“…It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.” ― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
I can remember my first time on the firing range in Marine Corps Boot Camp at Parris Island, SC. We had been drilling and handling our weapons for months, for several hours a day. We did Grass Week (https://onefootonestep.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/2-25-15-gun-play-and-the-barbell/) and dry-fired our weapons endlessly. You tediously do this, over and over… sitting down and studying the rules and regulations of the range… so much so that you feel confident, and are ready to just shoot the god-damned thing. Then the day arrives, and you show up on the range. This is the first time in months, and for a lot of us, ever, that we have been handed live ammunition. The whole thing is a spectacle… it is 0300, the mist is just rising off of the grass on the field, the range itself is over 500 yards long, with stations at 100, 300, and 500 yards, guard towers with instructions and commands were being shouted over the intercom, Drill Instructors telling you what to do and where to go. Then when it starts, there is the pace of the event, gunfire going off on commands, time limits, smoke and smells, the weather… it is completely different than you imagined. I remember lining up for the first time. I was shaking, nervous as hell, and knew I needed to qualify to get out of boot camp and become a United States Marine. I remember thinking to myself: What the fuck, Riddle? Why are you shaking, why is this magazine so hard to handle? What can’t I control my breathing? I’ve practiced this for hundreds of hours…. I was all over the place, and remember trying to simply hit the damn target and not kill myself in the process…. When I did my first Weightlifting competition, it was very much a similar experience (https://onefootonestep.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/6-9-15-the-road-to-competetion-part-22-nothing-is-for-free/). I had trained and trained, hours upon hours. I read everything I could about competing in Weightlifting. I lifted in my singlet in the upcoming weeks, pictured what it would be like, hit my lifts, talked to my coaches… and then the day came. I was nervous as hell, there were announcers on loud speakers, spectators, it was outside (so weather was a factor), and I was “given ammo” for the first time. I was so fucking nervous I forgot what I was trained, initially, and just started yoking the shit out of the bar, and only hitting 4 of 6 lifts (my one Snatch was my opening weight, which I only hit on my second attempt). My brain went completely into auto pilot and panic mode. For my second competition, I fared much, much better, and was happy with the results. I ended up hitting 5 of 6 lifts, with much more confidence, I was relaxed and focused (although there is always a degree of anxiety and nervousness that any competitive athlete is familiar with). What helped with this was that I had clearly defined goals: 1) I knew I needed to approach my Snatch better, so I kept the weight still light for me, with 5kg jumps. The same weight as my first comp, as I simply wanted to actually hit my Snatches. 2) I wanted to be more focused, more calm, so I put more thought into exercises to control my breathing and remaining focused and in the moment. 3) And this is the game changer… develop Flow. Flow is about how you perceive the moment… it can be applied to a lot of things in life that demand an extreme amount of attention, but we will apply it to Weightlifting, here. Flow, to paraphrase, is a very surreal, yet clear, moment when your body and mind is able to autonomously and precisely complete it’s objective. Some would describe is as a sense of clarity. Others say it is like moving in slow motion. When an athlete is “on fire” it is typically when they fall into a state of flow… where the body, mind, and spirit become one and can effortlessly complete the objective. This is not always an easily tangible state to achieve, but there are tools one can develop to help them achieve such a state. It will be different, and subjective, for each individual and athlete. One of these tools is about how you approach the bar. Find a routine, I cannot stress this enough. Every lift you approach be it a Snatch or Clean and Jerk… any lift, really, there should be a routine you do exactly every time. As an example, I walk to the bar, stand out from it, while facing it. I then take a deep breadth, and stretch my back in a “shrug” like motion, mimicking a triple extension (this cues my body to remember to explode with the hips. I then approach the bar, lining it up with it just over my laces. When that’s done I bend over and reach down with my left hand first, then my right, and sink in my hook grip. I wait a moment, gather myself, take a huge breadth, create tension on the bar, and then shoot into position to lift. I do this for both Snatch and C&J. This cues my body, and lets it take over to perform autonomously. It is developed from hours and hours of training the exact same thing. Because, trust me, when you’re on that platform there are so many extenuating things occurring around you (the X-factors), that you need to train your mind how to be clear and present… despite what’s happening around you. It takes a long time to develop these practices, but the consistency and discipline is what will allow you to focus, and pull the trigger calmly when you’re ready. Just like in my first Weightlifting competition, my first experience qualifying with a rifle in the Marine Crops was one where I initially struggled a lot, qualifying, but not nearly to the best of my abilities. After a couple goes at the range, I eventually started to qualify as Expert… and then never failed to do so again. I had developed my flow with how to approach the rifle, systematically, the same way every time… developing a rhythm. After my second Competition, while obviously not an expert in this sport, I did develop more flow. I performed better, met my goals, and PR’d both of my competition lifts, and thus my total. As a result I am ready to bump up my competition totals and attempts. Competing is a process, and no one becomes good over night. You have to have a plan, and goals… and the discipline to pursue those goals. This type of development will trickle down into other aspects of your life. You have to stay the course, be patient, and ask yourself: Is what I am doing right now… going to help me meet my goals?