That’s OK if you’re struggling.
She is telling me this as she spots me while I’m trying to bench press 65 pounds. Last week I bench pressed 45 pounds, so this is a big increase.
Paulette encouraged me to go heavier this week. And not by a little. Twenty pounds is a lot heavier.
I was struggling. A lot.
And apparently this was ok.
This isn’t the only example.
Although I’ve exercised and “worked out” for years, my real weightlifting journey only began in 2019, before getting cut off by the pandemic.
I resumed it again this year with a trainer who is helping me rebuild not just my muscles but my nervous system. Specially, the way my nervous system responds to distress signals.
Learning to lift heavy is a big part of my nervous system reeducation — training my nervous system out of its chronic fight/flight/freeze patterning.
Part of that reeducation is reframing the sensation I call “pain” and the story I call “failure.”
The bench press today was not even about the load.
We are creatures of patterns.
One of my patterns is not knowing my own strength.
Paulette and other coaches and trainers are constantly telling me that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for. The see in me an ability to do something that I don’t believe I am capable of doing.
One reason I don’t believe in my capabilities is because I was conditioned to believe that failure is something to be avoided at all costs.
To avoid failure, I’ve always played it safe, staying within the boundaries of what I was confident I could do well, what I had trained for.
Whatever risks I took were safe risks, risks that kept me mostly in my lane. Even as I’ve pivoted in my career, I’ve typically framed each new step in the context of what came before it, as a way to rest on my credentials.
In the metaphor of weightlifting, I stayed with the loads that felt doable, safely in my range. I didn’t push beyond what I couldn’t do with perfect form.
All of this gamesmanship was an attempt to avoid the perception of failure. Because nothing is worse than failure.
In my house growing up, failure meant you didn’t apply yourself, you didn’t work hard enough, you didn’t follow directions.
In this view, failure was a source of shame. It was something to hide from others.
This chapter of my weightlifting journey is teaching me that failure is not a referendum or a cause for shame or judgment.
Instead, failure is a tool.
Failure is how you know where your limits are.