Haunting Mantra

Haunting Mantra

“If it doesn’t challenge you; it doesn’t change you…” That mantra has been haunting me for the past few months. I hear it all the time, and at first it made me cringe, to be honest, much of the time it still makes me cringe but not for the reason it did before, but for the message the general public takes when it is spoken.

I have been athletic for my entire life. I have played various sports and participated in one fun body-moving activity after another. I love to move, to feel each individual muscle tighten and release, and the mechanics of it all. I truly enjoy it. But I am also someone with a history of a life-threatening eating disorder and although my life is no longer impaired, it doesn’t mean I get to act in the present as if my past was not one of years stolen by anorexia. Every day I have to acknowledge my past and choose recovery behaviors in my present in order to get to the future I seek. And so with that understanding I am examining the phrase I speak of, with new eyes.

Every time I’ve heard the mantra before “if it doesn’t challenge you; it doesn’t change you” it’s been in the fitness arena, spoken by one coach after another urging those following their guidance to push their bodies further, run farther, increase speed, up the reps, empty the tank. Those words have been uttered by those under the assumption that “challenge” is universal for everyone and somehow assumes we are “lazy” and are not pushing our bodies to the max and won’t on our own so we need someone else to force us to, to achieve some sort of goal which has been under the guise of “health” but if we are honest is actually one of a few things: weight loss, a smaller body, a leaner frame, all of which translate into what many have decided is a better version of ourselves. (Enter my first cringe)

I have come to realize that the phrase actually means nothing at all if not first paired with a goal, a vision of what we are trying to get to. For me, my goal is to lead a life that I dictate, where my actions are not done in order to reduce some sort of anxiety produced by the malfunctioning neuropathways of my brain, but are done in spite of them. I’ll put that in more concrete terms. My goal is to listen to my body, to honor it, and nourish it with what it truly needs in order to have a thriving and productive life where I have the ability to be social and engaging, have time and energy to participate in activities that are life-giving, and be someone whose presence others are grateful for. Basically, my goal is to live life as a person I like. So the challenges I will take in life are the ones that get me one step closer to that goal, because then I am changing for what I want. When I am doing anything, I evaluate and choose my challenges accordingly; to do that I ask myself, “does entertaining this challenge get me closer to my goal?” If the answer is “yes,” then I proceed, if the answer is “no,” I begin to look for the challenge that will. Inevitably, it is always there.

Its not hard for me to push my body, to force it to do something it doesn’t want to do naturally; skip a meal, run an extra mile, increase the speed, up the incline, go farther, faster, and harder. That’s what the sick voice in my head wants me to do and listening to that and obeying isn’t hard, it’s nowhere near as challenging as not listening. But obeying that voice gets me farther away from my ultimate goal.

So, there is truth in the mantra, “if it doesn’t challenge you; it doesn’t change you.” But its far different from what is meant in the context its spoken most of the time. First, identify your goal, then begin evaluating your challenges, and then go.

I have no right to judge anyone’s goals, but I will encourage you to take an honest look at your actions, are they the stepping stones to get you to the place to be the person you want to be in totality?