Difficult Things

by Jim Steel | February 17, 2021

hard pull in a strengthlifting meet

My Black Labrador Rebel and I were just driving back to the house yesterday after going to Tractor Supply and buying some slippers. Yes, slippers. You will not lose your man card if A) You buy the slippers at Tractor Supply and B) The slippers have a back to them. Absolutely no “clog” type slippers allowed.

Anyway, Rebel and I were driving back to the house on a country road in South Jersey, and I started thinking about the training session from that morning. I train a few folks 3 days a week at 6 AM that are intermediate-level lifters and are into getting strong. The session that morning called for working up to a heavy deadlift for a good, solid, single rep. The first lifter, Dylan, smoked his deadlift max without a problem, and now it was his brother Pat’s turn.

As Pat was approaching the bar, I began saying, “Just stay with it and it will go, just stay with it and it will go.” Pat approached the bar, set himself and began the lift. I was yelling, “Stay with it, stay with it!” The bar quivered, moved a few inches, then stopped. I knew if he had just kept going, it would have locked out. But Pat had never been there before, never had that type of challenge. It was unknown territory for him.

I know from experience that those folks who get super strong have the ability to stay with the lift and push through the pressure building up in their head, to ignore that little voice in their head that is telling them to stop pushing, to just give in, it's okay, you gave it the old college try. I told Pat that it would have gone up if he would have just kept going.

After a few minutes, it was Pat’s turn again. This time, he had a different demeanor about himself. He had a determined look on his face, a look of fury. I could tell that this time, the rep would be different. When he began to pull, the bar did the same thing that it did the first time he tried it – it quivered and quivered and began to move. But this time, instead of quitting on it, he kept going. And the weight moved. Slowly at first, and then a little faster to his knees. At this point, I knew that he would complete the rep. He pushed his hips through and completed the lift. He willed that weight to move to completion.

I am not one for getting excited and displaying emotion about things, but when he completed his rep, I yelled “Yeah!” and pumped my fist in the air. It was a moment of pure emotion, and it wasn't just because he completed the lift, it was because I knew that he had broken through a mental barrier that most folks will never even approach. He had the physical tools to finish it, but mentally, since he had never pushed through it before, that first attempt failed. He had never climbed that mountain because he had never asked his mind and body to climb the mountain before.

That shit changes you, man. It changes you as a person, it changes you just not in the weight room – it transfers over into life. When you can challenge yourself with a maximum effort like Pat did, you know deep down inside that you can conquer anything at all, any challenge. I like to think of it as a “cookie jar,” an expression that I borrowed from former Navy Seal David Goggins. A cookie jar is somewhere in your mind where you place all of the tough times in life when you have persevered and won. Then, when you are faced with a challenge – in business, in family issues, in any difficult situation – you look back into your cookie jar and realize that you can do it, because you've done it before. You say to yourself, “I did that difficult task, like deadlifting that seemingly impossible weight, so I can do this too.”

As I continued to drive, I began to get excited about what Pat had accomplished that morning. I began to see it, that one rep that he completed, as a much bigger thing than just competing a heavy rep on the deadlift. Where today can a man challenge himself like Pat did on his deadlift that morning? Yes, if you are a soldier or a firefighter or some occupation such as that, who faces dangerous situations frequently, you may be used to very tough challenges. But for the “normal” folks out there who are in an office everyday or are working from home or running back and forth to take their kids to practice and making supper, the only challenging physical and mental aspect of their lives may be the time spent in the weight room.

All day long they listen to some boss telling them that they have to meet this or that deadline, or they have to listen to their significant other bitch at them about this or that, or they turn on the news and hear about the state of the world, and deep down in their souls, the better of them yearn for a challenge: a challenge that is not easily accomplished, but a challenge that has some danger about it, that makes them use all of their mental and physical capabilities to complete what they set out to do. A time when all of that other crap just falls away, when they will be tested – not just mentally, like at their jobs, but with both a physical and mental challenge that makes them feel like their lives are on the line if they don't complete the rep. A pure confrontation between the individual and the Difficult Things.

Because gassing up the minivan and ferrying your kids may be what you need to do, but it's not what you were meant to do. You were meant to, at least once in a while, have a seemingly insurmountable task set before you and with all of your might, with every inch of perseverance and fortitude inside of you, tackle that task and dominate it with supreme physical and mental effort. You need that slight twinge of fear once every so often, that adrenaline rush, that feeling of your heart beating out of your chest. Much of life these days for most people is the same thing everyday, and can be somewhat boring, so to have those days where you are tested, where failing is a definite possibility, where injuries can happen, and to be able ignore all of that because you want it so badly is, in my opinion, essential for everyone’s life.

It's something you need to assign yourself the task of doing, because life may not do it for you. And there's no better place than the weight room to do it.

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