I’m beginning these notes a few days out from the 2016 National Masters Weightlifting Championships, where I will be competing. A major first for me! In my age (45-49) and weight class (77kg), there will be several people seriously contenting for the top spot. All have about the same training lifts, so who wins will depend entirely on mind and emotions–on who performs on the platform.
It seems to me that weightlifting is an especially powerful magnifier of the difference between training and a performance: you’re alone on a platform, facing three judges, and trying to execute at the limit of both your strength and technical ability. Anyone who has competed on the platform knows that it is an entirely different experience from what goes on in the gym. If you miss a lift while training, you just do it over. If your head isn’t right while training, you can take a walk, talk to your friends or coach, get your head together; on the platform, you have 60 seconds to focus, calm yourself, and complete the lift. For most of us, training is a break from the stress and emotional turbulence of life; it’s a safe, routinized practice that brackets out the rest of our world and our individual problems, allowing us to focus on the task at hand. The gym is a Third Space. But the weightlifting platform is an amplifier: it forces you to confront anxiety, fear, over-excitement, high or low energy. It’s not safe at all—you either perform or fail.
Here’s the thing, people talk about the mental aspect of training but they rarely talk about the emotional side of it. To perform well you have to master both your thoughts and your emotions, your self-talk and how it makes you feel. Think about it: when you miss on the platform, it’s usually because fear, self-doubt, or something similar prevents you from committing fully to the lift. Because by the time you get to the competition, you know for certain that you’re are capable of lifting these weights (because of your training you know you are strong enough and have sufficient technique). It’s a matter of removing emotional and mental barriers. You have to let yourself lift the weight.