Up And Down the Layers of Abstraction with Mental Toughness

As we move up and down the layers of abstraction regarding “mental toughness,” we encounter varying frameworks and strategies.

The tools needed to perform well on a specific workout are not necessarily the same tools necessary to perform well on a week of workouts or a month of workouts.
In many other sports, a truly transcendent ability during game play can supersede all other aspects of athletic development. If you are that good at basketball, football, or soccer, the marginal gains of proper sleep, nutrition, training and planning may not offer enough of a percentage improvement in your performance to make a true difference in your competitive abilities.

However, in sports like CrossFit – where the ability of an athlete is very closely tied to how much training they’ve done and how well they’ve adapted to the training – the aggregation of percentage point improvements in recovery and physiological adaptation are worth quite a bit more in terms of performance during competition than in field sports that are much more heavily determined by skill during gameplay.

So, what variables do matter for the long-term development of CrossFit athletes?

One of the major ones is the accumulation of quality training sessions over time.

You can’t control your genetics (which are going to be one of the main factors dictating how well you can recover from and adapt to these training sessions), but you can control your attitude and your discipline such that you are maximizing the amount of quality training sessions you have in a specific time period.

What time period is that? Well, that depends on specific goals. For many athletes, we are looking at a time horizon of several years to achieve their competition goals – and in this case, we are often looking to accumulate the maximum tolerable dose of training (meaning as much training as we can do without causing negative consequences).

For many people looking to “live long and prosper” (as James FitzGerald would put it) rather than “compete and win,” that time horizon may be decades – and here we are looking to accumulate the minimum effective dose of training (meaning as little as we can do while still creating progression towards goals or maintenance against entropy).

In this context, “mental toughness” does not refer to the ability to push harder.

It does not refer to the ability to be rigid and routine-based and get up at 4am every day and push yourself through an ass-kicking workout.

It refers to the ability to maximize your number of quality training sessions over the amount of time over which you are attempting to reach your goals.

(With the caveat that competitors are going to always be looking for ways to add more training into their routines and every day folks are going to be looking to find the leasts amount of training that progresses them at a reasonable rate towards their goals or maintains their fitness.)

So, from a more zoomed out perspective, mental toughness for both competitive athletes and every day people in the gym requires them to have enough discipline to do the things that matter – creating time in their schedule to train consistently, developing habits and consistency surrounding sleep and nutrition, developing an awareness of how they are feeling so they can give appropriate feedback on their training load, etc – while also building in enough flexibility in their schedule and their plans that they don’t become overly obsessed with achieving specific results in training sessions, hitting exact numbers of macros on every single day, or making sure they complete every session prescribed to them even if they have the flu.

Justin LoFranco (Morning Chalk Up)

Justin LoFranco

“When everyone else zigs, you should zag.”

Like most quotes, this concept can – without context – become quite dangerous and lead to all sorts of crackpot ideas.

But, when there’s an obvious push in a market in one direction, crafty entrepreneurs can quickly start to find holes that need filling.

In the world of CrossFit, visual mediums like Instagram seem to be king. People love video of other people working out. They love photos of fit people wearing minimal clothing. And CrossFitters seemingly can’t get off their social media long enough to complete a training session.

So, what in the world is a long, almost entirely text-based newsletter doing racking up thousands and thousands of subscribers?

Justin LoFranco, the founder of the Morning Chalk Up has this to say:
“I just decided to go the opposite direction. Let’s focus on on doing words right. Not driving clicks.”

With a background in campaign politics that resulted in a detailed understanding of creating audience archetypes and a passion for CrossFit, Justin has been able to turn the Morning Chalk Up into one of the premiere sources for CrossFit news.

In fact, with the restructuring of the CrossFit media department to focus on CrossFit Health instead of the CrossFit Games, the Chalk Up was the first outlet to break the news on the completely revamped competitive CrossFit season for 2019.

Check out the full conversation with Justin to learn:

  • How Justin thinks about creating long-form content via e-mail in an era when everyone seems to be saying that the future is in short content posted on social media
  • How Justin mapped out the theoretical archetypes of the readers of the Morning Chalk Up – and how reality has met his expectations
  • How Justin worked to align the content of the Chalk Up with his audience – and how including more content from every day CrossFitters (not just folks competing at the CrossFit Games) has grown the business

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

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Check out more from Justin and the Morning Chalk Up here:

Mike Hranica (The Devil Wears Prada//God Alone)

Mike Hranica

Most musicians in the world toil in obscurity – hoping that anyone at all will find and resonate with their music.

For those select few who do achieve some level of success via their music, they quickly become part of a machine focused on touring, album cycles, support acts, and management companies.

So, for the established artist, they long to be creative without restrictions and baggage from expectations from their fans and the music business that sustains them.

I discuss this dichotomy with Mike Hranica, the lead vocalist (“screamer” lol) from The Devil Wears Prada (a band with a lot of fans, and thus a lot of expectations) and God Alone (a band that purposefully defies expectations). We also discuss how he views discipline – or lack thereof – in his creative process, and how he scratches various creative itches through different outlets.

Check out the full conversation with Mike to learn:

  • How he balances “consuming” content and art vs “creating” – and finding the right balance between seeking out new art, digging into the classics, and making your own work
  • How he balances the demands of various stakeholders in the music industry and fan expectations in The Devil Wears Prada – and why it’s a relief to operate without expectations in God Alone
  • How he decides which relationships to maintain and which opportunities to pursue – and the resentment that builds from the shallowness of a lot of contemporary relationships and art

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

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Check out more from Mike here:

Ask Me Anything #1

Danny Soul

Here it is…at long last. My first ask me anything episode!

I put out a call for some questions on the e-mail list, and got some pretty good responses.

I picked three to discuss in detail…then I started recording without plugging my computer in or checking my battery so I only got through two before I started getting warnings about my dying battery.

So, we get two questions in about 40 minutes. Hopefully that is in alignment with the level of detail you have come to expect from me.

Here’s what I discuss:

  • [00:32] How do you motivate yourself to train during the “black hole” times?
  • [20:47] How do you teach coaches to modify or scale workouts for an aging or deconditioned population?

Check out the episode at the links below – and share with your friends if you enjoyed it!

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Danny Lopez-Calleja (CrossFit Soul//Wodapalooza)

Danny Soul

You know when you’re walking through the airport wearing a CrossFit shirt and you see someone else in a CrossFit shirt?

Or when you’re going about your business at the grocery store wearing a Morbid Angel shirt, and someone down the aisle has an Incantation shirt on?

Well, maybe you don’t know that feeling of t-shirt related camaraderie and acknowledgement, but rest assured that I do.

As we discuss in this interview, Danny and I are often the two guys at CrossFit related events wearing punk or metal apparel.

When Danny told me that he liked my podcast, I was thrilled because if one of the only other people who owns a CrossFit gym in a major urban environment who grew up playing in bands in a DIY punk and hardcore scene didn’t like my podcast…well then I don’t know what the hell I’m even doing.

If you’re not familiar with Danny, I’d recommend checking out this interview on Barbell Shrugged where he details his past battles with addiction and how he got into CrossFit.

He’s also coached athletes like Samantha Briggs and Brenda Castro – and Team Soul has made multiple CrossFit Games appearances.

He is also the competition director for this coming year’s Wodapalooza, so he will be architecting the programming for one of the largest CrossFit events in the world – this time with the opportunity to qualify athletes for the CrossFit Games.

In this conversation with Danny, we discuss:

  • Growing up in a real melting pot of a DIY punk scene in South Florida – and how that has both helped and hindered Danny in entrepreneurship
  • How staying true to his own taste (and trying to make Team Soul like a 90s skateboarding company) has resulted in raving fans…and some harsh detractors
  • How CrossFit Soul has seen the CrossFit bubble in South Florida pop – and why they’re still standing while many others are not
  • Becoming involved in the programming for Wodapalooza – only to learn a few weeks later that Wodapalooza would be a sanctioned event sending qualifiers to the CrossFit Games

Check out the conversation at the links below – and share with your friends if you enjoyed it!

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Check out more from Danny here:

Josh James (Stick to Your Guns//Eighteen Visions)

Given that Josh has already told the tales of being kidnapped in Egypt and playing one of the first shows that an American hardcore band in Kenya has played, I was worried that he might not have any stories left for me when he agreed to do this interview.

Never fear. Josh delivers the goods – and this is probably the hardest I’ve laughed during any podcast that I’ve recorded.

Josh has been a full-time touring musician with bands like Evergreen Terrace, Casey Jones, Stick to Your Guns and Eighteen Visions for many, many years. In his spare time, he often travels to countries with unstable governments. As such, he’s accumulated a lot of hilarious stories.

When Josh is in Chicago, he stops in at South Loop Strength & Conditioning to train, so it’s always a treat to get to chat with someone who likes the two things that I like: heavy music and extreme fitness programs.

In this conversation with Josh, we discuss:

  • The long-lost art of digging for information on bands – and how this affects the way that people consume content in the digital age
  • Why Stick to Your Guns regularly goes on tour with bands that they don’t sonically “fit” with – and the trade-off between large upside for taking risks and the failures when those risks don’t pay off
  • How to force yourself to adapt by constantly putting yourself in uncomfortable situations (like traveling in Egypt, Kenya and Tunisia) – and how Josh balances his desire for control with pushing outside of his comfort zone
  • How Josh accidentally ended up on CNN throwing rocks (Hint: It’s hilarious)

Check out the conversation at the links below – and share with your friends if you enjoyed it!

Note: There was an issue with Josh’s mic during the first 10 minutes or so of the podcast. We caught the issue and fixed it – and I did a little bit of post-production management to adjust the levels – so just skip the beginning part of the quieter audio is annoying. Apologies for that!

Listen Here

Check out more from Josh here:

Show Notes

  • [01:00] Working out on the road – and some perils of awkward men working out
  • [07:21] Josh’s first “real band” (Evergreen Terrace) and growing up in punk music – including buying a Misfits shirt without knowing who the Misfits were
  • [10:53] The mic is fixed!
  • [11:17] The process of digging for bands as a child in the pre-internet era (thanks lists, interviews, zines, etc)
  • [15:19] Joining 18 Visions and Stick to Your Guns
  • [19:55] Purposefully blending genres on tours – and the struggles of playing to an audience that isn’t into you as well as the upside of catching an all new audience
  • [32:44] How does Stick to Your Guns write new music while keeping in mind the expectations of fans who like their previous output?
  • [41:43] When is the last time you moshed?
  • [45:04] “I want to be a janitor at a mall or something like that” – and being forced to learn an instrument by your mother
  • [49:09] Going on crazy adventures in countries without stable governments – and the learning that occurs from being in unfamiliar situations
  • [56:34] Accidentally ending up on CNN throwing rocks

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Berkeley Dietvorst, PhD (University of Chicago)

Even though we live in an era of “big data” and huge amounts of our internet usage and content consumption are governed by algorithms (Facebook’s newsfeed, YouTube’s related videos, Google’s predictive search, the advertising we’re served online, etc.), many people don’t trust algorithms when they’re presented with the opportunity to use them in their own decision-making.

Berkeley Dietvorst thinks this results in people making a lot of very foolish decisions, and wasting a lot of time, money, and effort.

So, he’s been researching the concept of “algorithm aversion” for several years and he’s published several highly illuminating papers on the topic.

Berkeley has developed a theory of why humans don’t like to use algorithms (they’re probably chasing perfection in their predictions and they excessively punish algorithms for making visible errors) and he continues to work on understanding ways in which we can increase the trust that human decision-makers place in algorithms.

Check out this conversation with Berkeley to hear:

  • Why humans avoid using algorithms to make decisions – and what Berkeley has discovered about how to make people more comfortable with algorithms
  • What – if any – are good reasons to avoid using an algorithm to make a decision?
  • How our cognitive bias can cause us to make bad decisions (about where to invest, what route to take to get to work, etc.) – and how basic algorithms can make all of our lives easier

Listen Here

Check out more from Berkeley here:

Show Notes

  • [1:28] Berkeley is a marketing professor – yet studies algorithm aversion
  • [4:22] Humans are algorithmically averse – what’s our problem?
  • [12:10] Humans are risk-seeking so will choose not to use algorithms in order to seek outsized reward
  • [19:02] Humans err by regularly changing the weighting they give things based upon emotions
  • [26:22] Humans are more likely to use algorithms when they’re allowed to modify an algorithm
  • [35:20] Increasing human adherence to using superior algorithms to make predictions
  • [40:58] Are there ever good reasons for humans to distrust algorithms?
  • [1:04:17] How do we optimize the decision-making for individual decision-makers? And what would Berkeley like to know about how large tech companies get humans to use algorithms?
  • [1:11:15] How can people learn more about Berkeley’s research? And what research projects is he currently working on?

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Brian Blake (Real Friends)

Brian Blake from Real Friends

Many people dream of achieving success – thinking that once they achieve at a certain level that they will be happy. Tara Brach calls this “If Only Mind.

If only I got that promotion…If only we hadn’t broken up…If only I made this much money…then I would be happy.

My friend Brian Blake plays drums for a band called Real Friends that has achieved a level of success that most bands only dream of. Headlining tours across the country, prime billing at the Vans Warped Tour (RIP), and millions of streams on their YouTube videos.

But, that success did come with a cost for Brian in terms of his constant self-judgment relative to his performances – and it created an almost crippling anxiety and self-awareness surrounding his playing.

We dig into Brian’s experiences with meditation to come out of these negative feedback loops, but don’t worry – it’s not all serious. We spend a decent amount of time talking about nu-metal and JNCO jeans as well.

Check out this conversation with Brian to hear:

  • What it feels like to be in a band that suddenly has a lot of people paying attention – especially after years of playing music that not many people cared about
  • The dangers of excessive self-judgment – especially when playing to thousands of people per night – and what Brian did to overcome these feelings
  • How Real Friends thinks about balancing their creative output with the expectations that fans have of them – and how they wrote a more “mature” pop record without giving up their roots

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Check out more from Brian and Real Friends here:

Listen to Real Friends here:

Show Notes

  • [01:16] Early creative output with the Baa Baa Show
  • [07:20] Being nu-metal and having ridiculous hair – and early musical experiences in school band and local metalcore acts
  • [16:00] Improving the craft of drumming – both through formal instruction and without formal instruction
  • [27:21] Being your own worst critic – and finding the balance where that enables you to improve without cosntantly beating yourself up
  • [32:56] Getting into meditation to combat self-judgment
  • [40:57] The judgment of the crowd vs the judgment of your peers
  • [47:34] The negative feedback loop of hyperfocus on technique and worrying about screwing up
  • [52:37] Joining Real Friends and experiencing a bunch of fans suddenly caring about your band
  • [01:04:26] Finding the balance between your own creativity and keeping fans engaged
  • [01:15:19] Working with a producer and creating more of a pop” record than a “pop punk” record”
  • [01:24:45] Writing songs in the studio – and writing as a group vs separately
  • [01:33:49] How to learn more about Real Friends

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Adrian Bozman (Head Judge of the CrossFit Games)

Anyone who obsessively consumed everything in the CrossFit Journal from 2008-2014 learned a lot from Boz.

Here’s Boz explaining what to say when a member is concerned about their knees when squatting below parallel.
Here’s Boz talking to Tony Budding.

And here’s an in-depth profile that introduced the CrossFit community to Acid Witch (I’m sure they sold a ton of records from this).

Well, hopefully we can add to the Boz canon with this interview.

Check out this conversation with Adrian to hear:

  • Boz’s background in music – including growing up in a small town punk scene, playing trombone, and studying classical composition in college – as well as Boz’s early experiences with Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard
  • How Boz thinks about fairness in competition – and how someone who values freedom and lack of structure in his own training became head judge of the CrossFit Games
  • How Boz prepares the judges to focus on the important things (rather than “what if” scenarios) and how he helps them get comfortable with making other people uncomfortable in order to uphold the standards of the competition

Listen Here

Check out more from Adrian here:

Show Notes

  • [01:27] A Brief History of Silicon Valley & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
  • [08:09] Meeting at the CrossFit Level 1 Course
  • [09:53] Growing up in a small town punk scene
  • [15:36] Studying classical composition in university and playing trombone as a youth
  • [24:59] Rapid iteration and postmodern underpinnings in contemporary pop music and getting into doom metal
  • [31:46] Early experiences with Black Sabbath
  • [35:12] Understanding the appropriate context for various movement standards – and Instagram technique trolls tagging Boz in videos
  • [42:08] The standards of a competition create a framework for people to express themselves and their capacity
  • [47:24] How do you handle the emotions of competition – and how do you get comfortable with upsetting people to uphold the standards?
  • [55:36] How do you prepare the judging staff to judge at the CrossFit Games?
  • [01:02:29] Developing the emotional resilience to keep moving forward and focus on the things that matter in sport.
  • [01:07:22] What skills have you learned and seen carryover between working as a CrossFit coach, a CrossFit Level 1 seminar staff member, and as the head judge at the CrossFit Games
  • [01:17:14] Using a back injury as an opportunity for continuing education
  • [01:19:29] Connecting with Boz

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Mike McGoldrick (Training Think Tank)

You certainly wouldn’t accuse Mike McGoldrick of having an over-bearing sense of bravado, but he has achieved a trifecta of fitness business success that few other folks can match.

In 2013, he competed individually as a competitor at the CrossFit Games.

In 2016, he hosted Barbell Shrugged (one of the most popular podcasts in the health and fitness space) for a year.

And, he’s also a coach at one of the most highly respected coaching organization on the planet — Training Think Tank.

So, what does Mike do that has allowed him to achieve at high levels in all of these different areas? How did an engineer become one of the fittest on earth, a podcast host, and a high level coach?

Check out this conversation with Mike to hear:

  • How he transitioned from devoting all of his energy to competition to devoting all of his energy to coaching – and how he now has found balance between the two
  • How he takes in information from research and books – and how makes sure he actually uses and applies the stuff he learns
  • What Mike learned from hosting the Barbell Shrugged podcast that he uses today to help him learn from experts
  • How he thinks of the role of content in the fitness business – and how Training Think Tanks finds the right balance between technical content and content that engages with their audience

Listen Here

Check out more from Mike here:

Show Notes

  • [01:40] CTP’s transcendent content vision
  • [05:56] McG’s training journey from extreme devotion to competition to backing off – and finding a return to competition
  • [17:39] How do you balance competing and training with your ability to be hyper-analytical as a coach?
  • [23:52] How much do the athletes at Training Think Tank chirp each other? – and working around several world-class coaches
  • [35:05] Training breathing dynamics through inspiratory muscle training
  • [47:22] Does Mike miss the weekly content creation grind of the Barbell Shrugged podcast – and the role of content creation in fitness businesses
  • [57:02] How to learn effectively – and the trade-offs between taking in content and creating content
  • [01:05:01] Training Think Tank’s new movement course

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