The mind controls the body, which means that if our goal is physical strength, we cannot ignore the mind. Back in the day, I sold T-shirts that said, “Strength is 90% mental,” which had two meanings for me. The first is that we got to be kind of crazy to even do this sport. The second is that physical strength is closely tied to mental strength. I have also been known to say strength comes from the heart and will. I say this because to me, both of those things have to do with our mentality. No matter how you look at it, the mind is a major part of physical strength, and it needs to be considered when talking strength training.

Back in the day, when I was coming up in overpowering and leaving so many other lifters behind, it became apparent the biggest difference was my mentality. It was how I approached lifting from a mental standpoint. I am not claiming I had a world-class lifter mentality from the beginning. I am just saying I saw the importance of it, and I was working on it just as much as I was working on my physical strength.

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You see, I was never an amazing athlete, and it never came easily to me. I ended up being OK in a few areas, but that was because I worked my ass off for it. My genetics were never outstanding, but at the same time, they were not the worst. My strength was not a genetic gift, either. I have lifted with many naturally gifted people throughout my life, and I always had to bust my ass to reach what they got so much easier. I was never naturally lean or in good shape. It seemed no matter what I did strength- or athletics-wise, I had to start at the bottom and work my way up. The difference that was setting me apart in powerlifting was the considerations I was giving to the mental side of it all.

I didn’t have great genetics, great coaches, or a great facility to train at, but I didn’t give a shit. Once I decided I could be a great powerlifter, nothing was going to stop me from taking it as far as possible. All these things were nothing more than obstacles I had to find a way around. I had a goal, and I was committed to achieving it. I did not have the time or the energy to worry about what-ifs. I also did not have time to worry about what other lifters had or didn’t have. I was not worried if other lifters used steroids or gear, if they had great genetics, how they trained, or what they ate. I was going to beat them and in order to do that, I needed to focus on myself.

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Granted, I knew I needed to learn, and I wanted it to do so from the best. So I did pay some attention to the best and what they were doing. I did not do this from a place of awe, though. I did it from a place of respect. I understood they had tons of terrific knowledge, and I wanted to learn from them. I understood that at one time, they were in a similar situation like me. I knew they worked to get where they were, and I knew I could learn from their journeys.

Making it to the top was about me and what I was willing to do. It was about how tough I was and about how hard I was willing to work. It was about what I was willing to give up and how much I was willing to sacrifice. It was about continually beating myself and always improving. From the beginning, I believed I could be the best, and I knew I could compete at a world-class level. It was not arrogance or thinking I deserved it. I believed because I knew I was willing to do what it was going to take.

At the very least, I knew I was going to take it as far as possible and get the most out of myself. I saw myself on the world stage competing. I never doubted myself or felt like I was not worthy of that. I never let the things against me define who I was or what I could accomplish. Yes, I knew what I was up against, and I had to understand that in order to find ways around it, I simply refused to let those things define me or to think other athletes just had something more than I did.

I am sure by this point in this article I sound pretty arrogant and full of myself, but that’s not my intent. The point is to explain how I looked at it and to say I am not the only one. So many of the top strength athletes I know saw themselves in similar ways. They did not doubt themselves, or at least not when it came to strength. They knew they could be great, and even more so, they knew they would not quit or give up until they achieved their goals. They did not focus on other lifters or things against them. They focused on progressing, learning, and achieving their own goals. Any thought given about other lifters was only to learn and better themselves.

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As a kid, I always had strength athletes I looked up to, and I am pretty sure most of the other top athletes did as well. I remember wanting to grow up big and strong like these athletes. I think this is a good thing to grow up having people we look up to, or people we consider heroes. That helps give us something to shoot for and something to dream about. It gives us a base for the kind of person we want to be when we grow up.

As we grow, though, there comes a time to kill our heroes. A time to realize they are just people who are no different than us. This allows us to let go of the hero ideals and turn those feelings into respect for what they have accomplished. It also is a chance for us to realize we have a choice to be at their level or higher. They are not above us, but instead, they are just like us. How could we ever expect to reach the highest levels of success if we think the people already there are above us? We should strive to become our own heroes to ourselves and to others. Every person has that ability in them.

When I reached my first really big competition, I remember seeing all these amazing lifters I had read about and watched in videos. I remember walking around thinking, “There is so and so, and so and so, and so and so.” It was cool, and I was excited to meet these guys that I had so much respect for.

About halfway through that first day, I stopped and thought, “This is exactly where I am supposed to be. All that hard work put me right where I should be.” Yes, I had tons of respect for all those great lifters, but I knew I should be there competing against them. I had already seen it all in my mind; it was part of the plan from the beginning.

I remember my first professional competition when I opened with the highest squat opener ever. People were talking shit, asking who the hell I was and what I thought I was doing, opening so high. It was completely irrelevant to me what anyone thought or what anyone had ever opened with before. It only mattered what I could do, not what anyone else had ever done. This is how world records are broken. Are you the leader and the first one? Or are you just a follower?

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My business partner and I joke around a lot but we are very good at our business. One of the things we jokingly say a lot is, “If someone else can do it, then so can we!” People laugh, but it is true, and we are able to say it because of our confidence in the work we do, the confidence to know we can figure it out, even if it is something new to us. It takes confidence to be successful in anything, and part of that is understanding that no one is better than anyone else.

We all have the potential to do amazing things; it all comes down to what we are willing to do. It comes down to how we approach it, what we are willing to sacrifice, how hard we are willing to work, and how much we believe in ourselves. So kill your heroes and become your own! Put in the work, dedication, and sacrifice. Believe in yourself and let the potential you have show.