Rational Exuberance

March 23, 2015
Beautiful, amore, gasp, eyes going into the top of the head and fluttering painting, 1997. Damien Hirst

Beautiful, amore, gasp, eyes going into the top of the head and fluttering painting, 1997. Damien Hirst

 

 

Sometime during my formative years, I picked up the notion that restraint was a hallmark of success. And even though, if asked, I can easily name dozens of unbridled and eccentric geniuses and I’d be hard pressed to cite a single example of one person in history who excelled because they held back, I have clung to this flawed logic for as long as I can remember.

Now, I don’t pretend that what I do as a sports competitor is on par with inventing the silicon chip, painting a masterpiece, or performing an opera capable of making an audience cry, but for short periods of time, almost every day, I am expected to give 100%. Yet I don’t think I realized what “leaving it all on the floor” really meant, until today.

I began to question the value of parsimony a few months ago, when I started analyzing pull-up videos, which I took of myself and other athletes in my gym to try to figure out why I could not get my chin over the bar when they could. The tape told me: I could plainly see that the other athletes’ movements exploded into unbridled exuberance at precisely the same point when I aborted in the name of control.

Beautiful Helios Hysteria Intense Painting (with Extra Inner Beauty), 2008.  Damien Hirst

Beautiful Helios Hysteria Intense Painting (with Extra Inner Beauty), 2008. Damien Hirst

My suspicions were further confirmed when I started working with a specialized gymnastics coach. When she described the back swing—the point where the athlete is hanging off the bar and the body is bowed back—she exclaimed, “This is the fun part of the movement, where you want to take a minute and feel how long and exposed you are, and hang out there for a second, then pop up to the bar, filled with joy.” I realized that the same moment was, for me, the cue to take a death grip on the bar, and to avoid at all costs getting to that moment when control is lost and one is given to the forces of nature.

Asterisk

I needed that same exuberance to get through 15.4—no pull-ups, but dozens of push presses and cleans. Of course, strength comes into play, but no one on earth can lift 7000 pounds in eight minutes* using their arms alone.

Today, though, I approached the weighted barbell with an ebullient spirit inside me that I have never felt before. It seemed to infect the iron with light and life. As my judge counted “60, 61, 62…” I imagined tossing the bar into the rafters. I fell two short of my goal to reach 100 reps, but by the measures that count, today was a big win for me.

It was also fun.

 

* a number I calculated by multiplying my goal of 100 reps times #70.

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