By Team ICG® Master Trainers Jim Karanas & Joan Kent
A key difference between training and exercise, as touched on briefly last week, is that training brings consciousness to the process. In so doing, it takes a more mindful approach toward work that induces physical pain.
Training is not about always working out at a comfortable level so we can enjoy exercise. That leads to stagnation. It”™s not about always kicking it into high gear. That leads to overtraining or injury. We need a balance between soft and hard. We must have challenge, both mentally and physically, but know when to recover.
Performance is the crux of the hard going. It provides the opportunity to experience our self-imposed limitations and better understand how to go beyond what our muscles can do. Doing something arduous teaches resilience, maybe the greatest lesson we can take from physical training.
Performance creates conflict and anxiety that bring the ego forward, along with ideas about what is or isn”™t possible. It can bring up self-doubt and self-defeating thoughts that lead to self-defeating emotions. It seems counterintuitive, but these are good things.
We begin to worry about how well we”™ll be able to perform in comparison: in comparison to our goal (or the coach”™s goal for us), in comparison to past performances, in comparison to other people. We can”™t get past the anxiety until we know it”™s there and look at it closely.
The objective of performance training is to put ourselves in situations in which we can learn to be nonreactive to discomfort, pain, and even defeat. This isn”™t ignoring pain or defeat. It”™s learning to feel them, but not react. (For the record, we”™re not talking about pain that can permanently injure you. The only benefit of not reacting to that kind of pain is when your life, or someone else”™s, hangs in the balance.)
A feeling of achievement or confidence is related to ego, and that becomes secondary. Even increased self-efficacy, our concept of what we”™re capable of doing, becomes secondary. The point is to go beyond reacting to the difficulty. It”™s not that it doesn”™t hurt. It”™s just that it doesn”™t matter.
Not that we should discount achievement. There”™s nothing wrong with success as such, or acknowledging it. When we bolster our egos by seeing ourselves differently through achievement, however, we”™ve lost touch with the absolute side of who we are. Achievement is fun, but carving out an identity from it is ego.
With regard to athletic potential, the ego is a limitation. No matter how big it gets or how confident we feel about our achievements, there will always be someone better. Also, whatever ability we have will diminish with time because we”™re impermanent. Ego obscures our true ability.
An amazing performance from someone who didn”™t expect to perform well and isn”™t really sure what happened is a spiritual experience. Wanting to repeat it and do well again is ego.
It”™s an interesting paradox: Continued training will generate better and better results. But, as we get away from ego and experience our being through training, we find ourselves caring more about the training and less about the results.
Ideally, performance results become secondary to the awakening process. The events enhance our transformation — through heightened senses during preparation, through aliveness, and through focus. To prevent being overwhelmed by the physical side of the experience, we go through preparation. That”™s training.
The danger with performance is that it can bring out the ego. If we do well, the ego expands. If we don”™t do well, the ego may go into self-pity — or refuse to continue because of the bad performance. That”™s also an ego response. We”™re just creating an identity for ourselves in a different way.
What happens in a performance event happens. There”™s no good or bad result, even if it”™s a DNF — just an opportunity to experience life and examine ourselves more closely.
Everything is impermanent except the aliveness of our being. Every experience, good or bad, can help us become more enlightened. Even suffering serves a purpose. It makes us more conscious and helps to awaken us. Then it”™s no longer suffering. Buddhists say, "Suffering is necessary until it is no longer necessary.”
Sure, performance can be simply a physical test of fitness, but it can also be a chance to go beyond self-imposed limitations. We may do better than we expected. If we don”™t do as well as we”™d hoped, we may have a different perspective on it and feel good about having done a great effort. We may even find that helping others get past their limitations is as gratifying as, or more gratifying than, getting past our own.
Ultimately, training is a spiritual practice. As the culmination of training, performance is, as well. Training on the bike means riding in such a way that it brings balance to life. Performance on the bike can be the culmination of that balance.
The harder the event, the truer this may be.