CrossFit Mentality: Starve The Ego, Feed The Soul

Enter a CrossFit gym, and you’ll be sure to step over a pile of unattended egos left at the door.

Nobody really wants to admit that they have one, especially not in CrossFit, where egos are particularly frowned upon. To be honest, it’s a topic that’s not really talked about enough when it comes to CrossFit mentality and mindset.

What image comes to mind when you think of someone with an ego? Here’s what I came across from a brief search online…

crossfit mentality and ego
If the above are the sorts of things you conjured up in your mind too, you’d be forgiven for being blissfully unaware of your own ego. Perhaps you think an ego is an issue reserved for bodybuilders who pose with bulging biceps in front of mirrors all day long. Afterall, you’re just a humble CrossFitter whose only competition is your former self… right?
CrossFit Mentality: Put Your Ego Aside
Let’s be real… we all have an ego. It may not look like the images above, meaning that it’s much more unassuming. You try to shake it off at the door, as requested, but often the ego sneaks in with you and rears its ugly head at feeding time.

Here are a few telltale signs that I personally have let my own ego get in the way:

Not finishing a WOD within the time-cap because I Rx’ed when in reality, I should have scaled (that RX badge of honor on Wodify is just too enticing)
Grinding out a 5RM back squat with questionable form purely because it’s a weight I’ve hit in the past.
Checking–and rechecking–Wodify to see if anyone else in the gym has beat my score.
Doing way more snatches than my program states so that I have at least one ‘Instagrammable’ lift on video
Not completing a particular WOD because ‘I didn’t have the right equipment’ (and therefore felt I couldn’t be competitive enough).
CrossFit Mentality WOD
There’s a fine line between friendly competition and allowing our egos to lead the way. So what’s the difference?

A CrossFit Mentality Check-up
When you become obsessed with posting higher scores than someone else on the leaderboard, your focus is no longer on improving your own areas of weakness but on doing whatever it takes to get the best score. If the top spot means borderline reps and scrappy movements, you haven’t won at all.

How healthy the competition is can be measured in how much we let it affect us. Can you use it to keep your mental toughness going in a WOD, congratulate the other members of the class with sincerity afterwards and leave the gym feeling satisfied?

Or does it run a little bit deeper? Do jealousy and resentment start to manifest when other athletes improve at quicker rates? Do you leave the gym feeling deflated, and spend the rest of the day obsessing over how to beat your peers next time?

crossfit mentality and ego
You can choose to resent your training partner for achieving their first pull-up before you; or you can choose to let it inspire you to do the same. Healthy competitors place little importance on the outcome of one particular workout, and can keep their eye on the bigger picture.

I think it’s perfectly acceptable to be competitive. Having grown up with four siblings – for me – life was one big competition. Who could run faster, climb higher, spell better… and don’t get me started on a family game of Monopoly!

I think CrossFit breeds this nature in all of us. The very fact that we have daily leaderboards encourages us to strive for higher placings than our fellow athletes. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s not at the expense of other, more important aspects of your training.

So, how can you get your CrossFit Ego in check?
I can’t sit here and lecture about not comparing yourself to others and expect you to agree with me. Or to not to sacrifice your form just to lift more than your training partner and expect you to listen. It’s taken me the best part of 3 years to come around to the idea, and even then, I’m not always that great at it.

crossfit mental toughness
But I have learned to set markers that aren’t solely based around how heavy, how fast, how much better than someone else…
And it takes extra helpings of humble pie to keep my mind focussed on these markers, and divert my attention away from what everyone else is doing in the gym.

Think about the following scenarios to help you decide whether you’d let your ego slow down your progress as an athlete:

Would you be prepared to take a big chunk off your 1RM deadlift if your back started rounding at 70%? Or would you plow through regardless, just to better your own previous PR?
Are you willing to repeat wall ball reps in which the ball doesn’t actually make it over the line? Or do you shrug it off because, well, everyone counts the dodgy ones, right?
Would you scale the weight in a WOD to ensure you finished it within the recommended timecap? Or do you use the RX weights even though you know you don’t have a hope in hell of finishing?
Here’s the issue; the things we do to impress people, often impress no one. Who’s impressed by speedy-but-sketchy wall balls and ugly deadlifts? Not me.

The very same thing can be said when it comes to social media and getting your ego in check. Are you posting exclusively PR’s – and nothing else – for the sole purpose of getting ‘likes’ and comments from impressed scrollers?

mentality crossfit ego and social media
I get it, the leaderboard (as well as social media) can become all-consuming. There’s so much importance placed on how heavy you can lift, how fast you can finish, how many reps you can do. It’s hard not to get sucked in; it takes a lot of mental toughness not to. There’s nothing wrong with leaderboards and PR’s per se, but using them as your only measure of success can be detrimental.

CrossFit Mentality and WOD’s
Consider this. How high on the leaderboard would you fare if your workouts were judged on quality?

Sure, perfection during a WOD is not the goal, there’s a time and a place to practice with the aim of perfect reps. That being said, they still need to count.

Pull-ups that don’t involve chin breaking the plane of the bar do not count.

Reps of double unders on which you trip do not count.

No one is going to ‘no rep’ you like they would in competition… but you still know. And your coach knows too.

Similarly, perfection is not generally expected when shooting for a new 1RM. But there has to be a cut off point at which you decide what’s more important; getting this bar from A to B by any means necessary, or making a lift that you can be sure is going to be beneficial to your training and transfer to other lifts.

CrossFit Mentality & Ego: Moving Forward
So here’s my challenge to you moving forward: focus on gains of quality, even if it means you temporarily have to take a step back. I guarantee you’ll soon be taking two steps forward as a result.

You can be just as proud of ‘technical PR’s’ as you are when adding weight to the bar – and what’s more, they are markers which aren’t directly comparable to anyone else.

We don’t have a leaderboard for quality, efficiency, flexibility, accountability or effort, so the only person you have to compare yourself to is you. You, yourself, as you are right now. Against the athlete you’ll be several weeks, months, years down the line.

IF you’re interested more on the topic of ego, and competition, I highly recommend one of Coach Ben’s favorite books, Ego Is the Enemy. In it, Ryan Holiday talks about the unwarranted glory that we ascribe to successful people with egos. It’s a must-read for WODprep athletes.

Comment below and let us know your thoughts, or what you might be struggling with when it comes to CrossFit mentality and ego. We’re here to help!

About the Author Shona
Sho is a CrossFit® Level 1 certified Trainer, graphic designer and mom of two. She’s participated in several CrossFit® competitions and has more recently taken her love of Olympic Weightlifting to another level, competing at the Scottish Championships in the 53kg category this past February. A WODprep team member for over a year now, Sho is the creator behind all of our awesome stick figure drawings (and much more).

Change Your Life in 24 Hours

You’ve almost decided to try CrossFit.

You’ve picked out the gym. You’ve been to the website to get familiar with the trainers. Maybe you even walked past during a class and admired what appears to be choreographed chaos.

You have one step left, and it’s through the front door.

I know you have a dozen reasons why you think you can’t do it. Running and jumping aren’t in your wheelhouse at present. You’ve surmised that those things appear regularly in CrossFit, as do pull-ups and burpees. A voice is telling you that you can’t do it.

But I know another voice is urging you to try CrossFit—and you need to listen.

One thing is certain: If you don’t try it, you definitely won’t create the body you envision. The path to that body—that healthy, capable and fit body—runs directly away from your sofa.

I know exactly how you feel.

The first day I walked into CrossFit, I was so obese I couldn’t jump. At all. My body wasn’t capable of creating enough force to propel myself even an inch into the air.

I felt like an imposter.

The author, once 300 lb., made a commitment to diet and exercise and lost more than half her body weight. (Courtesy of Kai Rainey)
If you are worried that you’ll stand out because of your lack of fitness, I have a secret to share with you:

CrossFit humbles everyone daily.

This is not a secret inside the CrossFit community. Ask the fittest person at your new gym about his or her first workout. You’ll hear stories about not finishing, almost puking and being shocked about how much harder it was than it looked.

Here’s another secret: You have a bit of an advantage over the typical fairly fit person who drops in to try a CrossFit class. You already know it’s going to be hard.

In truth, the workouts are always going to be hard because when they start to get easy, you’ll make them harder again. That’s what we do, and that’s how we get fitter and accomplish our goals. We aren’t a bunch of genetic freaks with a high pain tolerance. We don’t love the actual workout while we are doing it, but we love its effects, and the reward is worth the effort.

I want you to experience this transformation, but it’s going to take more than a session or two before you notice the changes your body will start making on Day 1. The space between your first few classes and the first look-what-I-can-do-now moment can be a challenge.

Maybe you’ve even gone to a class here or there but stopped for whatever reason.
I have a proposal for you: Give yourself 24 hours in the form of 24 CrossFit classes.

That’s enough classes to get you past the initial what-was-I-thinking panic and through the week or two when your body threatens to go on strike in protest of your new hobby.

Likely, you will question your decision during every class for at least the first 10 sessions. You’ll be sore. You’ll be sure you are never going to remember the difference between a clean and a snatch. You’ll curse gravity and wall balls. You will swear that you will always hate burpees.

Somewhere between classes 12 and 20, things will start making sense, and you might even find yourself looking forward to the next challenge written on the whiteboard. Trust me.

Reclaiming your life won’t be easy. But it will be worth it. (Megan Hales)
Think of the struggle you feel as an airplane fights nature to climb into the air. Your first 24 classes are like that takeoff. You’re going to have to fight excuses, old habits, the desire to quit. But just like the airplane overcomes gravity, you’ll fight through your excuses and reach “cruising altitude.” Once there, you’ve created a routine, and quitting won’t be on your radar.

Three or four days a week for the next six to eight weeks—that’s all I’m asking for. Don’t look beyond that. The time is going to pass whether you get off the couch or not. How much better for it to pass as you grow stronger and healthier?

Any structure that is meant to last requires a solid foundation at its base. Think of each class as another brick you are adding to the foundation of your health and fitness. When you fill in that 24th brick, your basic foundation will be complete and you’ll be ready to really start building the body and life you want.

Every day, CrossFit cures chronic disease, reverses obesity and saves lives. Spend 24 hours and see what changes CrossFit can make in your life.