Poetic Identity | Brian MacKenzie

Notes From the Field of

Human Performance & Stress Resilience

Issue #7


I didn’t plan to have the career I am fortunate to have today. My path began with my involvement in CrossFit when there were about 200 affiliates (2006-2007). I was doing what I loved; learning and coaching. I soon became recognizable from my work with CrossFit and the publication of Tim Ferris’ book The Four-Hour Body, and I eventually authored three books of my own. I was known as a “subject matter expert,” This began a process of attachment where I started to have high expectations of myself, and my identity became entirely tied to this.

With all success come many failures. The failures in my life have brought some hard lessons and the most important lessons of all. Some of us create our lives under the weight of our own stories and become burdened by them.

There was this ease to toss the failure(s) onto circumstances or other people, and that ease was getting really annoying. But on the other hand, each new event provided me something to learn about myself… but only when I was willing to be aware of it.

To move forward and genuinely grow from these experiences, I had to challenge the stories I was telling myself that I had also allowed to define my life.

Some of these stories included:

“I am a coach,” – “I am a runner,” – “I can’t miss my workout,” – “I am healthy“. Like many athletes and individuals I have worked with, this was part of my recurrent self-talk… including weighing myself with the perceived expectations of others.

Each of these thoughts is attached to a physiological response and feeling. However, it is easy to ignore their significance without awareness of them. I know this intimately from experience. The more knowledge I gained about physiology and performance, the more I created a specific identity that allowed me to override and not pay attention to what was happening inside. For example, I had convinced myself that running hot and being busy was how I felt productive and good. In reality, I was blowing through adrenaline like I was hydrating with it. I had learned to keep my nervous system running on red but to pretend I was green and calm.

Most people are unaware of the physiological and psychological implications statements like these, and others like them, carry. This is because our higher cognitive activity blocks us from specific instinctual processes.

I eventually had to realize that the circumstances showing up in my life were the result of ideas and perceptions I fiercely clung to. I quickly figured out that my training was merely self-inflicted suffering. I wasn’t truly enjoying it; instead, I was checking a box. But, if I checked the box, I felt accomplished. Dopamine and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) working hand in hand. Discipline does not always equal freedom, and in fact, it can be a prison.

Being surrounded and working with some of the best and brightest minds in science and human performance, I can intellectualize my way through just about anything… I trained for ultramarathons / developed CrossFit Endurance / created performance protocols for athletes… These identities meant training = suffering and satisfaction of ideals rather than training to support the advancement of my overall well-being. The irony is, you get all of this when the goal is the latter, but you get the pain and identity with the former.

Letting go of the person I thought I was meant unlearning the things I previously let define me.

There are two kinds of people here: those clinging to the stories to define their life as something that happened to them or that they will become. Then there are those willing to be honest enough to learn; they only witness their experiences, accept what they are, and let go of keeping some score. Alright, maybe there are three… I’m a tweener (in between, still enjoying the process of uncoupling the first).

We are all in the habit of our personal poetic benedictions and absolute torcher fests of how we truly feel about ourselves. After all, that thing that frustrates me about you is really just a mirror to me and where frustration still lives in me. The ability to look at these stories and laugh has been some of the better comedies in my life.

So here’s an experiment for you: the next time you get really emo – you know, infuriated or frustrated (insert any out-of-control emotion) ask yourself why you care about being right and, more importantly, how far back you can see this exact behavior playing out. How many stories in a day are you letting define your experiences?

The process by which I’ve applied and learned from some of the world’s best minds is entwined in our membership program HERE and the mentorship program we offer HERE.

You can also learn to use the breath calculator to be more aware of your breathing. By applying the assessment results and spending 5-10 minutes a day, you will start to slow some things down; this begins to make you more acutely aware of changes that SPEED up during the day.

Keep in mind that…

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” John Maxwell


Until next time,

– Brian

brian mackenzie

Brian Mackenzie is an innovator in human performance on stress adaptation and a pioneer in the development and application of custom protocols to optimize human health and performance. His clients and work have included: Ari Emanuel, William Morris Endeavor, Sheppard Mullin, Deloitte, Google, Tim Ferriss, U.S. Military (Navy, Army, Marines), Canadian Military (CANSOF), San Quentin State Prison, The UFC Performance Institute, Altis, Jon “Bones” Jones, Laird Hamilton, Tia Clair Toomey (3X CrossFit Games Champion), Rich Froning Jr. (4X CrossFit Games Champion) and many others.


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