A CrossFit Book You Must Read: Positivity vs. The Process

Written By Ben  |  CrossFit 

Let’s take a step back for a second from our CrossFit gym bubble, and take a look at the bigger picture. 

I know you follow WODprep for movement tips, workout pointers, and learning how to "take your training to the next level". However, as a coach I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't challenge you to think a little deeper about your fitness goals and ambitions. 

So think of the following CrossFit book recommendation (cough cough, a book that’s required reading) as just another piece to your training puzzle. 

(WODprep is not affiliated with CrossFit, Inc nor is it endorsed by CrossFit, Inc or any of its subsidiaries.)

Required Reading: What We Can Learn From My Favorite CrossFit Book

While it might not always be obvious, the lessons that we learn with a barbell in our hands often show up in our daily life, both positive and negative. Let’s take a look at the lesson first, and then I’ll loop back to the specific book that I’m referencing…

Be honest with me. Have you ever said (or thought) any of the following?

  • "My body wasn't built for ____. "
  • (Fill in the blank with Pull-ups, Muscle Ups, Pistols, Overhead Squats, Deadlifts, HSPU, etc.)
  • "At this rate, I'll never be able to do ____. Maybe this just isn't my thing."
  • "I keep trying, but I just haven't seen any progress."
  • "I tried all year, but my Open score still didn't even improve!"
  • "This ____ injury just keeps holding me back."
  • "I want to RX everything, but it just never seems to happen..."

crossfit books

If you've been training for longer than a few months, chances are you've experienced thoughts like this. With so much external pressure to hit new PRs, “look better naked”, and keep up with your workout buddies, it can be hard to keep a positive attitude every single time you step into the gym.

So I'm here to tell you something slightly different than what most CrossFit coaches will tell you...

You don't always need to stay positive

crossfit mentality

While positive thinking can be great, it often comes in small doses. It's unrealistic to stay positive all of the time. It's unnatural, and it’s fleeting.

In fact, unbridled enthusiasm and forced positivity can actually have negative effects both inside and outside of the gym. Simply trying to “positively think your way toward success” often ends up in a rock-bottom feeling of failure once you've exhausted your positive-thinking-reserves. Relying on untamed emotions is a dangerous game, and can leave you in a bad place.

So what is the answer? Negative thinking?

No way. Negative thinking is even worse. Negativity leads to a poisonous view of yourself and the rest of the world. It also leads to "I am a victim" thinking.

Have you ever enjoyed spending time with a negative person? Exactly. So don’t become one.

So, what then, lies in the middle?

The Obstacle Is The Way: the perfect CrossFit training book

Personally, I struggle with too much positive thinking in my coaching, yet I also used to struggle with lots of negative self-talk in the middle of my workouts. So in an effort to work on this and become a better athlete/coach, I read a book called The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday.

The book has been widely read and praised by champion sports teams and amazing athletes, yet you don’t hear about it enough when it comes to CrossFit® book recommendations (except from me!)

"After the book's release, the book slowly made its way through the community of professional sports, after being read number of prominent athletes and head coaches including Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs, UT basketball coach Shaka Smart, tennis pro James McGee, NFL lineman Garrett Gilkey, Olympic gold medalist Chandra Crawford, and others. On the way to their 2014 Super Bowl victory, Michael Lombardi and Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots distributed copies of The Obstacle Is the Way to their staff and players. In the 2015 season, Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider and Pete Carroll passed the book around the team's locker room."


Arnold Schwarzenegger, LL Cool J, and Sunday Night Football commentator Michele Tafoya have also supposedly read and recommended the book.

I don't know about you, but any book good enough for Arnold and LL Cool J is good enough for me.

Below are a couple thoughts that I personally took away from it, and how I feel it can specifically be applied to our training.  Whether you’re trying to make it to the CrossFit® Games, want to start RX-ing, or simply need to learn your first double under (link) - there are some really solid principles that can be learned. 

Let’s start with this quote:

"We are A to Z thinkers. Fretting about A, obsessing over Z, yet forgetting all about B through Y  . . . When we get distracted, when we start caring about something other than our own progress and efforts, 'The Process' is the helpful, if occasionally bossy, voice in our head. It is the bark of the wise older leader who knows exactly who he is and what he's got to do. "Shut up. Go back to your stations. Try to think about what we are going to do ourselves instead of worrying about what's going on out there. You know what your job is. Stop jawing and get to work." 'The Process' is the voice that demands we take responsibility and ownership. It prompts us to act, even if only in a small way. "

Have you ever been distracted by something outside of your control? I sure have.

I remember clicking "refresh" on the leaderboard every 15 minutes during the 2014 Open just to make sure certain people didn't beat me. How else would I make it to Regionals?

whiteboard envy WODify

I remember stalking old friends and wondering if I still had an edge on them. "How much are they squatting now? I used to be able to beat them."

whiteboard envy CrossFit

Back when I first started training at a full CrossFit affiliate, I remember checking the whiteboard each day to see if "Jim" beat my score from the previous day. If he did, I’d feel like crap. If he didn’t, I’d feel like a champion.

I’d scroll through Instagram for hours and feel a twinge of jealousy every time someone I knew hit a massive PR. I was constantly concerned with other people's progress, scores, and numbers.  

All of these things might seem good on the surface. These tendencies might serve as some motivation, but after a while they turn into something else: distractions.

Distractions = anything that you cannot personally control.

  • Can you control how someone else trains? Nope. 
  • Can you control if someone next to you is shaving reps? Nope.
  • Can you control how much weight your arch rival can snatch? Nope.
  • Can you control what score Jim or Jane got on the Open workout? No way.

The real focus must be "What can I control?"

  • You can control your effort.
  • You can control your integrity.
  • You can control your attitude, perception, and reactions.
  • You can control your action and last but not least - put in the work. 

You control your actions and reactions. That's it. 

That's what the author refers to as "The Process". The Process is a series of small, deliberate actions that connect A to Z.

Obstacle Is The Way CrossFit Book

Why The Obstacle Is The Way Is The Top Of My List Of Best CrossFit Books For Beginners

I've realized that "The Process" is probably the most important thing we need to understand as athletes and coaches. It is the invisible force that will keep us on track even when we don't see progress right away. It will get us to show up and do the work even when it doesn't seem easy. It helps us understand that incredible achievement can only come through persistence and patience over time. 

For beginners specifically, you often see a huge increase in performance when first starting CrossFit. Constantly hitting PR’s, learning new skills, it’s a high that almost everyone falls for. Which makes the eventual yet certain plateau even harder to swallow .

If athletes who are new to CrossFit approached their training with “The Process” in mind, plateaus become less unexpected and devastating, and instead accepted as part of their fitness journey. Which is exactly why I’m a fan of Holiday’s book as a must-read CrossFit book for beginners.

Where are you in The Process?

No matter where you are in your fitness journey, take a moment for self-analysis. Be honest. Are you focusing on things that you can control, or are you letting your emotions get the best of you? Are you putting in the work at the gym, or are you scrolling through your newsfeed?

Are you willing to follow The Process or are you getting distracted on a weekly basis by shiny objects?

If you're ready to commit and stop letting distractions get the best of you, then let us help. We have a TON of free mini-courses on our website so that you can finally conquer that movement that’s been getting the best of you. Just scroll down and select the movement that you need help with.

Or maybe it’s not necessarily your training inside of the gym… but your eating and nutrition outside of the gym? We have a critically-acclaimed 8-week course that will teach you easy to-implement, science-backed nutrition advice. And most importantly, it will set you up with the tools you need to make smart food decisions for life.

If you want to know when we re-open this course, sign up for nutrition updates here

As always, I hope this article made you think a little bit. More importantly, I hope it brings value into your life, both inside and outside of the gym. Trust The Process. Do yourself a favor and add The Obstacle Is The Way to your CrossFit reading list.

  • Looking forward to reading this book! Thank you for the recommendation! CrossFit has given me countless growth opportunities- strength, improved mobility, nutrition focus, but also self-confidence and an improved mental mindset to push through tough stuff- whether it’s at the gym, work, home, or wherever. I just can’t say enough about all the benefits of this community!

  • This is a good reminder Ben. I added the book to my list. What resonated with me is checking the white board daily. I went over to your link to “Me vs. Me: Defeating Whiteboard Envy.” This is a good reminder. I’ve been checking the board multiple times and reasoning, “well this person was faster but I did Rx or heavier weight.” I am wasting time on a device and not owning my win for getting in the gym and not sitting on the couch. Thank you!!

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