I have this saying written on my mirror:
“If you put in the right work, your body will transform into what you are working towards.”
It came in a moment of epiphanous gluttony, as I reached for an unnecessary third bowl of cereal on a busy Tuesday night. What work was I putting in? For the outcome would reflect that work. It’s not self-help, it’s science. I’d inevitably feel “gross” the next day, but what was the real issue here? Why was I reinforcing this behavior?
When I first saw the term YOLO, I thought it was a brand of candy. “Going on a last-minute trip to Vegas. #YOLO!” Since the candy hypothesis didn’t make sense in context, I typed “YOLO” into UrbanDictionary.com to challenge my apparently non-hip self. The page loaded, and as I scrolled down, I was appalled to see the definition generator spit out…”You Only Live Once.”
REALLY? A common mantra, a way of existence…reduced to an acronym. I didn’t feel old so much as enraged.
Our culture is notoriously obsessed with youth and what the hip new trends are. YOLO seems like the silliest little thing, but it is such an indicator of our way of existence and the way we treat ourselves: by short-cutting. By reducing our feelings, our instincts and yes, our bodies, to one single abbreviated word. “I’m fat.” “My skin looks ugly.” “My nose is huge.” What do these words truly stand for? And what pattern is this setting up for our younger generation as they grow and evolve? YOLO, as trivial as it is, reinforces and encourages a language of shorthand.
How on earth can we love ourselves if we cling tightly to casual negativity? How can we reach a place of empowerment if we are so attached to our fallback? To our shorthand?
The effects of Casual Negativity are harrowing. It goes way beyond “we are what we tell ourselves” – those words, that shorthand, those flippant phrases – they guide our actions. An offhand remark weaves its way into our vernacular, and we take our cues from the words we use. They are the words that make up the instruction manual within us.
The thing about instruction manuals, if you’re anything like me, is that they are pretty freaking confuddled. Oh, how I wish my television came with a simplified version of its user guide, a version with familiar words I could latch onto that did not require me to decode or decipher. I wish that I could just read “Take the skinny thing and put the red part of it onto the big box and press the small circle” and I would just know. I wouldn’t have to go back and reference the diagram, fish through supplies, sweat through the assembly. But the thing is – I’d probably botch it up. I’d probably do way more harm than good. The shorthand might be more familiar, but the long hand, the WORK of it, is what gets things up and running, to be enjoyed for years to come.
YOLO doesn’t seem like anything. But really…it is everything. And what irks me beyond belief is this: young adults who are just beginning to form their identity are dismissing their deeper issues, shrugging off the detailed and nuanced assembly of their character, in favor of the words that generalize and mask the truths of the matter. And since we’re a youth-obsessed society, we follow suit. Not only are these kids and teens setting up a pattern of shorthand to carry them into adulthood, the older generations are adopting the same tactics and therefore reinforcing this behavior.
Dismissing a feeling or circumstance with a shorthanded phrase of Casual Negativity avoids addressing the real issue. And I know – it it still a struggle for me to dig deeper than, “I’m so fat.” No – I’m NOT “so fat.” . What I AM is overstressed, overworked, overtired and not taking proper care of myself. So I feel out of sorts in my body. Have I physically changed in a matter of days? Maybe. But why is that? What work have I put in to make my body, and moreover, my mind, take on this way of existence?
The actual work is tedious. But the right work will get you to that place where you feel the very best, that place where you can DO anything and BE anything. Attaching a shorthand term related to physicality (ie. “tired,” “ugly,” “fat,” “gross,” etc) gives us something familiar to latch onto instead of a possibly unfamiliar obstacle to decipher and sort out.
We need to catch these simplified – and often objectively false – statements and nip them in the bud. Take those one-word adjectives and replace them with descriptive, informative, nuanced truths. We must encourage ourselves and each other to read between the lines, put the right work in, and transform into what we truly are working towards.
After all, You Only Live Once.