Hit me again. Hit me again. Harder. Harder.

Exhausted after a 21-mile day backpacking in Desolation Wilderness

I am playfully masochistic. It’s probably the healthiest way that my self-hatred manifests, like a little raging coach in my head. Instead of anything classically motivational, he screams at me to keep pushing, unless I’m lazy and weak; to add more weight or miles or reps, unless I’m a lousy quitter; to give it my all because anything less makes me a worthless piece of shit. (I said it was the healthiest manifestation; it’s not actually healthy.) This internal coach assures me that if I ever let down my guard I’ll be fat and miserable — even more so than I already am, he says.

There’s a rough catch 22 with this situation: my motivation to do something is replaced by its evil twin. Instead of being excited to see what my body’s limits are, instead of being motivated to enjoy myself in the moment, I end up dragging a bunch of terrifically unhelpful baggage with me. The motivation itself sabotages me.

Let’s take an example: rock climbing. I love climbing. A lot goes into it. Beyond just skill and physical strength, it takes a certain level of mental fortitude to tie a rope to yourself and pull your body and a bunch of gear up a cliff. I’ve seen people break down on climbs. I’ve done it myself. I’ve heard climbers flog themselves with self-deprecation after a failed attempt. I’ve definitely done that myself, too.

This climb is called Binge and Purge. It was scary. It was at the top of my level. I was dripping with blood from getting mangled in the crack. I loved every second of it.

I once heard a very skilled climber half jokingly say, “I just need to be stronger, weigh less, and climb harder, then I’ll get it.” She climbed at a level well beyond me. Pictures of her on hard routes show up in guidebooks and climbing magazines. I’ve told myself that I’d be happy if only I could one day climb at the level she does.

It doesn’t really add up, though, that climbing at her level would make me happy. I mean, sure, it would at first. That triumph would feel great, but it wouldn’t last. How do I know this? Well, first, while I am proud of my accomplishments as a climber, there isn’t a single route I’ve done that’s made me content. When I talk to climbers, I’ll undercut routes I love because I tell myself they aren’t difficult enough for me to be openly proud about climbing them. My pride becomes shameful. Second, is she happy? The climber whose warm-up is my work-up-to? Not really, not in this sense.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t good ways and reasons to push yourself. Ambition is a powerful thing, and it’s fueled many an impressive accomplishment. When I’m standing at the base of a climb that I know will challenge me, though, the reasons screw themselves up. Suddenly, I’m not climbing to enjoy myself; I’m climbing to prove something. I’m not climbing with fun or success on my mind; I’m climbing to not fail.

Failure. I can’t help but visualize it. When I’m climbing, that means watching as my gear placements turn out to be bad, and I fall to my death in my mind’s eye. It means looking ahead on a climb and being so sure that I’ll botch an upcoming section that it consumes me, and I fall before I even get there. It means trying to be casual about the fear all of this negative visualization is generating because I owe it to my partner to pull it together, to be strong of body and mind.

I defy anyone to reach a goal while telling yourself that you didn’t train hard enough, that you’re weak and terrible, that you and your attempts are a big joke to everyone. Try to stay composed with that clanging around in your head at the moment of truth.

I’m not saying that The Secret works. The idea that I can manifest great things just by being positive and “putting it out into the world” has a lot of things wrong with it. What I am saying is that the opposite of The Secret definitely does not work, that shitting all over your hopes and dreams will not only assist you in achieving nothing and being sad about it, but it will make sure that you begin to fear the things you desire.

It reminds me of one of those Chuck Norris jokes.

Chuck Norris doesn’t go hunting. Hunting implies failure. Chuck Norris goes killing.

In our case, you don’t try because it’s trying that implies failure. Unlike hypothetical joke Chuck Norris, that’s the end of it. To try is to fail. To succeed is to fail (too easy, got lucky, could’ve done better, still not as good as someone else— take your pick). To fail is to confirm your worth: zero. It’s a lot to carry.

To be fair to my inner jerk of a coach, he gets me to the gym in the morning. When I’m bleeding, scared, and exhausted on a climb, he yells at me to suck it up and push through. When I’ve hiked twenty miles with a heavy pack and I’ve got another ten to go, he looks at the uphill slog ahead of me and starts to cheer. “Hit me again! Hit me again! Harder! Harder!”

He tells me I can take it — or maybe that I have to take it. He tells me that pain is purifying, and, besides, I deserve it. After I put myself through the wringer, though, even he lets a little pride eke out.

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