ImageApparently I’m in a definition exploration mode these days. Badass, space, and now strength. I’m sure a psychologist might have fun with both the obsession with definitions AND the words I’m zeroing in on.

The word came to me when I was (duh) lifting weights the other day. When I first did Les Mills Pump, a barbell-based program, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. There is something about lifting weights on a bar, in my living room, that just tickles my imagination and pushes the limits of what my self-image is. Barbells are for those strong guys at the circus, the ones with handlebar mustaches and veins popping out of their biceps. Doing a clean and press with a 3 row chaser, keeping form right and the bar even? Better than coffee as a way to start my day.

So strength is clearly about physical strength. It’s about how straight you can hold a plank, or how much weight you can lift safely, with good form. It’s about how many miles you can run. What you can lift, carry, or keep doing physically.

It’s also about mental toughness and fortitude. The ability to keep moving forward when someone you love dies. It’s holding someone’s hand when he or she’s getting a shot, even though the sight of needles makes you feel woozy. It’s figuring out how to do one more day of a bad job, or get through one more meeting with an unsympathetic co-worker. It’s about doing the dishes at night when all you want to do is crawl into bed with a book.

The thing with physical strength is that it’s external. Someone else can look and say, “Wow, you’re strong.” There are objective measurements to this one. When you can lift more weights one day than you could the day before, you’re getting stronger. You can write down the weights, or someone else can, and you have proof.  If you want to get stronger, you lift more weights (safely, please. Always safely!)

Mental strength isn’t so easy to quantify. The parameters, the measurements, are softer, less precise.

What I’ve found is how much the two complement each other. Being physically stronger makes it easier for me to be mentally tough. The image of lifting barbells gives me something to wrap my brain around, a touchstone, if you will, of possibility. Being mentally tough gives me a reserve to tap into when I’m in the middle of a hard workout.

Feeling strong lets me feel like a badass. You?


Charlottesville, VA, October 12, 2013

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