It’s funny, the thing is you want to fail. You want your muscle to tear because that’s what makes it grow.”
It was recently that I was having a conversation with my friend, Matt, about the challenges that happen in life. I asked him about how his experience with gym and body building might be able to help him with his personal life. The gems that came next stopped me in my tracks. I proceeded to ask Matt, “what happens when you get to that last rep or two in a set and you just can’t seem to get it out?” He said,
I need a friend to help me get the last few reps out. Sometimes he helps me with encouragement, saying ‘you can do it’, other times he’ll be right there by my side and will actually give me a hand to get me through that last rep. And sometimes he’ll be there and make it look like he’s helping me, when really he’s pushing down a bit to make the reps harder, because he knows that I actually have more in me than I think. The funny thing is, that you actually want to fail, you want that struggle. The goal is not to finish your set, the goal is to tear muscle fibres. In order for your muscles to grow, you need to tear them first and most of the tearing occurs while you’re struggling. Your muscle will then repair itself to become stronger, making itself more capable next time you train. This is how you gain size in the muscle.
Right there… that statement is what stopped me in my tracks. “In order for your muscles to grow, you need to tear them first.” When I heard that, I wanted to hear it again as a wave of revelation came over me. As I stopped and thought about it the following came. Failure has to happen in order to have growth; it is exactly the same in our personal lives.
You know the saying ‘you have to step outside your comfort zone if you want to grow’, or ‘hard things create growth’? As I listened to Matt’s story and as I learned about how body building works, the revelation was that this is the same for our personal, emotional and social lives. When we do something and we fail, that’s our opportunity for growth. When we’re inside our comfort zone and not making any mistakes or experiencing failure, we don’t grow as much as what we do when we have to accept a failure or admit to a mistake.
Just as the muscle has to tear, or has to fail under the weight of something it isn’t usually willing to handle, so, we need to experience failure, hardship, family breakdown, illness, job loss, discontentment, challenges in relationships, family pressure, financial pressure (and the list could go on and on). We need to experience challenges in order to have the opportunity to grow and build strong personal, emotional, social and spiritual muscles.
The hardest part for me is what comes next. Learning to lean into the discomfort of those situations in life… that is a hard skill to learn. There have been many times in my life when things have been hard and loved ones around me would say things like “it’s character building”, “think about how strong you’ll be afterwards?” etc and I did not want to hear it at that point, no matter how true it was.
I’m not going to tell you to avoid or to chase after challenges and discomfort, the key is what we do when we experience the ‘tear in the muscle’ or the relationship breakdown, or the ultimate frustration in any given situation. Matt was telling me that after a good strong gym session, your muscles have been slightly torn, there will be pain and discomfort. My assumption is that after the session there is always self-care; things like having a stretching session so your muscles cool down or maybe having a day or two off of a strengthening gym session so that the muscles can recover and repair and be ready to handle the next intense session.
So it is in our lives, when trouble comes, and it will, it’s about making good and healthy choices for ourselves through the pain and discomfort. It’s about knowing yourself.
What is your go-to response when a challenge comes?
Alcohol? Movie marathons? Whole blocks of chocolate? TV show re-runs for hours and hours? Locking yourself away playing games?
Brené Brown calls this numbing. When we are going through challenges our automatic response is to hide and escape the pain. The best thing to do in these times is to know what gives you comfort and makes you feel loved and cared for.
How do you or could you care for yourself in these challenging times?
Call a friend? Treat yourself to a nice warm bath? Go for a run? Watch a movie that is uplifting? Go for a hit of golf? Read a book? Do some journaling?
These comfort activities will be different for everyone, as are the numbing behaviours. It’s about learning to lean into the discomfort and pain. Running away from it long term does not help at all. Research shows that when you numb the pain, you also numb the joy*; that’s why finding comfort behaviours and strategies are so important.
Be encouraged, when life knocks you down or your muscles tear, remember that it is in those moments where there is great opportunity for growth and strength to happen.
Take Care on the Journey! – Choosing Courage, Vulnerability and Living Life to the Fullest
*Dr Brené Brown (2012), Daring Greatly, Gotham Books
* Special thanks to Matt for sharing his story and helping me get the details accurate in the muscle building analogy! 🙂 You’re a superstar!
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