This may come as a complete shock to you, but bodybuilders are absolutely obsessed with growth. We micromanage our macronutrients, meticulously plan and record every workout, stare at ourselves endlessly in the mirror like we’re waist deep in a serious mushroom trip and are too scared away – all for one singular purpose. We want to know if we’re growing.
Here’s the thing, even when we factor in training, nutrition, genetics, and drugs there’s still one growth factor (No, it’s not IGF-1) that separates the good bodybuilders from those that had the audacity to be great. The thing I’m talking about isn’t tangible. It can’t be measured, qualified, or quantified, or passed off and quoted from some PubMed study. It isn’t like muscle maturity – it won’t develop with age. It’s not something you can attain by hiring the right prep coach, or something you can find hiding in one of those dusty old corners in the back of a Metroflex. You won’t find it flipping through pages of magazine articles, or buried deep down in the long lost archives of the internet on some forgotten discussion board. Bodybuilding.com doesn’t stock it (Hard to believe there’s anything left on the planet they don’t have, but it’s true), Charles Glass can’t train it into you, and although many have tried (unsuccessfully) to find it somewhere inside a 10ml vial – you won’t find it there either.
So what am I talking about? Mindset. And more specifically, I’m talking about having the growth mindset. I’m talking about having a completely unshakable and unbreakable confidence in yourself no matter how many times you fail, or how poorly the odds appear to be stacked against your favor. Having the growth mindset is absolutely critical in determining how far you’re going to allow yourself to go – and how much you’ll be able to grow in the process.
People with a growth mindset don’t see ceilings for their potential, and they don’t see failure as running into potential dead ends. Instead of trying to following someone else’s path, they put their head down and blaze a trail of their own. They don’t view road blocks as a sign they’re headed in the wrong direction. All they see is a new opportunity to take an alternate route. They do not allow the voices of others to have negative influence over them, nor do they allow negative thoughts of their own genesis to cloud their vision. People with a growth mindset have an adaptable plan of action, and the reason they succeed while others fall short is because when they fail (as we all do), no matter how many thousands of failures may have preceded their most recent defeat, they find a way to pick themselves up and press on undeterred.
The only difference between the champion and the fighter you’ve never heard of is that the champion didn’t quit and give up on his dreams when he got knocked out. – Cus D’Amato
You don’t need to be a boxing fan to have heard of one of the most famous fights in the history of the sport – The Rumble in the Jungle. The fight took place in Kinshasa, Zaire and featured two of the greatest fighters of all time – the former Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali, who was 32 at the time, and the current Heavyweight Champion, 25 year old George Foreman, who was considered to have the greatest punching power in the history of the sport.
Heading into the fight Ali said publicly that he would not dance around and try to out box Foreman by using his superior technical skills. Instead, he said he would stand and trade punches with the man who had just demolished his two previous opponents, Joe Frasier and Ken Norton, in four rounds total. The strategy seemed foolish, and most thought Ali was using tactic to get inside Foreman’s head, but he wasn’t. To the surprise of nearly everyone but Ali and his trainer, Ali came out and began exchanging punches with Foreman early on, but soon found himself pressed back against the ropes absorbing a barrage of furious blows. For the next seven rounds Ali stuck to his game plan of laying back on the ropes and allowing Foreman to pound him mercilessly with haymakers until he finally began to slow down. Then, near the end of the eight round, Ali suddenly turned the tide on an exhausted Foreman when he blasted him with a five punch combination that sent Foreman to the mat resulting in a TKO victory allowing Ali to reclaim the title.
Despite the fact that Foreman was bigger, stronger, younger, and that at 32 years old Ali’s physical skills were greatly diminished in comparison to when he was at the peak of his powers, Ali still had one weapon in his arsenal more powerful than any singular attribute of physical advantage that Foreman may have had in his favor – his mind. The Rumble in the Jungle is one of the greatest examples in sports history of how having an unbreakable growth mindset can propel you past even the most intimidating hurdles in what appear to be the most impossible situations. Ali was beaten, battered, and bruised for seven consecutive rounds by a man who is said to have the greatest punching power in the history of boxing, but none of that mattered. Ali set his mind to regaining the title, and he was going to do that at any cost. He didn’t allow outside influences to infiltrate his thoughts, nor did he allow himself to doubt if what he was attempting to do was even possible. Even after repeatedly taking blows that had crushed two other former champions before him, he didn’t back down or retreat from his plan – his mind wouldn’t allow it. All of the disadvantages perceived by others only served as the fuel that nourished and strengthened his growth mindset until it became so strong that mentally Ali had already won the fight before he ever set foot ring, and the actual physical action of the fight was just a formality standing between him and goal.
Bodybuilding is a sport that is just as much mental as it is physical. There are countless athletes with superior genetics who are routinely beaten by those who are less talented as athletes, but flat out refuse to be outworked. Never underestimate the underdog’s greed. The inferior athlete that wakes up every day hungry with a chip on his shoulder and feels like he has something to prove, will always triumph over the superior athlete who doesn’t know how to – or isn’t capable of – reaching fifth gear and then pushing beyond that.
Learn to thrive on the opportunity that failure brings. It’s a chance to figure what doesn’t work and reinvent yourself. Learn to develop and adopt a growth mindset that will propel you beyond whatever superficial limits you may have set for yourself in the past. Use your growth mindset to understand that with every small goal you achieve you accrue greater mental dexterity that will help you pull past the next obstacles you come across. Learn that by training yourself to adopt the growth mindset there will no longer be things you cannot achieve, just things that you haven’t achieved yet.