Do you have the right mindset?

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Head Coach and Founder
The right mindset is crucial in CrossFit, it can make or break your performance. How to develop the right mindset?

What is the right mindset?

As is true for most things in life the ‘right’ mindset is, to some degree, individual and situational dependent. In other words, what works for one person or in one situation does not always work for another person or in another situation. In all cases:

The ‘right’ mindset is one that works with you, and not against you. The ‘right’ mindset can be defined as a growth mindset. [1]

Growth versus fixed mindset

An important characteristic of a growth mindset is how you perceive success and failure. A growth mindset means you feel proud of yourself regardless your success. You are convinced that your achievements are the product of your own hard work and of your qualities, instead of being coincidences or things that just happen to you and are out of your control.

You consider failure a learning experience and are not afraid of it. If you fail, you do not get angry with yourself (or at least not for long) nor do you give up or let it affect your mood. You focus on what is within your control, and what you can learn (from failure), and you move on with a positive attitude. You focus more on the process instead of solely on the end result.

A fixed mindset on the other hand, is a mindset where you are afraid to fail; you do not want to take any risks or try new stuff; you are convinced the things that happen to you are out of your control; you, think your success is a result or coincidence or just your talent instead of your hard work and your growth. (Fear of failure)

A CrossFit example:

Athlete A sets the goal of being able to do a bar muscle up. Athlete A focusses on the small steps she is taking to get there. Every pullup and every attempt is one step closer to a bar muscle up. Athlete A is convinced she will get there eventually and keeps working hard and feels proud of it. She loves when bar muscle ups are programmed in a WOD; a perfect opportunity to practice.

Athlete B also sets the goal of being able to do a bar muscle up. Athlete B focusses on the end result: the muscle up she must get. She gives it a try, fails, gets angry, and quits. Maybe in a few weeks she is going to try again, but already thinks it is probably not going to work. She hates when bar muscle ups are programmed in a WOD: another failure waiting to happen.

How to develop a growth mindset

Maybe some people are more predisposedto a growth mindset than others. Nevertheless, a growth mindset can be developpedt. At first this might take some energy but in the long run it will lead to physical, mental and emotional benefits.

1. Set a goal

For example losing 10kg body weight or being able to do a bar muscle up within 6 months from now.

2. Set intentions: the things you plan to do to reach the goal.

For example: Starting Monday eat veggies every day at noon and start Personal Training for strict pullups every Friday.

3. Analyse your process and motivation

For many people, this is where it ends. Because once it is Monday, they do not feel so motivated anymore or other things comes in the way. Sometimes they blame themselves for not having enough motivation, discipline or willpower. Actually, that is not always true. (Motivation is an unreliable friend). It is important to learn more about what is happening in your own case, to be able to take the development of your mindset into your own hands.

Three factors are strongly related to motivation, mindset and success: Attitude, perceived self- efficacy and social influences. [2]

Attitude: Are you really into it?

Sometimes you set a goal when in fact you don’t really care about it (You're just not really into it). Maybe you don’t really want to lose weight but since everyone else is doing it, you feel you also need to. Or maybe your intention is to go for a swim every day, but you actually hate water. When you are not really intrinsically motivated and do not have a positive attitude towards your goal or your intentions, it takes a lot of time and energy to commit to it and get the work done. (Is your goal your priority?)

Perceived self- efficacy: Are you convicned you can and you will?

When you are not convinced you can lose weight or eventually do a bar muscle up; when you are not convinced you have the qualities to reach your goal, and hard work will eventually pay off; when you think ‘stuff just happens to you out of your control’, then it can be really hard to commit to your goal and get the work done. Self- efficacy means you trust your own capabilities: You can do this and your hard work will eventually pay off.

Social influences: Are you supported by friends?

Maybe your friends and family think it is ridiculous to spend extra time at the gym to practice your bar muscle up. They rather want to spend time with you drinking beer. A lack of social support or an environment in which the social norm is to drink beer and live a sedentary life, can make it hard to commit to your goal and get the work done.

A growth mindset, yet still a struggle

A growth mindset covers a positive attitude and perceived self- efficacy. You are truly motivated to reach your goal and have a positive attitude towards it. You are convinced your hard work will pay off. But even with these two preconditions covered, it can still be hard to reach your goal. Especially if you set a long- term goal.

Temptations, set backs and short- term goals can get in the way. Birthdays can disturb your weight loss journey. Injuries can be a set back on your training. Also, short term goals such as wanting to be the best during a specific CrossFit WOD (short- term goal) can interfere with your long-term goal for example because it leaves you with no energy left to practice the bar muscle up (your long- term goal).

Positive perspective: Long term goal versus short term goal

A growth mindset means you are able to deal with these temptations, set backs and short- term goals in relation to your long- term goal. Saying no to that piece of birthday cake. Focusing on what you still can do with that injury instead of what you cannot do. Holding back a little but during that tempting CrossFit WOD so you still have some energy left to work on your long-term goal.

A growth mindset means you are able to look at things from a different, more positive and challenging perspective. The birthday, the injury and today's WOD not as attractive things you want or need right now, or as horrible hurdles you cannot overcome, but as challenges on your journey towards your long-term goal.

Two tips to develop a growth mindset

Tip 1: Focus on yourself

Set a goal and set intentions that truly matter to you and that you are really motivated to reach and have a positive attitude towards. Focus on the positive, on what is within your influence; on what went good thanks to your hard work; and on what you can learn from attempts that were not successful. Every day. And never give up.

Tip 2: Create a support system

A supporting environment means adding little nudges to your living space to help you on your way. For example by getting rid of snacks and instead surround yourself with healthy foods. Or by having your gym bag always in your sight. Because what is in our sight gets our attention.

A supporting environment also means having a support system: people who support your goals and intentions. Ideally our friends and family are supportive. Ideally the social norm is to live a healthy life, to eat healthy, and to do CrossFit. But that is not always the case. Maybe your friends and family do not understand your wish to reach a specific goal. But understanding is not necessary, as long as they support you and want the best for you. Simply ask them to be there for you and tell them what you need from them. And expand your network and your environment, make new friends!

Life is a learning process, so you might as get the most out of it. Grow and enjoy!

Create your own health!©


[1] Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset. The new psychology of success.

[2] Ajzen, I. (1985). From Intentions to Actions: A Theory of Planned Behavior. In: Kuhl, J., Beckmann, J. (eds) Action Control. SSSP Springer Series in Social Psychology. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg; Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.