Part of what I like about the gym is escaping from the hamster wheel that is my brain most of my waking hours. Between a day job where I juggle dozens of priorities, clients and tasks non-stop, a busy writing career where I’m constantly seeking the next story, conducting interviews and writing or thinking about what I’ll write, and always planning for my next travel adventure, my brain maintains a constant near-frenzied state. I live in my head the majority of the time, thinking, planning, making decisions, forecasting what has to happen next in order for the next 17 things that need to happen to take place. My body, too much of the time, is just the shell my brain lives in.
One of the many great things about going to the gym to physically push myself is that I can crawl out of that whirling brain for a minute. I work on what my body can do – how much weight I can command my muscles to contend with, how fast I can run pushing the prowler, how many double-unders I can do in a row (still only five).
But even escaping for that time from my endless mental task list, halting all thoughts of deadlines and assignments for an hour or so, it seems I still need to work on calming my brain down. In a time I most need to focus on only one thing – the task at hand that very moment – it wants to run amuck, asking if I’m positioned right, and forging ahead to prepare for the next steps.
“How many things are you thinking about!?” Ben asked while I was working on my bench today. First I answered “just the weight.” But then I realized that wasn’t true. I was analyzing my set-up, and I was constantly looking ahead to prepare for the next movement.
“One thing at a time,” Ben said. “When you get set, you’re set. You don’t think about it again. When you’re pulling the bar down, that’s all you’re thinking about. Legs, shoulders, they’re taken care of. Just bring down the bar.”
So on my next set I made a conscious effort to stop the barrage of mental activity. No thinking about what I would do next. Just me and the weight where it was right that moment, focusing on what I needed from my body to move the weight. And what do you know? Best bench set I did today (and maybe ever).
With time and lots of practice, hundreds and thousands of reps, it will, I hope, become second nature. But for now, my task is to slow down and do. just. one. thing. at. a. time.