And there is a slim possibility for all of us.
See the possibility of 500 and feel the probability of 450 or 475! Then see how the possibility of 500 improves. When you are at 460 the possibility of 500 isn't going to be so slim any more. And when you get to 485, you'd better start seeing the "slim possibility" of 550! And so it goes.
I never dreamed of benching 700 pounds ... until I benched 660! I never even considered benching 600 pounds ... until I benched 575! When I benched 500 pounds I thought I had finally reached my full potential and was preparing to move on from the sport! But each time I changed my view of myself and began to accept the possibility that I just might be able to do more. Each time I had to readjust my perspective and my self-image to fit my new strength.
It was hard. I battled with self-doubt. Who was I to dare to think I could lift those kinds of weights? I fought against arrogance and found that confidence and faith in myself were for better bedfellows. I learned to trust my training to take me where I wanted to go. And I learned to want more for myself-to not be satisfied with above average or A-minus work. It is a fine line between greed and reaching full potential when you bench over 700 and still want more. But why not? Why not take it as far as you can? That's the fun of it! If we all lifted what we knew we could every meet, as B.B. says, the thrill is gone!
So we all must look further. If you bench 400 you need to see yourself at 440. Now. Even though you're not there yet. If you bench 500 you must be looking at yourself doing 525. Once you look at yourself and see a number as being all you can lift, it's over for you.
You must dare to dream bigger than you are. You must force yourself to see yourself lifting the big iron. And as the next goal is accomplished you must adapt and see the next being handled as well. You don't have to jump right up to a new world record, just a 10-or-15 percent increase will do the job. And if you stay at it long enough, you may be as surprised as I was to find your new personal best 100 pounds or so above you "fullest potential."
A final word of advise: don't get cocky! That's not what this is about. This is about quietly and inwardly changing what you believe you can do, not broadcasting wild claims about future conquests. Keep your eyes on your goal and your mouth shut. It's ok to let others know about your goal for the next meet, but yakking about how you will set records at some poorly specified time in the future is insulting to everyone including yourself. You're just faking it then. You don't have to prove this with your mouth, it will show up in the meet results!
Accept that it can be done. Believe that it can be done by you. Begin to see yourself doing more than you can at this time. Believe in yourself and prove it to yourself by including a picture of yourself succeeding in your self-image.
These overly-simple ideas are worth long and heavy contemplation. They are the basis for ongoing success past the point of expectation. When I was introduced to these ideas, I was instructed to read over the text each day for one week. That's seven reviews of the same material. You'd be surprised what you discover on the 5th or 6th run. You may also be surprised where you'll end up after embracing them.