Building something great requires a blue-print. The first step to do so is to identify what to work on and in what order. Theoretical models that help us do just that.
One such model is the CrossFit pyramid for fitness development. The model is elegant in its simplicity, and the fact that it is enforced by nature. The model is depicted as a pyramid and shown in Figure 1. It identifies 5 elements of fitness and physical development. Performance issues at any level are solved by looking at the levels below.
- Nutrition is the base of all physical performance. It is what fuels our performance, and if the fuel itself is lacking or bad, there is little that the rest of the systems can do. Would you run a Ferrari on kerosene?
- Metabolic conditioning refers to body’s ability to harness the nutriion and utilize the fuel to create movement. Once you have the proper fuel, you must have the ability to burn and deliver it as required.
- Gymnastics is how we move without weights, with proper mobility, stability, and awareness. The model implies that if you do not have the requisite mobility and stability to do a squat without any weight, you have no business doing weighted partial squats.
- Weight lifting consists of the process of developing strength and power using various lifting techniques and exercises.
- Sport specific training forms the apex of the pyramid.
Too often athletes ignore the base of the pyramid and focus on sport specific training followed by weights. Such an approach inevitably leads to sub-optimal performance at or worse – injury.
A model for mental fitness
The CrossFit pyramid inspired to investigate a similar model for mental strength and performance. What are the elements of our mental strength and performance? Many books talk about the power of the subconscious mind, of visualization, positivity, etc. But what are all the high level items? And how do we build on them? The outcome was what I call the Belief PyramidTM, my take on what a theoretical model for mental strength and performance in life. It is based on my experiences and knowledge.
There are five elements in this model arranged in order of implicit influence from bottom to top: Belief, Emotion, Choice, Conscious Thought, and Action. That is, while influence flows both ways, lower elements are stronger as they are more ingrained in our mind than the ones higher up. So once the lower layers are ingrained, performance at the higher layer becomes easier and stronger.
It applies to performance in any field, and overall happiness in life as well. Like the CrossFit pyramid, the stronger the items at the base are, the less effort the layers above require.
The Belief Pyramid TM
We have already delved briefly into its incredible power, so Belief is the foundation of the pyramid. It forms our default programming and governs our reaction at failures and successes along the way. Belief has to be fed continuously and once formed, it paves the way to take the right action. Positive belief will yield positive emotions, thought, and action.
Do you have faith in yourself? Are you consciously feeding your belief with positivity? Facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, what does your inner voice say to you – does it shrink into the shadows or rises to meet the challenge?
Emotion regulates our perception and thus our actions and so forms the next layer of the pyramid. Every experience must pass through the prism of emotion. What we feel is imprinted in memory and feeds into Belief. This is what makes emotion so powerful. Positive emotions build positive belief, while negative ones reinforce negative belief. If belief defines what you hear at failure, emotions define how loud that voice is and consequently how much importance we lend to that voice.
When you feel sad or happy, how much of that is due to external events and how much due to your interpretation of those events? How prone are you to fear? What is your response when fear hits – fight, flee, or calm down and look again?
Choice is not a verb but a noun. It is an entity we desire intuitively for what it represents – freedom. So choice forms the next level in our pyramid.
The desire for freedom and choice is ingrained in the primal parts of our brain. Studies with humans and various animals have shown that our brains more options even when having so has no benefit to the end result. But it is not enough to merely have choice, we must perceive it as well. The real danger of this happens when we are under circumstances that offer no choice, and so we are trained to not look for it. And then, even when circumstances change, we fail to see our freedom.
Do you see choice at various steps in life? Or have you trained yourself to ignore it? When you say “I have no choice”, is that really true?
So far, the layers of the pyramid deal with elements that we don’t consciously pay attention. Each of these have incredible power on their own, still they are not as powerful as the top two levels in the pyramid – conscious thought and action. Their power emerges from their ability to control and build the layers below.
Conscious thought is thought we pay attention to. It is slow and deliberate, as opposed to the countless streams of thought that occupy our minds most of the time. As powerful as belief, emotion, and choice may be, with can consciously override them and negate their influence. Our rational mind can train and build belief, choose the duration and intensity of emotions, and also rationalize choice. The key here is awareness.
To override negativity, we have to be aware of it, recognize it, stop it, and replace it with positivity. And we have to do so repeatedly. Are you consciously training your awareness?
Cdr. Mark Divine, a former navy SEAL and now life coach, in his book “Unbeatable Mind” calls the conscious mind the zoo keeper that keeps our monkey mind in check. The more prone you are to negative belief, emotion, or as much as you have trained yourself to ignore choice, the rational mind can overcome it. It requires training and effort, but with time it can turn around just about anything.
Are you the zoo keeper to your primal brain? When emotions threaten to take over, does the rational mind come to? Do you choke under pressure?
The top of the pyramid is Action. Right and consistent action is hard work. Everything below must come together to make it happen. This is where the rubber meets the road. Without wheels, even the best of cars is not going anywhere. To reach your destination you have to act.
Without action, ideas die and principles are meaningless.
The amazing attribute of action is its ability to influence all the layers below. The simplest action is to smile So acting brave will make you brave, and fake it until you make it is actually true and founded in science. Check out this TED talk for more.
What holds you from taking action on your dreams and goals?
Each layer feeds into the other and every level needs constant attention and work. Having strong belief in yourself and the Universe helps feel positive, and builds emotional resilience. Which in turn helps you view the choices in front of you in a more positive light. All these come together to reduce the load on conscious thought. Our belief is what we eventually become and everything else, our emotions, choices, thoughts and action feed into that, creating a self-sustaining cycle.
So, it is important to reinforce your belief. The simplest positive action you can take to override negativity is to smile. Deep down, from the heart. Don’t be afraid of feeling joyous and showing it to the world. Even the act of smiling reduce stress levels, increases endorphin and in general makes us feel more positive. Fitness is another way of doing that. Physical training is a positive action that has immediate and long term benefits, not just physical but also mental and emotional. Fitness makes us more optimistic and happy.
Belief pyramid in action, “Ali boma ye!!”
Wednesday, October 30, 1974. The fight began at 4:00 am, the greatest sporting event of the 20th century, Ali vs Foreman. Ali was 32 going into the fight and according to everyone but Ali himself, past his prime. Foreman was 24, undefeated and had won 37 of his 40 bouts by knockout, including two against Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, both of whom had beaten Ali.
Only Ali believed he could win the fight and he reinforced his belief through his thought and actions leading up to the fight, coining his mantra “Ali boma ye”, translated as “Ali kill him”. By repetition, he made not just himself but everyone, including what seems like the entire country of Zaire, believe in it, and repeat it back to him. He created his perfect belief loop (another TM here perhaps 🙂 ).
The fight began, and Foreman was every bit the champion everyone knew he was. Ali had met his match. The first round seemed to have shaken Ali’s belief. In that one minute between rounds, Ali’s belief was shaken. Norman Mailer, an American journalist at the fight, said he saw fear in Ali’s eyes, but then Ali looked deep inside as if telling himself “to get it together”. He nodded to himself, accepting the challenge before him and choosing to rise to the moment of his life. He then turned to the crowd and shouted, “Ali boma ye!”. One hundred thousand people in the stadium went crazy, shouting “ALI BOMA YE!!”. I could say the rest is history, but it was an historic fight, and is actually material for a number of future posts. Check out the documentary “When we were kings” for yourself (some PG-13 content). The fight begins at the 57:07 mark set up for you below.
Ali was the master of creating his belief and make others accept it as well, not only being positive himself, but creating positivity around him.
This post took me a while to write. The Belief Pyramid itself has been at the back of my mind for years now, and only started solidifying a few months ago. A friend who helped proof read it told me it would be great to have future posts In future posts link to this and expound the theory to give actionable insights. I will do just that, sharing my experiences on each of the levels, and strategies to build positivity of belief, emotion, choice, thought and action. In the meantime, you could also check out a book I found to be very helpful in my own journey, Unbeatable Mind by Cdr. Mark Divine. It has some excellent tips in there from one of the best in the business.
For the time being, you just got one more reason to smile, act positively, and pursue fitness :).
Do you agree with this model? What would you add or remove? Leave comments and let me know.