What a CrossFit Coach Taught Me About Anxiety

Do you want to know something I hate?

It’s what I can’t control. It makes my anxiety go through the roof. When it’s at it’s worst I have to close my eyes as I feel my world spin out of control. It’s honestly one of the better reasons of why I am so committed to having a planner, if I can prepare and plan, I can ease my mind of some of the worst-case scenarios that might happen.

As I’ve gotten older, my anxiety gets better and better as I learn to let go of things. A few weeks ago, I read a book that really reaffirmed that letting go of what you can’t control is a good muscle to build.

For some weird reason, I have become obsessed with CrossFit athletes and coaches and how they approach their sport. Particularly with CrossFit coach Ben Bergeron who has coached Mat Fraser (2x Mens CrossFit Games champion) and Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir (she is pretty much an Icelandic princess who can kick your butt, but also has won the CrossFit Games twice as well). I was so eager to read his book, Chasing Excellence to learn more about his approach to coaching some of the fittest people in the world.


I was pleasantly surprised to read that he is really focused on not winning, not being the best, but giving your best regardless of the leaderboard. He touches on positivity and how weaknesses are fun because they give us a chance to get better and to become our strengths. But one chapter in particular really stuck out to me as someone who struggles with anxiety, and that was the chapter on Control.

As Ben coaches these athletes, over and over again he reinforces that they have 5 things they focus on and give their all in:

  1. Recovery

  2. Nutrition

  3. Sleep

  4. Training

  5. Mindset


Ben talks about an exercise he does with his athletes right before the Games, where he has them list out everything that could possibly go wrong at the CrossFit games. This past year with 3 of his athletes, their list had a total of 101 items on it. They went through the entire list and anything they could control got a plan and the things they couldn’t control were erased from their minds.

(Small circle are things they can control, big circle are things they cannot)

(Small circle are things they can control, big circle are things they cannot)

I absolutely love this quote from the chapter:
“A huge piece of chasing excellence is attention to tiny details, but the key distinction is that you pay attention to the right details, the ones within your control and the over which you have power. Most people go through life having no idea what they can actually control. They’re concerned about a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean they control those things. Many people struggle to recognize the difference between the two. Imagine a book of matches. A typical matchbook has twenty matches, and together they represent all your energy for the day. Energy is a finite resource; once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. If you burn through your matchsticks on things that are outside your control, you have less energy for the things you can control — things that can actually move the needle on your performance.”

Wow. I don’t know about you, but I breathed a sigh of relief after I read that. How many of my restless nights have I spent staying awake, wondering what will happen? Thinking out all the worst case scenarios that have literally never come close to happening?

I think that’s why planners are so important for us control freaks and those like me who are ridden with anxiety. The things in our outer circle that are out of control, we let go. We can prepare, but minimally as you just never know. And the things in our inner circle get a plan. Those plans get written down in our planners and we live them out, giving our best and achieving excellence. I love this approach because it reinforces what my heart has been telling me all these years and that is that a life without intentionality is a life wasted. My planner helped me see that no intentions = going everywhere but nowhere at the same time. It’s like running a race but zig-zagging the entire way there and getting off track, never crossing the finish line.

Planners can help us with the plans we need and they hold us accountable to action. They also help us be realistic about what we can control. No, we can’t control that it will rain on this day, but we can control planning and preparing for it. No, we can’t control if someone is serving junk food and sweets at a party, but we can control eating a good, healthy dinner before we go and bringing nutritious snacks with us to eat along the way, helping your nutrition stay on track. No, we can’t control the poor decisions that a friend or family member makes, but when we show up in their lives, we can love them well and be there fully.

What is it that you’re trying to hold control of that you really shouldn’t? What is it that terrifies you that you know is incredibly unlikely to happen? Don’t spend 80% of your matches burning through energy and emotions on the things that won’t happen, burn through your matches giving your best every day, no matter what your doing and success will follow after.