Just, Only, Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

I was talking with an athlete the other day after they had set a new personal record (PR). She was so excited… for a moment.  


But then it happened.


Before she had even revealed in her achievement, she said, “if only I had locked out my elbow on my last attempt I coulda had a bigger PR.”


My heart sank. This athlete had just accomplished something significant, yet within moments she was diminishing that achievement.


Unfortunately, this person’s experience is ubiquitous. Whether brand new members or seasoned competitors, I hear the words “just,” “only,” “coulda,” “woulda,” “shoulda” so often that if our box were paid a dollar for every time one of those words were uttered, we could build an addition! (Well, we may build that addition anyway….)


“I only lifted 50% of my one rep max in that workout.” (But you lifted it 50 times!)


“It was just x pounds.” (But those pounds were heavy for you!)


“I only did one _______ [fill in the blank: push up, jumping pull up, toes to bar, double under, ring dip]. (But remember when you couldn’t do one at all?!)


“I shoulda lifted more weight because last month I lifted x.” (But you’re going through a stressful time, and you’re pretty depleted right now. How great that you’re even here!)

“I coulda gotten that snatch if only I’d jumped under the bar faster.” (Yes, maybe you could have, so remember that for next time, and you’ll keep improving. But well done today!)


It makes me sad when our athletes fail to celebrate their efforts, successes, and commitment to their fitness, and instead consider a lower weight or fewer repetitions the actual failure. The actual failure, if we want to use that word, is in devaluing our achievements and losing perspective on the results we are seeing month to month and year to year.


It’s also disheartening when I see members compare themselves unfavorably to others. While it can be a useful practice to identify people whose abilities are just beyond yours and use them as role models; it is unproductive and unhealthy to rate yourself in comparison to others.


Have you ever noticed how often your fellow CrossFitters respond with joy and enthusiasm when they see you achieve something? While your friend is cheering beside you, you may have already decided it wasn’t a big deal because so-and-so does it all the time. Take a cue from your friend. Celebrate your successes with the same enthusiasm as they do, and the same enthusiasm you offer others.


Then CrossFit will not only be a place to grow fitter and healthier, but also a place to experience joy and self-worth.


Nick Birdsall is the founder of CrossFit Acadia, CF-L2, an EMT and Firefighter, and a former Marine.