You can complain. You can pick up the barbell. But only one of these things will make you stronger.Lisbeth Darsh
A thought I had last week while performing an overhead press:
Those things in life that are bothering me right now? I can’t control them. Not totally.
I can control my interactions with the people involved.
I can control the distance I keep or don’t keep from the situation.
I can control to some extent the emotional impact I allow the situation to have.
But I can’t control the outcome.
What I can control in this moment is the force I put into this barbell to lift it overhead.
I can control my breathing and the contraction of my abs and glutes as I brace to stabilize my body under the load.
I can control my attention, shutting out the world around me and focusing on this one thing, this one, beautifully meaningless task and complete the challenge ahead of me.
I can finish the set.
I can choose whether to allow the stress of the load to break down my resolve, or to grit my teeth and do the hard thing.
The Beautiful Amorality of the Barbell
The barbell is awesomely simple. It’s a boring, plain, inanimate object. Its sole purpose is to be an obstacle, a weight, a burden. It doesn’t care about my drama. It doesn’t care about my problems. It’s just there, waiting to be moved, to be tested. To test me.
And I can choose to move it, or not.
Whether I do has little moral or ethical meaning. Who cares whether I lift weights, whether I finish the workout, or whether I quit early? It means little. It’s not moral or immoral, ethical or unethical.
But it is valuable.
I’m no meathead. I’m not a bodybuilder. I don’t view the gym as my “sanctuary,” and I’m not bothered by the people milling about, wasting space. I don’t subscribe to a tough-guy machismo mentality that says, “go hard or go home”. So, don’t interpret these as the ramblings of a friendless, nutjob iron-worshipper.
See them instead for what they are: life lessons learned under a barbell.
The Cathartic Power of a Mundane Pursuit
People who say the barbell is their therapy aren’t lying. There’s a catharsis in chasing progress in something beyond the purview of ethical responsibility.
Training – showing up to do the work you don’t always want to do for the sake of the goal you don’t always keep in view – is both rewarding in the long-run and satisfying in the now. And sometimes – just sometimes – I’m simply not in the headspace to do that with life’s more challenging tasks.
But even if I’m struggling to do well in everything else, there’s comfort in knowing I’ve done at least one thing well.
And there’s a peace in that.
Finish Your Set
So no, my workout isn’t the point. This set of overhead presses doesn’t mean anything. But getting it done, and doing it again next time makes me just a bit better.
It builds grit.
It builds consistency.
It builds character.
And that, I need.
So I’m going to finish the set.