The Mindset of Primitive Man and Sports Performance

Written by: Kevin Cann

Primitive man took their place in nature, while modern man attempts to control it.  This is evident in the sport of powerlifting.  When things happened that were not easily explainable, primitive man would chalk it up to some arbitrary higher power.

Let us put this thinking into modern society.  If a smoker gets a diagnosis of lung cancer, we chalk up the cause of the cancer to the smoking of tobacco.  The primitive man might instead blame an arbitrary higher power for giving her the disease.  They may even go as far as saying it was caused because she was constantly lying, and the gods are punishing her for it.

Most will read that and scoff at it, but in some cases it is more of a complete answer than any of us can come up with.  What of the person that gets lung cancer that has never smoked before in their life, or smoked for 60 years and died of natural causes much later than life expectancy would guess?  Or the very fit person that runs every day, eats healthy, seems stress free, but drops dead of a heart attack with no known family history?

In these cases, we might chalk it up to bad luck, and is that any different than primitive man’s thinking?  Isn’t bad luck putting it on some type of arbitrary power?  These cases get a lot of attention and receive a lot of emotion from people because we can’t understand why it happened.  That is our need to control nature.  It is a very egocentric thought process.  We understand something like 4% of matter on earth.  96% is left to our best guess.  We can’t control something that we do not understand.  Until we can answer the question of where life on earth came from, it will always be a carrot and stick game of trying to control nature.

Powerlifting training is no different.  As technology advances we aim to control and more and more of our biological adaptations.  This typically comes by attempting to control what we think we know and ignoring everything else as noise.  The problem with that is nature is noise.  Ignoring it is a major mistake.

Just like with smoking causing lung cancer, we know that certain things such as appropriate volumes and intensities can increase our chances of increasing performance.  We know sleep and recovery is important as well as nutrition.  There are times where we train had and focus on all these aspects and hit those PRs, but there are also just as many times that we do not hit PRs even though we are doing the exact same things that worked before.  We might change up training and hit a PR, but was it the change or just the extra time training that led to the improvement?  Maybe it was the mindset of doing something new and the belief that comes with it.

We can go years without hitting a PR, change nothing, and suddenly hit a PR.  Our attempts to understand why is our human nature to try to control nature.  Primitive man understood that we were at the mercy of nature and do not have the power to control it.  They accepted their place in nature and only controlled the things that they could control.

When we miss a lift we attempt to control the situation by highlighting all of the reasons why that might have happened.  Maybe sleep the night before was poor, but how many times was sleep the night before poor, but you hit a PR?  Maybe stress is higher than normal, but how many times have you been stressed in the past and hit a PR?  I know for me, over my 3.5 years of not hitting a PR, that stress was high at the start and when things began to go backwards, and it was just as high at the end when things went well.  I did make changes that very well are known to have an impact on performance, like going to therapy and working hard at the psychological pieces. However, I could have just as easily not hit PRs while doing that and it is not guaranteed to continue to lead to success by a performance definition.

Sports offers great opportunities to discover some of our unconscious psychological pieces.  When we give our full effort to something, commit to it, and do it for a prolonged period of time it is sure to bring up some emotions.  We can then explore these emotions to understand ourselves better and to connect the conscious and unconscious parts of our psyche to be more whole.

You do not have as much control over the results as you or your coach would like to believe.  Accept that and just become a part of your own environment.  Primitive man’s greatest teacher was nature and experience.  Training can be this for all of us.

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