Olympic Weightlifting As A Way to Know Yourself

In these days after my first meet, I’ve been basking in this high and reflecting on my experiences.

Like I did after my first backpacking trip, I wanted to document and capture some details while these experiences are still fresh in my mind. This is the second section of a two-part blog series. In part one, I shared details of the actual meet. Here, I discuss some lessons I learned through weight lifting that I will now apply in this sport and in other areas of my life.

Lifting lesson: first time competitors do NOT need to wear a singlet (that ridiculously awkward and revealing outfit). Let’s just get the obvious one out of the way: body image issues admittedly popped up for me through this process. At first, I wasn’t going to sign up because I didn’t want to wear a singlet in front of a bunch of strangers… but my friend reminded me of this rule, so I relaxed and registered. Then, out of curiosity, I looked for a cool singlet and ended up finding one. I almost chickened out wearing it day of the meet, but I pushed myself to wear it. The reason I bought it was to be able to compare myself at my first meet to my future meets in the same outfit. It was amazing to see athletes in the same weight class have such different and beautiful body shapes! Of course I’d like to be more lean, more muscular, “look like a lifter,” and be more confident in a bikini. Those are all nice goals to have, and I will work towards them. But at the end of the day, my body did what I wanted it to, and what I went there to do – I snatched, and I clean and jerked. It was INCREDIBLE to see men who didn’t look “that strong” lift more weight than men who looked “super buff.” Every single athlete there performed movements in their unique bodies, and that is the whole point of competing! Life application: it is natural, I think, to be concerned about how you look in the world. And yes, you can work on that mentality and on your physical body. But life is ultimately about what we DO and BECOME while IN these bodies! Treat your temple right… and honestly, just go do whatever the hell you want to do while you are here. Who cares how you look. You’re the one who gets to build your own memories and experiences. Give yourself some solid ones.

Lifting lesson: everyone wanted to see everyone succeed. The energy of the crowd and fellow lifters was incredible. I genuinely wanted every single lifter to make every single lift. We cheered when people succeeded, and “awww”-ed and applauded their efforts when people failed. Life application: life is NOT scarce. The success of one person does NOT mean that there is less of the “pie” available for me. Others’ successes elevate humanity, which, in turn, elevates me, and vice versa.

Lifting lesson:  work hard, then let go and trust your body. These two lifts are extremely unnatural movements, and I think it takes a special kind of person to WANT to put their body under heavy weights and try to catch the bar without injuring themselves. It took a lot of mental and physical effort and plenty of coaching to become competent enough at these movements. It takes brain power to MAKE your body actively hit certain positions in order to successfully lift the weight overhead. But as I learned during my first WILD and unruly snatch on the platform – sometimes the adrenaline gets the best of you. What I was laughing at afterwards while reviewing the videos friends took for me was – despite my brain being COMPLETELY TURNED OFF during that lift, my body still knew what to do. I put in the work to train, and then it’s almost like I was able to have a baseline autopilot to carry me through when I wasn’t as dialed in as I should have been. Moving forward I will work hard to focus during every. single. lift… but it’s nice to know that I’ve developed some muscle memory 3 months deep into my lifting career. Life application: there will be times when one area of life demands more of our focus and other areas of life will therefore have to take a back seat. If we can put in the effort to elevate all areas of our life, then when these stressful times DO come, we can turn on the cruise control a bit for some dimensions of life while we tend to the thing demanding our current attention. We do our future selves a favor by working hard in the present.

Lifting lesson: there is a very fine balance between being in your head and being in your body. I previously have struggled with reconciling my brain and my heart, but I feel I’ve finally got a handle on it. I was surprised to see this challenge pop up in this sport of all activities! It’s easy to get lost in the trees instead of looking at the overall forest. It’s easy to get bogged down with aaaaaall the articles and videos out there. It’s easy to overthink your way into a bad lift. It is a delicate balance to focus enough to guide your body, but then also LET GO enough to let your body work its magic and let things fall into place. I have plenty of room to grow in this area. Life application: your brain is powerful; harness and use all of that energy! But also don’t let your brain become your enemy. It is but one tool in your arsenal, and it is up to you to wield it appropriately. Your body is also an incredibly wise and powerful force with which to be reckoned. Learn how to listen to it, move with it, and live IN it! Get your footing, your base, right, and let the rest just fall into place.

Lifting lesson: easy things can be hard, and hard things can be easy. My mind was completely blown watching the more experienced and stronger lifters do their thing. Some of these men were lifting over 300 pounds overhead and making it look like NOTHING. I gained an expanded perspective of what is humanly possible. They’re obviously strong, but they’re also disciplined enough to hit all of the technical positions from a physics standpoint to be ABLE to get that weight overhead. All of their hard work and hours in the gym paid off in ease on the platform. And they demonstrated beautiful, graceful, composed ease in completing very challenging amounts of weights. I aspire to grow into an athlete like that as I progress forward. Life application: you are capable of doing challenging things, and life doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it out to be. There can be a sense of easy flow, AND a sense of great effort, all at the same time.

Lifting lesson: there is a subtle difference between “control” and “discipline.” I think in the self-help community, it’s easy to mix up the two. I was pleasantly surprised to see an opportunity to apply the differences in this sport. There’s absolutely no way that I can possibly control every single variable while training, at a meet, or during a lift on the platform. No matter how much I train, I can’t control every single muscle in my body. I can, however, be disciplined and still get the job done. If people are talkative at the gym or the music isn’t to my liking, I can be disciplined and still get my training in. If the back room at a meet is super crowded, I can be disciplined and keep myself focused. If my nerves get the best of me on the platform like they did during my first blackout snatch, I can… well, I’ve got work to do in this lesson. I’m actually grateful that my first lift was so hilarious – I have a funny memory to look back on, and a baseline with which I can now compare all of my future growth. Life application: we cannot control other people, certain situations, or certain events in our lives. We can’t even fully control ourselves most of the time. But we CAN have self-discipline – we can choose our words wisely, guide our actions thoughtfully, and live our lives mindfully.

Lifting lesson: months of training culminate in mere seconds on the platform. I’ve only been at this sport for 3 months, but some elite athletes plan years and years of their lives around national and international competition timing. Months and years of training all boil down to less than literally MINUTES on the platform. I had an awesome meet and want more. The SECONDS I lifted on the platform felt amazing and rewarded/validated all of the months that led up to it. If I keep up with this sport, I’m sure that part of the game is having some pretty bad meets as well. If and when that time comes, I’d imagine that THOSE seconds on the platform would probably feel disheartening, disappointing, and… light a fire under my ass to redeem myself. Life application:  both the long and short term are important and have their place. Some seasons and life goals are about the long game. Earning a degree, building a business, and raising a family are very long term cycles. Other times, there are literally MOMENTS that can change the trajectory of our lives. Looking at your phone for one split second and getting into a car crash, the one moment of meeting your soulmate, the seconds of committing and saying “I do” to someone, or the brave moment of telling someone “no,” can be monumental. How do you best handle them to build a life that you want for yourself?

Lifting lesson: it is okay to fail on the platform. You will not die, even though it can feel embarrassing at the time. During my prep work, I read that first time lifters should aim to go 6/6 – gain confidence, have a good experience, and want to get back on the platform at more competitions. I trust my coach, and I purposely made myself NOT think about what 3 weights I wanted to attempt for each lift. I had no idea how I’d feel the day of the meet, how my body would be performing, or where my mental space would be at, so I let those details go. I’m grateful for such a solid Oly program at my gym and for such an experienced and competent coach. I knew what my PRs were in kg, so I was surprised and nervous that my 2nd attempt of each lift was veeeery close to that. I was ecstatic that I successfully completed both of those 2nd attempts. When I heard the announcer state the weight for each of my 3rd attempts, I knew that if I completed them successfully, that it would feel SO BAD ASS to hit NEW PRs, on the platform, at my first meet. As I approached the bar, I tried to not let it get in my head. I tried to remind myself that my body has no idea what number is loaded onto the barbell, and that it’s just my brain trying to psyche me out and caution me to be careful and not get injured. I ended up not getting into the right starting position for the snatch; cleaning successfully, but changing the dip of my jerk. I failed the 3rd attempt of both lifts. While it would’ve felt incredible to succeed… I’m also grateful that I experienced FAILURE at my first meet! I felt support from the crowd and my team. I showed myself that I can face failure. I gathered data on what to work on as I train moving forward. And it means that my coach thought I was capable of hitting those weights, and that I stuck my neck out and tried a brand new weight. Life application: comfort zones are comfortable for a reason. We expand the area of that comfort zone by making ourselves uncomfortable. I am a firm believer in actively growing myself by stretching juuuust that little bit, that sweet spot, where I am – slightly nervous because it’s something new, very excited because I wonder what is possible, and actively putting in effort to exert my full strength and prowess. Part of the game of growth IS failure! It isn’t something to be avoided… I think it’s actually something to seek out. Failure means you were brave enough to put some skin in the game.

Lifting lesson: focus on hitting the right positions, don’t worry about the weight on the bar. I’ve been a huge James Clear fan for a while now, and his main concept is this – focus on the process, not on the results. It blew my mind when I connected those dots to weight lifting in my post-meet glow. (Part of) the reason I failed my 3rd attempts was because my mind was so focused on hitting new PRs. I was concerned about potential bragging rights, going 6/6, and having an epic story about my first meet. Because I was distracted, I didn’t focus on keeping myself disciplined enough to hit all of the correct positions that I’ve been training at for MONTHS. My jaw literally dropped when I made the connection – I was so concerned about the results (successfully lifting a brand new weight), that I lost sight of the process (performing the actual lift). What’s funny is my body has no clue what number is loaded onto the bar! If I had just let my body do its thang and focused my mental energy on that, I probably would have succeeded and gotten the result I wanted ANYWAY. I’ve considered the thought in future meets to not even look at the TV screen displaying what weight is loaded on the bar – because it DOESN’T MATTER. Forget the result, work the process, and you’ll probably get your result anyway. Life application: sure, have goals. Sure, let them guide you. But don’t be so focused on the result that you forget to enjoy the journey and do the actual PROCESS. I need to remind myself of this as I navigate dating without the apps. I know I want to be married and build a family someday, but I need to FORGET about that end game result. Be present with my journey and ACTIVELY LIVE the process. Get aligned with MYSELF and just enjoy getting to know men. Don’t get overly excited and wonder whether or not he is “The One.” Live my life, and let the result take care of itself.

Lifting lesson: it’s just you against the bar, or you against you. Yes, there are incredible teams. Yes, there are incredible coaches. Yes, there are incredible online resources. But like I experienced in backpacking, where yes, I had incredible teachers… at the end of the day, I am the only one who can carry my pack and move my body through beautiful and sometimes challenging terrain. In weight lifting, I am the only one who can step onto that platform and hopefully move the bar from the ground to overhead. Yes, it is super inspiring to see the bad ass ladies at my gym lift weights that I can only dream of right now. Yes, it was literally jaw-dropping to see men snatch weights that I probably will never even dead lift in my lifetime. Ultimately, though, it’s what I do while I am on the platform that counts. Life application: I get to be my own evidence. There are so many beautiful humans I’ve witnessed in this lifetime leading lives to which I aspire. They are proof that it is possible. But/and, my only true limits are my creativity and my effort. I get to show myself what realities are possible. I get to demonstrate my mental fortitude, physical prowess, and what I am made of deep down inside as I express myself in this lifetime. I get to literally BUILD my life as I go!

The meet itself was such a blast and a reward within itself. These lessons, though, made stepping onto that platform THAT much more worth it. I feel so grateful for that entire experience. I’m ready to keep working hard, improving my technique, getting stronger, and having a BLAST in the process! The results will take care of themselves.

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