It is 6 o’ clock on a Monday morning. A frozen vista of brown and gold greets my wakening eyes as I shiver my way down through the training field toward my studio. Frosting pockets of breath accompanies each step and I am grateful for the short distance to the studio’s entrance. Upon reaching the doors, I stop and fumble into my pocket to press a blue remote. To the sound of pulleys moaning and groaning, I watch the doors roll upward. A sheen of winter sun creeps past me and stretches its long warm fingers across the carpeted floor in front of me. I smile. It is cold, but it is pleasant and I am looking forward to the morning’s sessions. I stride in and begin the morning rituals; lights… click, music… switch. I bob my head to a rocking remix of U2’s ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ as I setup the studio floor and prepare the weights for the day’s first session.
Suddenly, Diiiinng Diiiinng, the bell rings. Ah, my client is here. I move to the intercom and answer. “Pizza delivery…” a woman on the other end says. I suppress a chuckle and place the receiver down, opening the sliding gate. Rubbing my icy hands against each other, I walk toward my client as she roars up the driveway. A car door opens. “What, no pizza?!” I say, with a faux flummox of a smile. She grins back as she closes the door, “All out I’m afraid… besides, I don’t think Trainers are supposed to be eating pizza on a Monday morning.” I dramatically clasp my chest, “Aah, how you wound me, Katherine.” We both break into laughter as we enter the studio together.
After ten minutes of warming up, the weekly check-in and an anecdotal exploration of Chuck Norris’ apparent ability to sit in the corner of a circular room, the workout begins in earnest. After she performs the first set of squats, I point to the bench press machine. Being a client for many years now, she is familiar with the process. After sipping from her glass of cool water, she proceeds to the bench and lies down on her back. Years of honed instincts usher me toward my customary ‘spotting’ position behind the machine. I place my hands onto the frigid barbell for her safety and peer down at her.
Are you ready for this, girl? I think as I nod for her to begin. “One”, her shoulder bones grind into action, providing a potent surge of energy as she lifts the barbell from the rack. “Two”, a strong puff of air escapes her lungs as she pushes into the second repetition. “Three”, it is starting to look easy now, like she could do this all day. “Four”, …almost time now. “Five”, …ready. “Six”, …and now…
After the sixth repetition, and with greatly considered intention, I artfully remove my hands from the barbell. Her arms begin to flail and she struggles with the burden of the bar. She calls for rapid assistance and I immediately help her by racking the barbell. In shock, she sits up and turns around to face me, “Why…. why did you stop helping me? I nearly dropped the weight.” My smile is level, my gaze is fixed, “Katherine, I was never helping you.” She raises a perplexed eyebrow, “What do you mean?” I open an empty set of palms in front of her, “My hands, Katherine, they have been an illusion all this time. I’ve never actually helped you move this weight.” I raise a solitary finger, “Not even once.” There is confusion in her eyes. I can’t imagine how this must sound to her. “You see,” I explain, as I walk around to the front of the machine, “you have been doing it on your own all this time. All I’ve been indirectly doing is providing you with the false belief that I am helping you. When I took my hands away, I also took away your belief in yourself. You’ve unconsciously allowed me to hold your strength for you. You’ve placed your sense of competence and self-belief in someone else’s hands, in hands that could potentially remove it at will, just like I did”. I extend my hand to help her up off the bench. “I realised-” I continue, as she clasps my hand to stand up, “that this was happening last week and I’ve decided, from today, to no longer be your crutch. You need to trust in yourself and your abilities. You need to believe that you are worthy just as you are and are strong and competent regardless of the opinions and influences of others.” Katherine looks down at the floor then back up to me, “You are more powerful than you have even begun to imagine, Katherine. Your opinion is the only one that matters.”
Even in the starkness of winter’s chill, there can be warmth if we are but bold enough to search. All of us develop crutches as we move through our lives. Some crutches are temporary, even necessary, but like Katherine, what happens when a crutch begins to oppress our sense of competence and strength? What happens when a crutch begins to inhibit our ability to reach our potential and face our days with purpose and resilience? Katherine had to realise that the armour of self-belief is forged from within, not from without. We need to be conscious of our ‘tape’ i.e. the voices created from a lifetime of experiences which play over and over in our minds, telling us, “No, I can’t”, “I am stupid!” and “I will fail!”. A negative tape only serves to erode our self-esteem and we need to re-write the messages on it in order for it to reflect positive messages that raise our potential to feel happy, content and successful in all that we do.