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  • Writer's pictureCoach Knickerbocker

Shut The (Subconscious) Up!

We all roam around without thinking much about where the beliefs that we hold about ourselves come from or what specifically those beliefs are. In fact I don't think we actually "think" about our beliefs much at all. Rather they are just parts of ourselves that we take for granted and that have become, essentially, unconconscious.

The reality is they are subconscious.

What if I asked you "What do you believe about yourself?"

Or "What do you believe about your athletic self?"

Or "What do you believe about your rowing self?"

Now we're getting somewhere.

The fact is, the things you think, feel, have an aversion to or an attraction to, are all based on your internal subconscious beliefs. When it comes to the question of what you believe about yourself, the answers can shock and surprise.

Whatever you believe about yourself is held within your subconscious. The way you act and function in the world, your behavior, what your reality is comprised of, is completely led by these subconscious beliefs, and while they are constantly navigating you through your daily experiences, you are not aware of how deep they go.

You have a blueprint of action and behavior that is based on the subconscious wanting to keep you and your mentality in homeostasis. The subconscious does this physically for you by regulating your breathing and your heart rate and your blood pressure. All the physiological systems that keep you within certain parameters are handled by your subconscious.

It's the same with your psycho-emotional set point as well.

The subconscious works to keep you within a certain set point of homeostasis on a psycho-emotional level and your behavior reflects this. This is why if you try to step outside of your mental comfort zone it feels uncomfortable.

Do something completely different from how you normally function and it will feel extremely uncomfortable. That uncomfortable feeling is your body's emotional response to your subconscious resisting the new behavior.


For example let's pretend that when you were growing up you heard people in your family talk about getting old as the end to their active lives. You saw "old" people around you that would say they couldn't do something physical or active because they were "too old". This then establishes a subconscious belief that once one gets to a certain age or what your subconscious considers "old", (for the purposes of this example let's pick 50, since there are a lot of messages we all get about turning 50. Even though, to be clear, 50 is NOT OLD!) that there would be some things you just wouldn't be able to do, and that these things were active things that involved the body.

Now fast forward to present day, you're turning 50, and you get the idea that you want to get in shape, go to a gym, lose the extra weight you've put on. Unless you are reprogramming your subconscious at the same time, your subconscious mind will do whatever it takes to keep this "too old" belief in tact in order to maintain psycho-emotional homeostasis. Especially if this action/behavior of going to the gym is extremely different for you.

What does this look like?

It looks like making excuses about why you can't go to the gym that day, or what thing has now taken priority over that particular workout, or the weather is just not quite right. All of these are actually the result of your subconscious belief about what "old" people can and cannot do, and your subconscious' way of keeping that belief alive and well.


Your subconscious desperately wants to keep you safe. Therefore when you even consider doing something outside of it's expected norms it will resist that as well. This is why new things that we try, that fall outside of the expected for us, can sometimes cause fear. Taking a risk to push past a perceived limitation for example will cause fear, and the fear is your subconscious' way of trying to convince you not to do it.

Change is scary and your subconscious is the reason why. It will shout from the rooftops "NO! You don't want to do that. That's different than anything you've ever done before. Why would you want to do that?".

This is the reason why many people do not venture outside of their comfort zones while at the same time they bemoan the fact that they are not any further along than when they first started. Those that choose to stay comfortable are forever destined to remain within a certain parameter. The subconscious loves this.


So what does all this have to with rowing?

Consider the possibility that you have a core belief that is actually getting in the way of you achieving a rowing goal or a performance milestone. Or this belief has got you so convinced that you're NOT an athlete or a competitor or strong or capable of ...fill in the blank, that you don't even have a performance milestone you're trying to reach. Maybe the belief has put some cracks in the foundational level of seeing yourself as a rower, or an athlete.

Without the basics of seeing yourself in an athletic framework it's going to be pretty difficult to excel in this sport, if in fact that is what you want to do, especially on a competitive level.

Were you told as a kid that girls are supposed to "play nice"?

Were you told that girls are not as strong as boys?

Or that girls couldn't play sports? Did you hear others around you comment on women athletes in a derogatory way?

Or maybe you grew up in a household that was very gendered around sport/outside activities and household activities.

These types of ingrained beliefs can surface around seeing oneself as an athlete or seeing oneself as a competitor. If you are hovering around the edge of accomplishing something it could be that edge was created a long time ago by your subconscious belief of what a woman is supposed to be, or do, or how she is supposed to behave.

If the thought of being an athlete does not come naturally then I suggest you ask yourself what does it mean to be an athlete? What does a competitor look like? What do they act like? What messages did I get about female athletes when I was growing up.

And don't think that just because you may have been an athlete as a kid or a young woman in college that these messages haven't affected you. These subconscious internal beliefs can be quite insidious. In fact some of the beliefs that we have from being athletes in our past can be even more difficult to overcome as masters athletes.

Ask yourself the questions. The answers you come up with will be a window into what your subconscious believes about these elements.

These messages can be such an ancient piece of our personal history that we have no idea of the connection between our internalized version of them on a subconscious level, and how that operationalizes into our current beliefs and then our behavior.

All you know is that you can't do something because..."I don't know, I just can't."

"I can't break 2 minutes on my 500m split."

"I'm not one of those competitive types."

But stop for a minute and consider WHY you can't.

What makes you think you actually CAN NOT do something.

What is it that you believe about those competitive types?

What is it that you believe about breaking 2 minutes?

How will these things change you and what does that look like?

Stop arguing for your limitations for a moment and consider that maybe you could break 2 minutes or you could be one of "those competitive types", or you could be in the boat that goes to the Crew Classic, etc.

Consider what does in fact get in your way when it comes to pulling a faster erg, or getting a seat in a particular boat, or experiencing yourself as an athlete, or a competitor. If there is something you want to accomplish in your athletic life and you seem to be stuck or not sure how to get there, the first step is to examine your internal beliefs.

What are they?

Where do they come from?

How do they relate to the block you are experiencing?

It's more likely that the reason you feel held back in some way or that you haven't accomplished some milestone is not because of time constraints or how competitive other people are or what the coach is saying or not saying. And it's not because you don't WANT to experience those accomplishments enough.

(Side note here: I am not a fan of the "if you want something bad enough, you'll find a way adage. Because sometimes your brain will not LET you find a way. You first must figure out what the block is and THEN you will find a way. Ok I'm done.)

It's because the internal subconscious beliefs you have way deep down inside about who you are and what you're capable of are standing right in front of your face and saying, "Nope, no way, not gonna happen, you're going to fall flat on your face, don't even try it."


This is also applicable to other areas of one's life. Maybe you hold a belief about how far professionally you can go because of what you saw around you as a child. Maybe your mom and the other females you saw as a child did not work outside the home. Or maybe they worked gender specific jobs. Or maybe it's that the women you had around you were incredibly accomplished on a professional level and what you internalized into your subconscious as a kid was some sort of experience around this that was not positive.

Now, here you are achieving on a professional level, but there still seems to be a level that no matter how hard you try you can't seem to reach. Or maybe there's a professional position you want but you seem to think, for some reason, that it's just not possible? Examine your internal beliefs about the position, the responsibility of it, the financial gain of it (if applicable).

What is your belief about this specific position?

Do you not deserve it for some reason?

Just ask yourself some questions and then listen to your answers.


When it comes to being a masters woman over the age of 40, and achieving personal greatness within the context of an athletically competitive environment, you can bet that there are some messages, subconscious and otherwise, that may be stopping you from reaching your highest high.

It's not that you are not capable of reaching that next level.


You just have to move the competing thoughts of WHY you believe you can't, to the forefront.

Examine them.

Ask yourself questions.

Then work to better understand what these internal beliefs are and how you want to change them.

Coach Knickerbocker

Row hard, Row well, Compete, Have fun!

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