Kabuki Strength
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Unconscious. The flow state. In the zone.These terms describe how we comprehend incredible performances — in athletics, the creative arts, and elsewhere — during which the protagonist transcends the mundane to momentarily enter another dimension.Witnessing the zone in others is powerful; experiencing it ourselves can be literally breathtaking.We have all seen the phenomenon in the sports world: swimmer Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals in one Olympics; runner Joan Benoit Samuelson besting the field to become the first women’s Olympic marathon champion; sprinter Usain Bolt annihilating the competition in both the 100m and 200m at three consecutive Olympics. While these are inspiring examples, the zone or flow state is not limited to the Olympic Games, winning medals, or even the wide world of sports. Instead, one can “flow” in a seemingly unlimited number of realms and disciplines, to include one’s profession as well as one’s passion (which may or may not overlap). The Flow State and the “Best Self” ConceptMihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who first identified the flow principle, described it as follows:“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”Years ago, a friend pursuing an MBA at Harvard University asked me (in the context of a class assignment, the Reflected Best Self exercise) to identify times when his “best self” had emerged. I do not recall the examples I conveyed to him at the time, but this “best self” concept has stuck with me over the years. Specifically, it has caused me to repeatedly reflect upon my own “best self” moments and what I believe has led to them.Only recently did I make the connection between this “best self”...

Goals drive me. When I visualize a dream and begin to believe I can make it a reality, I get excited (my wife might say “obsessed”) and immediately start making plans for how to realize the ambition.In the gym — and specifically in the sport of powerlifting — these goals tend to fall into two main categories: (1) personal records (PRs) in the squat, bench, deadlift, and total; and (2) competition goals, such as placing first in the Master’s (40+) category at a major meet or making a national team to compete in the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF).While having my eyes on a specific prize is immensely motivating to me, over the years I have come to realize that finding “joy in the journey” (a phrase attributed to singer Michael Card) is ultimately more important than achieving the very goals that propel me forward.What do I mean by this? To quote former Philadelphia 76ers guard Tony Wroten, “trust the process” and “just continue to build.” I am a proponent of focusing on what is in my power to change and letting the chips fall where they may. At the same time, I believe in avoiding distractions, including elements that are out of my hands. As shared by a religious leader in 1839 to a community facing adversity, “let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see [our worthy goals come to fruition]” (D&C 123:17).Wroten’s “trust the process” has become a well-worn phrase in the sport of powerlifting, but what does it mean in practice? To me, it means we recognize that anything worth pursuing requires (1) work and (2) time, and therefore (3) patience and (4) persistence. A favorite persistence quote of mine comes from Ralph...

“In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner’s fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross […].”  - James E. Faust, April 1979 Training with a purpose is in my DNA. Whether it was my first marathon in 1992, the U.S.A. bodybuilding championships in 2001, or the North American Powerlifting Federation championships in 2019, my eyes were always on the prize as I pushed myself during the preparatory phase.Truth be told, I have never understood the practice of exercising without a specific goal in mind. If I am going to dedicate hours of my life to an athletic endeavor week after week and year after year, I want to know that I am on the path of progress. You may have a different mentality—and that is fine by me—but I relish the heightened focus experienced when each training session is seen as part of a larger whole.Speaking of focus, goal-oriented training in general and resistance training in particular are, in many ways, similar to the metallurgical concept of the refiner’s fire. Metallurgy is the science of producing and purifying metals, and the refiner’s fire refers to the intense heat (and often the associated hammering) needed to shape a finished metal product. Another useful metallurgical term in this context is crucible, which is a metal or ceramic bowl capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures; using a crucible, one is able to “focus” a heat source into a small space in order to render a rigid material temporarily malleable.What do high temperatures and shaping metals have to do with resistance training? From my vantage point, intense training takes us from a world of comfort and throws us squarely into a kind of refiner’s fire. As my training protocol...