Creating True Competence in the Sport of Bodybuilding

Creating Competence

You need to learn how to optimize your competence to succeed with your training endeavors.

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Whether you are training at World Championship levels or just for the personal satisfaction of hitting the best shape of your life, you are traveling a long road. And more than once along the way you are likely to get discouraged-so discouraged that you might consider either quitting or simply easing up a little on the pressure required to take you to the top.

To help you stay on track, we are going to take a look at a psychological factor that either helps you in your quest for progress or pretty much puts on the brakes for the whole thing. What we'll end up with is a head start package to keep you moving forward.

Self-perceived competence is the main factor that keeps people striving and achieving: If you see yourself as competent, you will keep stretching and growing. Conversely, if you see yourself as incompetent, you will withdraw from challenges and as a result be virtually guaranteed of being shut out when it comes to success.

It has been said that one of our greatest joys is seeing ourselves as active agents who control our own destinies and that seeing ourselves as helpless creatures plunges us into the depths of despair. So much for the view from the mountaintop. Let's do a little bottom-fishing first and then tie the whole process into training- getting built and getting strong.

To illustrate how this process works, let's first reverse things and lay out some keys not for creating the self-impression of competence, but of (Incompetence. That way, if you are interested in building your competence, you'll know what behaviors to avoid. Sometimes this approach has a little more punch, and it can also be easier to explain. Think of this as the psychological counterpart to being told which snakes are poisonous before you hike through the jungle.

Engineering Incompetence

Want to see yourself as incompetent? Just follow these four rules:

Surround yourself with authority figures who constantly put you down. The best way to start down this path is at birth, with your parents, but since you have little control over this now-distant event, pick the rest of your shots especially carefully. For example, if you can land a job where your boss scowls and grunts at you, publicly ridiculing and privately terrorizing you, this can go a long way toward making up for a good childhood. And if you had a bad childhood, it will be a natural extension. The result should be a steady decrease in how you perceive your competence, and if you stick with the ogre long enough, you will eventually come to believe the worst things he or she has ever uttered about you.

The same thing goes for school: If it's an incompetent self-image that you want, try to find the most pompous, insecure teachers in the most intimidating subjects and then let them have a go at your ego. Keep at this ego-bashing for at least a year under intense conditions if you are serious about thinking of yourself as being truly worthless.

And if you can swing it, try to stay under the thumb of some authority figures who are fully aware of your training goals and never miss an opportunity to ridicule them. For example, if your boss snickers as you walk by and says something like, "Here comes Mr. Pounds and Inches," then you have it made.

Always set yourself up for failure. For example, if your best deadlift is 490 pounds and you have bombed out in your last three contests, don't even think about opening with anything less than 525. Then when you miss it, be sure to go up at least 20 pounds for your second attempt.

Similarly, if you are a beginning bodybuilder, seek out the most hardcore gym in your area, find out when the heavies train, and make sure to be there using your 14-inch arms to elbow your way into as much humiliation and embarrassment as the big guns will dish out. If you want to tri-blast on this program, go ahead and enter a physique contest before your chest measurement gets ahead of your waist, and be sure to go in as pasty-white as you can, wearing an oversize posing suit. Remember: Nothing fails like failure, so fail, fail, fail!

Rehearse your failures to keep the bad feelings about yourself fresh. Since you are equipped with a higher-order brain, you can create all sorts of symbolic and imaginary stimuli to remind yourself that you are just a worthless bleep. Remember that time you tried to change the oil in your new Jeep, but you put the oil in the radiator by mistake? Or the time you got stuck benching 85 pounds in your basement while pretending you were Ken Lain going after 710, and your 11-year-old sister and her friend had to pull the bar off your chest? That's the sort of stuff that can buckle the knees of grown men and women, so revel in it if you want to shrink your sense of competence. The mental training motto for incompetence applies here: "If something hurts your pride, take the memory for another ride!" Again and again.

Establish unrealistic goals. For example, Paul Anderson once got a letter from a fellow who not only had his heart set on winning an Olympic gold medal in weightlifting, but he wanted to win the Superheavy weight title the following year. This fellow was wise in seeking the advice of the world's strongest man, especially because our aspiring Olympic hero weighed all of 124 pounds at the time of his letter! This sort of thing can do wonders for creating the self-image of incompetence: If you set unrealistic goals, you set yourself up for repeated failure. And you know what we said about nothing failing like failure.

Engineering Competence

So there you have it: Four powerful principles to launch you on the road to incompetence, with the fringe benefit of probably never accomplishing much in the gym or out. Of course, you might elect to go in the other direction-by engineering competence-and see just what you can accomplish. Let's try reversing our fundamentals-for-blundering approach and see what we end up with. Suppose we take our first rule for engineering incompetence and make a few changes; what do we end up with?

"Surround yourself with authority figures who constantly build you up. The best way to start down this path is at birth, with your parents, but since you have little control over this now-distant event, pick the rest of your shots especially carefully...."

Work through the rest of the translation, and you end up with something like, "If you can swing it, try to surround yourself with authority figures who are fully aware of your training goals and never miss an opportunity to support them."

Let's summarize and illustrate how the remaining three principles are transformed for creating a self-image of competence.

"Always set yourself up for success." One of the true heroes at the Seoul Olympics was Nairn Suleymanoglu, a 132-pound weightlifter who not only made all six of his lifts and won the Olympic gold medal, but who also broke six world records in the process. How can a 132-pound guy clean and jerk well over 400 pounds? Well, for one thing, we are told that Suleymanoglu literally never misses but a handful of lifts each year-counting training and competition! Talk about conditioning oneself for success. Think about that the next time you miss a 198-pound snatch nine times in one workout and are considering going for your 10th attempt. Just remember: Success breeds success.

"Rehearse your successes to keep the good feelings about yourself fresh." Don't think this stuff doesn't work, and don't think that success in one area doesn't transfer to another. Take pride in your past accomplishments and remind yourself of them- especially when you face a new challenge or have just experienced a setback. We get lots of mail from people who have taken themselves to new heights on the 20-rep squat program, and besides transforming their bodies, they have developed a new level of self-confidence: They can succeed, and they know it because they just proved it under the squat bar.

"Establish realistic goals." This should be self-evident, but a lot of people don't distinguish between what we might call "aggressive planning" and, frankly, "delusions of grandeur." Remember that realistic goals are in no way self-limiting: Once you meet them, just reset them a little higher. On the other hand, don't use the guise of realistic goals as an excuse to lower your standards. No matter where you are, your goal should be to improve; just make sure that what you plan is achievable for-ward progress.

If your training has been in a slump lately, see what you can do to strengthen your belief in your own abilities: Re-create yourself in the image of competence, and break through to new standards.

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