Sometimes, It’s Supposed To Hurt

2010 April 16

I write a lot about not being too hard on yourself, but I rarely look at the other side of the coin, namely how our fear of pain/discomfort/effort/ambiguity often leads us to choose the path of most expediency or least resistance.

I think I’ve admitted before that I’m one of those annoying folks who doesn’t have a tv. I don’t, however, let this stop me from watching The Biggest Loser on my laptop.  An odd choice of guilty pleasure viewing for someone who preaches the gospel of body positivity, but I justify it by the fact A) that these folks are losing weight for health and quality of life reasons (vs. vanity or societal pressure) and B) the firm belief that Jillian Michaels and I would no doubt get along splendidly in real life.

Photo by Brian L. Romig

The Biggest Loser focuses a significant portion of each episode on forcing contestants to confront and surpass their perceived physical limitations. So, you think you can’t run for two minutes? Well, we’re gonna do 10! Predictably, there is doubt, resistance, tears and drama, but, in the end, the challenge is typically met and the contestants offers up a glowing testimonial about how they never thought they could do what they just did and now that they’ve conquered this feat, well, the sky is the limit. The Biggest Loser typifies the no pain, no gain (or rather, no loss) mentality and while the focus is on the physical self, there is also plenty of effort devoted to armchair psychoanalyzing (conducted by the aforementioned Ms. Michaels in most cases) the contestants and the factors that drove them to morbid obesity, with the logic being that you don’t gain 150 – 300 lbs without attempting to avoid dealing with something or a lot of somethings.

While we might not show the same physical consequences, we are most likely guilty of the same desire to duck pain at all costs that drives TBL contestants to turn to food. But emotional pain isn’t the worst thing in the world and fear is a poor motivator for decision-making (an outlook I wholeheartedly share with a reader who recently emailed me). Sometimes, feeling our way through pain and fear is exactly what we need to do, both to learn that we are indeed strong enough to survive it (it ain’t exactly goin’ out of style any time soon) and to make decisions that are based on embracing what we genuinely believe will make us happier vs. simply evading short-term uncertainty and discomfort.

And sometimes, we don’t need unqualified support and cheerleading. We need a devil’s advocate, someone who will force us to examine and spell out our assumptions, ask the questions that force us to confront the whole truth and nothing but the truth, who won’t give us a free pass. This is especially true for those who are talented in the realm of talking a good game and putting on a good show. Speak with enough authority and few will question, even if that’s exactly what you most need them to do.

When it comes to life, sometimes, it’s supposed to hurt. Doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.

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