“This is going to hurt just a little bit”
Ogden Nash was talking about the dentist’s common reassurance, but we’ve all heard it in many other contexts. And we know it’s often a false promise, a little white lie. Maybe a big one. Even so, we let ourselves be talked into believing it. Why? I think it’s because we have an innate understanding that the cost of a little pain is usually worth the payoff in the end. The hard part is remembering in the moment that the end result will make the suffering no more than a minor road bump. So here are a few examples and reminders for your day:
Yesterday, I endured a muscle therapy session. As my body was painfully stretched and massaged to loosen tense knots, I was told that all this was a good sign. It meant that the work I was doing in physical therapy (also painful!) was showing and that long-unused muscles were once again activated and working. I hurt because my body is starting to function properly and because it’s not really used to how that feels. In time, sooner rather than later, my body will normalize because I’m going through this sharper pain now. It’s like a deep massage you might grit your teeth through at a spa, to enjoy the total relaxation after.
For that matter, healthy workouts and dieting are often miserable experiences in the moment. Those of you who follow my Instagram stories know exactly how beat up I can look after a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class. It can take weeks, months, even years of suffering through soreness and hunger, through the occasional injury and the less occasional unfulfilled food craving. But then there’s that day you look at the scale or see yourself in the mirror and you realize how far you’ve come and how much you love how capable you are, how healthy you feel, so much more today than yesterday.
It’s not just physical pain that we endure, though. Difficult emotional experiences are part of every life, whether they are moments of crushing disappointment or sadness or longer periods of depression and desperation. They can be overwhelming, and sometimes you just need to curl up in a ball and cry or hide somewhere and scream your frustration. When you do, you might experience a moment of release, one that you might later realize cannot be felt in any other way except by passing through the horribleness that brought you to that point. Sometimes, the release doesn’t happen and you trudge through more and more until one day, you realize that your life is better in ways you never could have imagined in the before times, and that could only be so because of what you’ve experienced, good and bad.
Think, too, of when you’ve cut a toxic person out of your life or hit on a big breakthrough in therapy. Or that time you added hours to your schedule to pursue a degree or certification part-time, or take an extra job or work on your side hustle so that you could learn the skills or make the money to improve some aspect of your life. The struggles may have been voluntary, but no less for that. More, perhaps, because you did it to yourself, perhaps knowing how bad it could get. Or maybe you underestimated it, but still, you were the one who decided that an emotional, mental, and monetary cost must be paid. It probably sucked during that period of your life, but how about after?
It’s hard to remember while we’re going through those tough times that there’s something worthwhile on the other end. All we can do is keep struggling through it, in the hope – the knowledge – that it really is just a little bit of pain compared to the end payoff. Do the work. You’ve got this.