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Deadlifts: One Challenging Way To Save Your Soul

Note from Josh: I’ve received my first update for the Dewey Lunatic Project. Thanks to Kira Clark from The Fight Geek.

Guest post by Ted Hessing

deadlift muscles workedDeadlifts are hard. I mean really, really hard. They are used in weightlifting competitions to judge a person’s strength because they tax the competitor’s body and mind so thoroughly.

And yes, ask anyone who has tried the poundages that Josh has; the mental exertion required to move those mammoth weights often exceed the physical effort. Heavy weights can be terrifying. They can really, really hurt you.

So why would anyone choose to deadlift?

Because deadlifts can save your soul.

Mind + Body + Soul = 1

Like many readers I came to Josh’s home here on the interwebs following a link back from a post on CopyBlogger. You know the one where he wrote about taking on a massive guest posting campaign in order to keep his Tourettes at bay.

Well, the feat of massive guest posting drew my attention and I subscribed as a member of his audience. What kept me coming back time and time again was the writing of the interrelatedness of mind, body, and soul – something I certainly believe in.

Think of Josh’s projects and goals; each of them require all three aspects of his person to be focused in on that one achievement. It’s easy to dismiss deadlifts or stillness as purely a feat of physical strength the same way one might dismiss The Dewey Lunatic Project or the writing of The Knot as purely a cerebral act.

Excellence is a Habit

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

I swear, Aristotle’s line must be the most quoted in the blogosphere. (Often accompanied by some self-branded lifestyle designer trying to sell you something.) This unsavory coincidence doesn’t make the quote any less true. And no, I don’t mean that by doing deadlift after deadlift will turn you into a barbell.

What I do mean that through strict repetition this act will turn you into something much stronger than the iron you are pulling off of the floor. It’s amazing how much easier every other kind of challenge gets once you taste that primal success of lifting a couple hundred pounds of inanimate object off the ground and against gravity’s will.

Be Objective

Deadlifting, in it’s pure form, is a microcosm of all of life’s challenges. Sure, it’s scaled and dumbed down to a match between you and the weight, but that’s the beauty of it. When you strip away off of the nonsense our lizard brains pile up on top of our daily challenges all they every really reduce to is a simple equation; you versus your goal.

The great thing about a deadlift is that unlike many of our personal challenges it provides an objective measurement of success. There are two elements: you and a specific poundage. Once you conquer that one, you can dial up another weight. And then another. And then another. There is never a muddy moment of uncertainty.

You’ll never ask yourself or debate ‘Did I really conquer that challenge?’ The weight goes up or the weight doesn’t budge. There can be no middle ground, no ‘almost’ got it. Close enough is good enough for horseshoes and hand grenades and the practice of deadlifting builds the mental tools you need to tackle those life challenges that share a binary measure of success.

The funny thing is, after a few rounds of overcoming deadlifting challenges, you’ll refocus your life in those same kinds of terms. Pass or Fail. Completed or not. Do or do not. There is no try.

The Riddle of Steel

“Steel isn’t strong: flesh is stronger. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this!”

Conan the Barbarian

In the end I believe that the lessons that deadlifts teach can save your soul. Perhaps pursuing herculean lifts is not in your cards – but hopefully something else is. If not deadlifts then perhaps something else big, scary, and amazing that will challenge you to grow in a similar way. You’ll never reap the rewards of seeds you never sow.

So, maybe you deadlift and maybe you do other amazing feats combining mind body and soul. What are they? What lessons have they taught you? Please share with us in the comments below.

About The Author:

Ted Hessing amuses himself (and others) by pursuing goals like swimming 5 miles in open ocean or being Indiana Jones for a week and then writing about the results at Cubicle Warrior. You should stop by and say hello – he gets into trouble without adult supervision.

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  • Hulbert Lee May 25, 2010, 12:50 am

    Hi Ted, I like how you compare the stepping stones to life to the pounds of a deadweight lift. I think this makes sense because with each obstacle that we conquer, we gain enough strength in our mind, body, and soul to tackle the next obstacle that lies ahead of us.

    Josh was kind enough to let me write a post here about my obsessive compulsive disorder. Like you and your deadlift, for me, an amazing feat would be exposing myself to the things I fear in my everyday life. It sounds easy, but it has always been hard for me. Germs, certain numbers, unknown objects to name a few. Each exposure that I go through gives me more strength to handle the next random symptom that comes up. All of this however takes discipline and requires using the mind, body, and soul (soul for me means awareness of self).

    Thanks for this post Ted. It was very interesting to read. 🙂

    • Ted @ Cubicle Warrior May 25, 2010, 8:42 am

      Hi Hulbert,

      Nothing about exposing yourself to something you fear sounds easy enough! My wife loves skydiving and the thought of jumping out of a perfectly good plane fills me with stark terror. While I understand her reasoning that by conquering skydiving I’ll likely also quiet my nerves around height in general, it’s going to take a lot of deadlifting for me to willingly get into a plane without the intention of landing in it! Thank you for the comment!

  • Ted Hessing May 25, 2010, 4:24 am

    Thanks for posting, Josh!

  • Casey (North and Clark) May 25, 2010, 6:18 am

    I like the idea that pursuit of some challenge can grow a person and push them toward a more full realization of who the are. I am not sure what my deadlift is, but I believe that by seeking out challenges and regularly facing them down we make ourselves more than we were.

    • Ted @ Cubicle Warrior May 25, 2010, 7:21 am

      Well said, Casey. Perhaps not ‘What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’ but ‘What we achieve does.’

    • Josh Hanagarne May 25, 2010, 11:57 am

      Casey, the deadlift is just picking something heavy off the ground. Great fun:)

  • Justin Matthews May 25, 2010, 9:28 am

    Great metaphor for how to do things. You could add in Yoda’s quote: Do or do not, there is no try. I have to go DO some deadlifts and see how much I can do. Thanks ted, I am off to check out your site.

    • Ted @ Cubicle Warrior May 25, 2010, 12:11 pm

      Thanks for the warm words, Justin – both here and off site!

      I’m not sure how important the weight is we work with. Not all of us can hit 500 like Josh! I believe there is both nobility and value in challenging ourselves, no matter the number.

      (BTW, Josh, isn’t it time for another video – sumo grip, maybe? I should have linked to your 500 pull in this one!)