Recently I’ve found myself sore. The main reason for this is that I just started taking boxing classes. And No! it’s not from getting clobbered in the face. But because whenever I try a new activity, I get sore.
The reason is that when we switch activities and start using new muscles for different purposes we get these tiny little tears called micro-tears. These micro tears actually help us build strength over time. Because when the body repairs your muscles, they rebuild them better than before.
The only downside to this process is soreness. You see, even though the micro-tears help us they also micro-hurt and these hurts add up to a big achy feeling.
The technical name for this is DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). And the “D” is important because it’s the reason we feel sore a day or two after a heavy work out. Even though the micro-tears happen immediately, it takes a day or two for them to really start hurting.
But what’s interesting is that soreness is not just a physical sensation. Soreness also happens when we grow and change as people.
It’s easy to imagine that growth is going to be all sunshine and puppies. When in reality, growth can be just as much about sunburns and tiny teeth nipping at your heels.
So I wanted to share with you some my experiences of growth, the kinds of soreness I’ve encountered, and how you can work with soreness to keep focused on changing your life.
No Pain, No Gain
Often when you first begin to change your life, there are some immediate benefits.
This may include the encouragement of your friends, the excitement of new clothes, the promise of new theories, and the potential for real change.
In this stage, soreness mostly comes from the breakdown of old patterns and habits. As you begin to embody something new, your old self begins to fall away in little ways. These small losses can sting, but usually the benefits outweigh the discomfort and so you keep going.
Pretty soon though things start to change. Some of the immediate benefits begin to fall away.
Your workout clothes start to smell funky. You begin to see flaws in the ideas you so prized. And your friends, while still positive, are caught up in their own lives and issues.
Now you encounter a new kind of soreness that comes from the realization that this is going to be hard work.
At first, you thought you could ride that wave of verve and vigor forever. But now those dreams are gone. For the first time you can see the peak of the mountain you’re climbing and it looks WAY up there.
Some people drop out here, because this isn’t what they signed up for. They didn’t realize change was going to be hard. They still feel the soreness of failure, but they figure it will hurt less if they quit sooner rather than later.
But a lot of us keep going. Either by trying not to think about the work, or because we decide we made a commitment and are going to stick to it. This is the place where changes in environment, commitments made to friends, and having a plan begins to make a difference.
If you have these three things you will last, if you don’t the road becomes very hard.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
Often you will go back and forth between the previous two stages for a while but eventually you come to the place I call the valley.
This is the stage where you have put in a ton of hard work but haven’t seen the results. Your old self has broken down, but the person you’ll become isn’t clear yet.
At this stage, your workouts seem pointless, your habits seem empty, and you begin feeling the soreness caused by the fear of futility.
And this is the stage where most people quit. Staying on the path across this valley is very hard, because it’s scary to not know who you are. You begin to see the cracks in your internal systems and you begin to think that there is something wrong with you. But in reality, a huge amount of change is taking place below the surface.
This is where support systems, external motivations, a good plan, and humility are essential. These three things keep you going when it feels like all hope has been lost.
If you can make it across the valley, then things begin to really change. You step out of the haze and finally see how far you’ve come. You still feel the soreness of letting go, but you also feel the soreness of growth as your new life emerges.
The only danger here is that you’ll get cocky and lose track of your values. During this stage it can feel like change is inevitable, but it’s essential you stay on track and keep going.
While you’re stronger than when you first started, your change hasn’t fully solidified so you need to treat it with care.
The Grand Plateau
Other than the valley, this is the other most dangerous time someone faces when they change their life. During this stage, it may feel like nothing is working.
It may feel like your change has stalled. When in reality this is just another step on the path.
Plateaus often highlight an area you’ve been neglecting like diet or communication. And they encourage you to try small adaptations to your routine. Not only will these little adaptations help your new self grow stronger, they also give you tools for maintaining your change over the long term.
The big soreness you face here is the soreness of boredom. Long ago, the novelty of your new life has worn off. And since the results have stalled you begin to wonder if you should just quit.
It’s very important that you don’t give up when you hit a flat spot, but instead turn up the heat and try to change your plan just enough to kick start your change.
This is the final stage of a major change and perhaps you’re wondering why I didn’t call it the peak.
Well there are two reasons. First, once you hit a peak you have no place to go but down, while a ridge can climb even higher. Secondly, because a peak is static and a ridge is dynamic. A ridge changes directions and elevations regularly where as a peak is singular.
The soreness you encounter on the ridge is the soreness of not arriving. Everything you’ve encountered up to this point has led you to think that at any moment you’ll arrive as your perfect self.
And now that you’re here, you discover that the work isn’t done. This can be a hard to accept after the sacrifices you’ve made.
But never arriving is actually a blessing. By not arriving, you have left your life open for new changes and ways of growing.
You have merely stepped off one path of striving onto another that is more about satisfaction and adaptation than it is about becoming something else. But this transition can be hard, so it’s important that you regularly re-align yourself with your original purpose.
Writing down your vows on a daily basis, or sticking to your healthy habits are a great way to embody this new self in deep and powerful ways for the rest of your life.