The Persistence of Memory

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If you have children (heck, even if you don’t), you probably have heard the song “Let It Go.” If you’re blessed enough to have avoided the tidal wave that was Frozen, you’re still probably familiar with this phrase and its meaning. I’d bet my Adistars that every coach has said some variation of this phrase to his or her athletes.

When I was warming up at this year’s Arnold Championships I missed two warm-ups in the back. They weren’t even 85% of my best lift. What was I doing wrong? What did I need to change? Would I miss my opener? These questions were vying for space in my mind. But the bar was loaded for another warm up, so I stood without thinking, robotically went through my pre-lift routine, and made the lift. Albeit an ugly make, but just like that I “forgot” my misses.

At another meet, I had gone 3/3 in the snatch and set a 6kg PR. I was ecstatic. Between lifts, I received congratulations and beamed with pride. I wish someone would have shaken me and told me to let it go, to forget it, because I only hit one of my three clean and jerks.

When beginners start lifting and competing, they are invariably head cases. The technical portion of the lift, in addition to their nerves, takes up a huge amount of space in their minds. As they become more proficient in the lifts, their mental RAM is freed up and they no longer have to think as much about the technique of the lifts. The irony here is that as we become better technicians, our confidence levels rise, but as we no longer have to devote as much brain power to the bar, there is more empty space in our head for possible negative thoughts and doubt. This space can sometimes be filled with memories of past failure or success.
There is a Blues Traveler song that says, “There’s no such thing as a failure who keeps trying.” Your previous misses don’t matter. I have no idea how many times I tried to snatch 120 kilograms before I finally hit it. It doesn’t matter because I hit it and now it is behind me. When you miss in the training hall, learn from it. When you miss in the warm-up room or platform, forget it, at least for now. You’ll have plenty of time to reflect on it later. This isn’t the time to try to glean some sort of form-altering lesson from a missed lift. Do you really think you’re going to figure out the finer parts of your form in the two-minute window between your attempts with your heart pounding and adrenaline flowing? So often I see young lifters miss a lift and try to make some radical change in their form only to miss again. This is when discouragement and doubt can win. Be flexible, ready to learn, and don’t believe you have it all figured out yet—except on meet day. On meet day, be confident, believe in your form, and don’t try to fix everything because you missed one lift. Let it go; focus on the next lift.

Fixation on past success can be crippling as well. Remember Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite always talking up his glory days? Don’t be that guy. Just because you won a meet last year doesn’t mean you will this year. Just because you PR’d and went 3/3 on snatch doesn’t mean you will on clean and jerk. Satisfaction is the enemy of greatness. Walking into a meet focused on a previous meet’s success, fixating on making your first lift when you have two more to go, and celebrating your snatch as if the meet’s over are all capable of robbing you of your hunger to succeed. You have to stay hungry in this sport. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a time to celebrate. That time comes after the meet and, for me, lasts through the weekend. Monday, I strap on my shoes (the aforementioned Adistars) and focus on my new goals. I know none of my competition at the next meet cares what I did at the last. If anything, your previous success just makes people want to beat you more.

Every time you approach the bar it is tabula rasa—a blank slate. Misses or makes, let them go and focus on the present. Weightlifting is all about the now—events that happen in the blink of an eye, and then are gone. Sometimes, in lifting and life, it helps to have a short memory.

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