How to Empower Yourself by Giving Up

Today’s post’s impetus was an Instagram image caption on negativity from late last year. Over the course of the comments, a friend made the solid point that the failure of something in life to pan out the way we envisioned isn’t an excuse for us to give up on it. While the original post’s aim was to address unwarranted negativity and not resignation from arduous endeavors, her comment highlighted the need for deeper explanation of a topic that was too complex to be brazenly oversimplified on social media.

I had written that in order to be happy, one should remove the stress factors that inhibit it. Simply writing down what keeps you awake at night or stirs negative emotions throughout the workday is pretty easy. Once these have been underlined, one can take action to remove them. (But you and I both know that happiness is way more complicated than not having obstacles, and, in fact, success is often defined by overcoming them). The issue in question revolves around muscling through hardship or straight up throwing in the towel. How do you know which action to take?

If you were someone who takes commitment seriously, you wouldn’t simply give up on your marriage, right? If you were deeply invested in your career, you wouldn’t suddenly jump ship. If commitment presupposes that you’ll have to endure some kind of negativity, then it’s not circumstantial. It’s unconditional. You stand by it even when it gets difficult. You don’t just walk away from something and still classify your resolve as resolve, because the quality of what you initially professed rots with your double standard. But is it okay to give up? First I say no, and then I say yes. Here’s why.

Giving Up & Self Preservation
I talk to my clients pretty regularly about reframing failures in their training and nutrition. Sometimes success evades us either through no fault of our own or entirely on account of our miscalculations or laziness. Either way, I employ the reframing strategy to adjust my clients’ perception so that we can learn from what went wrong, attenuate the consequent stress, and set the stage for improvements. This makes failure manageable, but it doesn’t resolve the struggle of sticking to the opening, formative months of a lifestyle change. People are hesitant to change because it means they have to forsake their accustomed notions of comfort. Like any other creature, humans hate pain and don’t want to exert effort if they don’t have to.

In my opinion, the economy of self is why people give up. If there’s too much risk involved, if it’s going to require lots of time, personal sacrifice, vulnerability, transparency, and persistence, people may begin to look at other options. If the risk outweighs perceived value—and if commitment doesn’t mean so much—they give up. But this is not what I was getting at when I said people should highlight and eliminate the things that get in the way of their happiness and success. This is why I say NO to giving up. If you want to be a better version of yourself, if you want something worth keeping, you have to invest in it. You fight to make it work when times get tough. Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the emotion in which you said it has left you.

If The Seas Are Uncertain, Abandon Ship!
Our excessive consumerist culture gave birth to the belief—especially among Millennials—that if your relationship or job is on rugged seas, you can throw it away in exchange for a new one. If we think of people and employees as mostly expendable, then people are nothing more than a commodity. And that’s the problem. If you work a thankless job, it’s almost natural to entertain the idea of finding another. And relationships? One little “innocent”, cheating-quality flirt is hidden behind obscure messenger apps, dating websites, and liked images on social media. It’s become too easy to let some attractive person’s photo charm you when you just had a nasty argument with your significant other.

If you had a mind to follow through with this, you could get away with it. And people do! But this road does more long-term damage than it offers any benefit. It’s the people who take this path whose selfishness eclipses their ability to realize the pain they’re causing others… and themselves. So if you fall prey to someone or some company like this—if fighting to maintain a status quo infringes on your self-respect, loyalties, and crosses your value boundaries—then it’s time to consider dismissal or departure. Chasing after things that are worthwhile to you shouldn’t cost you your dignity. This is why I also say YES.

In both instances of giving up, the act is unequivocally selfish. The distinction, however, is that one is a delusive error and the other protects you.

The Cost of Obtaining What’s Worthwhile: A Chink In The Armor
Making oneself vulnerable to another is like telling them where your armor doesn’t protect you. With trust comes the understanding that you could be seriously injured. Maybe someone flagrantly betrays you. Maybe, as I mentioned above, they injure you out of their own pain. And when that trust is broken? The damage inflicted modifies behaviors.

Ever heard of the idiom “building up walls”? Putting distance between yourself and the situation that led to your pain is a prime example of modified behavior. People also adapt to injury by adopting impatience, cold cynicism, nervousness, exhibiting atelophobia (the fear of never being good enough), and developing situational anxiety. Our insecurities become the root of our hostilities. As humans we’re adaptive, because it helps us avoid the same pain in the future. But adaptability is a two-edged sword. While these boundaries help keep pain out, they also fence us in, leaving us isolated to deal with our baggage. So much that does for healing.

The Unknowingly Consented Forest Fire
We’re our own worst enemies not because we hurt ourselves directly, but because by not facing the mirror candidly we inflict damage upon ourselves and unknowingly allow the backlash to hit those around us. That makes it pretty tough on those who are emotionally invested in us. The people who hurt you are sometimes themselves hurting and acting under duress of the monster they’ve raised inside. We too feed our own within us if we refuse to resolve the mirror honestly.

Personal Responsibility: Destroy What Destroys You
We could leave it at this—that we’re all just living at the caprice of others—but that doesn’t leave us much in charge of our own lives if we’re always being tossed around. You can choose to play the victim and live with a defeatist mentality or you can say “to hell with negativity” and empower yourself as the owner of your own life. There is absolutely no reason to allow negativity to live rent-free in your life.

“There are very few people who are going to look into the mirror and say, ‘That person I see is a savage monster;’ instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do.”
– Noam Chomsky

The point of ridding your life of negativity is not throw people out or to give up personal endeavors. That should be the last thing you do. The point is to acknowledge the unrelenting red flags that insidiously wear at your peace, undermine your groundwork for happiness, and uproot your dignity. Negativity is a rot; life’s too short to tolerate garbage that eats away at you. The charge, then, is to take personal responsibility for unwarranted negativity in your life—insofar as you have control over it—instead of becoming a walking incarnation of your environment’s erosive sentiments and a reincarnation of the demons of people who’ve hurt you. Face yourself truthfully, live liberated, and you not only empower yourself but even those around you.

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How Your Thoughts Sabotage Your Fitness Progress

“Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?” – Rumi

I ask all new clients how they imagine that life will be different for them once they’ve reached their goals. Primarily, I do this to assess whether or not they’re ready for change. It’s also a big sneakin’ set-up. I do this so that by describing a desired reality they can begin to cultivate the idea and grow into it without much of my help. This makes my job easier, but it also helps clients understand that humans are their own best friends or their worst enemies, especially if they’re of the type that overanalyzes everything to the point of involuntary self-sabotage. People are vastly complex creatures that need to be tricked into doing things. Perfectionism—the punctilious attention to minutiae—if unchecked, can cloud the long-term goal and spoil the point of the endeavor.

We’re enslaved to a status quo, to comfort. What is that but to security? Food, shelter, and sex. These are the basic needs that ensure our survival as a species. We could argue from a biological standpoint that everything else is irrelevant. That’s seemingly all we’re built for, and for some’s people happiness that’s all they want. … And then maybe in your heart you begin to perceive that biology alone is inadequate. “That’s it?” you ask in disbelief. There seems to be a deeper yearning. I for one am not satisfied by having only these things. Do I want them? Yeah, don’t you? Is it enough? Don’t the soul and consciousness groan for something more? Shouldn’t everybody feel this way? Maybe a lot are comfortable with a static existence. That’s cool. But what about you? If you’re looking for change, you must accept that you’ll have to grow comfortable with being uncomfortable and that your securities will have to face amendment after they’re challenged. Change isn’t like flipping a switch; if it were, everybody who walked into the gym would have a success story. Change is about subverting the tyranny of the mind. Sometimes to win a battle you have a start a war. Nobody said that was easy.


Whatchu know bout psychology?!

“Do you believe you can do this?” Ultimately, I have no control over what my clients do with the remaining 167 hours of their week. We’ll work out during the session, and we’ll sweat hard. But one hour is a drop in the bucket. If your mind is in chains outside the gym, you aren’t going to see much in the way of transformation. This is why reframing your life and growing into a new image is so crucial. If you’re too afraid to leave your present self behind, you’ll never become who you want to be. Take this beyond fitness into the rest of your life’s dimensions. Not to trivialize heavy matters and relegate them to a plastic lawn chair, but all that’s stopping you are a few thoughts and behavior pattern modifications. One percent progress per day is better than an eternity at zero percent.

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7 Reasons To Be Thankful for Pain

This morning I was struck heavier than usual at the thought of the overload principle. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s how athletes get better at what they do. It’s also (partially) how you dodge the dreaded plateau effect:

The body adapts to external physical stressors. Once it has adapted, it must be stressed to a greater degree if adaptation is to continue.

Maybe it’s because I spent my Thanksgiving alone this year that I began to reflect over my family, my friends, my colleagues, and my life. And as I thought back over the years, I was reminded of a recurring theme that used to mark my life and how it has, well, kind of helped make me who I am now.

Lessons are learned when things go wrong, when expectations and dreams get shattered.

1. It reminds us that we’re adults who fend for ourselves.
When I think of pain, it usually conjures images of someone rushing in to save the day. This happens a lot when you’re a child, but not so much when you’re grown up and on your own. You learn to suck it up, clamber back up, and move on. You learn to deal with tough situations by yourself. You learn to make ends meet by shuffling income around. If we never learn these lessons apart from help, how can we expect to become parents ourselves (if that’s what we want to be)?

2. It teaches us that we have the capacity to love.
Pain is a lesson in compassion for those who have none. And just as death is the great equalizer, pain too teaches us all a lesson in humility at our proudest hours. If your heart doesn’t sink a little when you hear someone talking about a situation that’s been rending their heart, how do you expect to join them in their suffering to comfort them? It’s worth being thankful for pain, because it keeps us human.

3. It teaches us that life isn’t always fair.
It’s too bad that some pain is the result of other people’s selfishness and careless misjudgment. Loads could be avoided were that wretched element not an aspect of human nature. Also, some people are too readily willing to give up on an endeavor than to stick it out when times get tough, and that’s not fair to those who are totally invested. But I think it’s better to be disillusioned, knowing that life isn’t fair, than to expect someone or something to adjudicate inequalities. I think leaning on something like karma or retributive justice not only gives us a false sense of hope (for selfish gain) but also nurtures cynicism and indifference. If love is such a big deal to us (I mean, we talk about it ALL the time and post stuff on social media about “faith in humanity restored”), then maybe life is designed to be painful so that we can express it to one another.

4. It teaches us that we were on the wrong path… sort of.
Actually, I think it’s hard to say for sure whether we were on the wrong path or not. I mean, does “the right path” mean we’ll never encounter hardship? Who’s to say the path marked with struggle isn’t “the right path”? Whether or not this can be determined, it certainly teaches us how we can improve. We learn not to make certain decisions and what sort of risks are worth taking. We all learn from our failures. For that we should be thankful.

5. It reveals that God’s greatest blessings are counter intuitive.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Can we really say that somehow finding x-dollars made us better, stronger people? What about a relationship that didn’t work out? What about a parent who died when we needed them the most? What’s your example of a tragedy that strangely yielded a crop you weren’t expecting to harvest? And what does your tragedy tell you about your role among other people? Anything?

6. It teaches us that we are not the only ones who’ve fought an unfair war in the deepest part of our souls.
Ask someone who’s ever been depressed what it’s like. “Hollow and lonely,” they’ll tell you. But the truth is people are fighting their own battles every day. If you’ve fought one of these life/course-altering deals, you recognize these kinds of people when you come across them.

We’ve all suffered or will suffer at some point. It’s part of the human condition. There are loads of young people who need, whatever the significance is for them, the message of hope and restoration. And it’s worth being thankful to know that someone has lived through seeing the granules of sanity and balance slip between their fingers so that they can help someone else.

7. It teaches us that agonies are necessary if we want to be better versions of ourselves.
How do we grow unless we’re strained? Change isn’t magical. It’s a direct result of manipulating variables so that the status quo can’t stay the same. Whether it’s progression or regression, change only happens outside the comfort zone. And what do we usually find beyond our comfort zones? You guessed it.

It seems odd that the human body’s method for adaptation requires a stressor. It’s peculiar that it would render an otherwise negative impact a positive means for change. I find it funny that before muscle grows, its fibers tear.

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