It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

JourneyLet’s begin today with an exercise. You might know it’s not something I normally do here, but I think today is the perfect time to try something unexpected. Humor the process if you will. It leads somewhere I think is important for the Challenge – or any serious change.

Repeat after me.

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

There’s no magic here. No ruby slippers or manifestation miracles. That said, it’s time to make this Challenge personal. (I find that major life changes tend to work better that way.) The power of an effective mantra rises out of our growing identification with it. Right out of the gate, all of us can identify with this statement.

The mantra gets at a critical question: what is this Challenge about for you? What have you decided you’re done with?

This can by no means be an exhaustive list, but let’s go through some examples. Maybe you know already. Maybe you’re crystal clear on what you’re ready to kick to the curb regarding the state of your health and what it isn’t offering you. Maybe you have some basic goals but want to get clearer. Whatever the case, see what comes up for you.

It doesn’t have to be this way….

It doesn’t have to be – that you will continue to steadily gain several pounds every year.

It doesn’t have to be – that you live without the physical vitality you used to enjoy.

It doesn’t have to be – that somehow your well-being and self-investment comes last in a day.

It doesn’t have to be – that your cravings and/or food issues undo your good intentions.

It doesn’t have to be – that you commute an hour each direction for work every day.

It doesn’t have to be – that you take prescription medications (some costly) to control lifestyle diseases and chronic conditions.

It doesn’t have to be – that you deal with poor sleep on a chronic basis.

It doesn’t have to be – that you forgo certain travel destinations, social activities or even personal relationships because you’re uncomfortable with your body.

It doesn’t have to be – that you eat fast food/junk food/sugar/alcohol more often than you ever thought you would.

It doesn’t have to be – that you can’t keep up with your children, grandchildren or the activities your friends participate in because you’re out of shape.

It doesn’t have to be – that you prioritize T.V. or Internet time over long walks with a partner/friend/pet/family member each evening.

It doesn’t have to be – that your body takes a continual toll from unrelenting stress every day.

It doesn’t have to be – that your family’s/partner’s/social circle’s eating habits sabotage your goals.

It doesn’t have to be – that you’re embarrassed to work out at the local gym because of your body’s size and/or low fitness level.

It doesn’t have to be – that you steadily watch your muscle fade with age and your body fat accumulate.

It doesn’t have to be – that you can never find time to work out.

It doesn’t have to be – that you feel your daily energy and overall health just can’t bounce back from a recent (or distant past) emotional or physical crisis.

It doesn’t have to be – that you prioritize low cost or long-term routine over high quality and nutrition at the grocery store.

It doesn’t have to be – that you’re overwhelmed by everything you would need to do or change in order to turn your health around.

It doesn’t have to be – that you can’t face the prospect of doing this alone. (You won’t need to.)

It doesn’t have to be – that the ship has sailed on your health, vitality, physical appearance, or enjoyment of an active, vibrant and fulfilled life.

No, it doesn’t have to be this way.

That said, things will continue to be the way they have been until something changes. That change begins with you – today. Right now you have the option of turning it all around. You can say goodbye to this way of being. You can shift the whole trajectory of your health, weight, strength, fitness, aging, life balance, personal well-being.

You won’t do it all today. You won’t even do it all in twenty-one days. Who you are today will change today’s business today. Who you become tomorrow will take up tomorrow’s challenges. The person you can’t even envision twenty-one days into this Primal Challenge will be doing things you never thought possible for yourself. Will you take it on faith? Will you take it on the success of thousands who have come down this Primal path – and transformed their lives – before you?

Let’s do it again. Let’s commit to this simple truth together – right now.

Repeat after me….

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“This is the change I choose for my life.”

Say it throughout the day. Write it down. Put a post-it wherever it will offer a good reminder – no matter how ridiculous it seems. Psychologically speaking, there’s a certain power in changing our environment to match our intentions. That doesn’t mean writing a quote on your bathroom mirror can ever be a stand-in for the real work of making a behavioral shift. (There are people who will unfortunately tell you that.) Nonetheless, changing our environment is one more way we can invest in the change now – rather than waiting until we “earn” the right to by “proving” ourselves with the end goal achievement. It’s critical to absorb our intended change into our identities and our environments – today.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. I am the change right now – in this moment.”

Use it as your mantra today when facing every old pattern. Use it when making each decision that serves or doesn’t serve your health today. Use it when you need encouragement to move forward. Use it to affirm the positive choices you’re making. Use it to envision the new chapter of your life – the change that – make no mistake – is already in play.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What’s the story that “doesn’t have to be this way” for you? Share your thoughts and support for fellow Challenge members and readers.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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38 thoughts on “It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way”

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  1. I really, REALLY liked this article. I just made my own “It doesn’t have to be this way list” which accomplished a few things: made me aware a few things I’ve never truly realized bothered me and made the figurative weight on my shoulders feel a bit lighter. I honestly started to sit up more and more as I started writing. As usual, well put, Mr. Sisson!

  2. I’m far enough into my primal journey that my action item list begins with, “I can do this.”

  3. Too often we set constraints on ourselves and accept them as this is just the way it is and will always be. This is a great exercise/reminder to help us realize we can create any life for ourselves that we wish.

  4. Grok, Grant me the Serenity to Accept the things I cannot change (others), the Courage to change the things I can (myself), and the Wisdom to know the difference.

    1. lol
      One step at a time! (until you get to 10,000)
      Keep comin’ back! (to MDA)

  5. Been enjoying Essentialism on “tape” by Greg McKeown during my commute (PB Law #10). Ahh the power of choice! “By applying a more selective criteria for what is essential, the pursuit of less allows us to regain control of our own choices so we can channel our time, energy and effort into making the highest possible contribution toward the goals and activities that matter.”

  6. Was tired of every company that I’ve worked for look at me like I had two heads when I requested a stand up work station. I finally bought one myself and its the best thing I could have done. No it doesn’t have to be that I sit 9 hours a day!

  7. Ha,Ha, I started the 21 day challenge yesterday without knowing that Mark’s Daily Apple sight had made that day their date to begin the challenge, so I am too late to sign up. It will be helpful for me to follow along unofficially and I am looking forward to doing just that. I am not new to the Primal lifestyle but over the last 5 months I went back to a more SAD diet. Boy have I noticed a difference both in general health and in weight. I am soooo looking forward to this challenge.

  8. This is a great article! It really spoke to me, because I’ve fallen into a mild depression over the past six months due to an aggravated stress fracture in my foot that prevented me from doing a lot of things. I had to wear a walking cast for almost a year, since my foot wasn’t healing properly, and the psychological struggles of telling myself it wouldn’t last forever were beginning to wear me down. I got to the point where I just resigned myself to “getting old” and not being in the physical shape that I used to be. I wanted to go hiking and run sprints and do all kinds of things that I couldn’t do while I was wearing that walking cast, and it just got to the point where all I could do was wait it out. So for me, my mantra would be, “It doesn’t have to be that my foot will never heal properly.” The problem for me was low vitamin D, but even with supplementation, my levels kept going down, so I finally did some research and discovered my migraine prevention medication, Topamax, was causing my body to not absorb vitamin D. Now I’m off the Topamax, and my doctor prescribed CoQ10 to manage my migraines. I’m feeling better and I can finally wear normal shoes without the walking cast! I still can’t walk long distances without pain in my foot, but at least I can walk a little in normal shoes. For months, I didn’t know what caused my stress fracture or why it wasn’t healing, but just knowing what was really going on helped me to get over it mentally as well as physically. Now I know I’m on the road to recovery and I WILL run again someday. I’m active-duty military, so it was never an option for me to not be able to run. I started the 21-day challenge yesterday, and I’m excited to finally make a lasting change in my body and mental state. Thanks Mark for an inspiring article!

  9. Affirmation, mantra, whatever you want to call it–I recently discovered a great way of doing this by changing the words to a song that easily gets stuck in your head. Thanks to Gary Craig, founder of EFT. Try this one out for size, change the lyrics for yourself:

    (To the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic)

    I walk upon this planet just as awesome as can be.
    My net worth is a million and my life’s in harmony.
    My body is athletic and my weight is 120.
    I’m a legend in my time.
    I am awesome, awesome, awesome. I am awesome awesome awesome.
    I’m a legend in my time. (etc etc)

    You know you love it!

    1. Three years ago I went primal and it’s helping heal sore knees
      But shh! please keep a secret, I’m cheating with the cheese!

      1. My chest get’s thicker and more hairy
        Every time I pound a bottle o’ sherry!

        1. Second verse (same as the first!)

          I look past my limits and see opportunity
          I earn 80 thousand as the bucks they come to me
          I’m full of confidence and I’m as happy as can be
          I’m the one in charge!

  10. I don’t have to choose between being hurt or being a weakling! I’ve been thin & frail most of my life, largely due to long-undiagnosed Celiac Disease, but also due to a somewhat reasonable fear of hurting myself. Whenever I tried to get strong, I’d get impatient & mad at myself for my weakness & do too much too soon, get hurt & be back at square one or worse.

    This challenge will be the turning point when I finally learn to do it right! I’ve done five weight workouts so far this year, & I’m not hurting yet! 🙂

    1. Way to go!

      No celiac here, but have always been weak and given up before seeing real results. My weight is good; for me, this challenge is to gain strength.

      Keep up the good work, and your art is awesome (accidentally clicked on your link instead of the reply button, but worth it!).

  11. If I can dream it, then I can be it!

    It doesn’t have to be that paladins are no more than a naive fantasy that can’t come true. It doesn’t have to be that I’m never able to fully open up to my friends and keep living in the moment!

    I will survive, conquer the quest of life, and protect the ones I love on our way through the journey that lasts forever. I shall stand tall, and believe!

    1. Are you a Diablo fan?
      Skills: Thorns aura!
      You will cleanse this land of evil beasts!

  12. I’ll be the spoiler and complain that negative mantras are poor motivation. The reason is simple. The brain has trouble with negatives and tends to hear the actual statement, not its negation. Instead of “it doesn’t have to be this way…” how about “it’s possible that…”

    “It is possible to regain the physical vitality I used to enjoy.” There we go!

    1. Our brains are capable of it, just think of it as a “STOP” command.

      1. “STOP” is fine, but what needs to “START”? Every change requires 2 parts; STOP what isn’t working and START the things that do work.

        1. Yes. Change requires digging deep and finding strength within. I think many people are resigned to their fates. “It doesn’t have to be” can pull them out of that first loop of thinking, and leads naturally (implies) what CAN be…and once we envision what can be it is ours for the taking. It’s worked for me. Initial victories help-once I know I can defy what the doctors told me and improve my health on my own, it spirals and I am more confident that I can make other things happen. It’s like a little light at the end of the tunnel, this sort of thinking. But, yes, we still must get ourselves through and it can be a loooooong tunnel with a little light far far away. Determination. Courage. If thinking “it’s possible” gets you there, then fine. Use what works within your own head. To me, when I hear something is “possible,” that implies “but not likely. ” It doesn’t have to be this way” implies there’s another choice. It puts the ball in our court. We can then rise up and conquer our health demons… Rocky style. Or roll over like complacent wimps, and succumb…stuck, helpless, spewing excuses. Well that was a lot of clichés but that’s the sort of self talk that works for me.

    2. Agreed. A negative just affirms what we believe, and if it hasn’t helped us our entire life, it’s not going to help us now. We all have this ‘writing on our wall”, core beliefs and values that may not even be true but we still believe them deep down, and we have to dig deep, realize them and if they are harmful to us, take steps to change that writing.

      I believe it should be in the present tense, not “I am capable of being my ideal weight”, but “I am my ideal weight”. Saying I am physically fit and active makes me want to go outside right now. “I can be physically fit and active” makes it seem like I still have some work to do and maybe Monday will be a better time to start.

      1. Gabrielle Oettingen has done a lot of research on the efficacy of visualization and goal seeking strategies. It turns out that using present tense is a poor strategy because it fools the brain into thinking the goal is already achieved. The best strategy is to first have positive expectations the goal is achievable, then view the end state as occuring in the future. Finally, you create a mental contrast between the future state and the present state and look at what obstacles you needed to overcome to get “there” from “here”. The research is pretty interesting.

    3. Hi Eric,
      I didn’t read all the comments before I added mine.
      We’re on the same page!
      See my comment way below.

  13. it doesn’t have to be this way. Yea i think a lot of people get helpless and think that the work is not worth it in any way. There is something going on in the brain where it inhibits the flow to do great things for yourself. But you are definitely right, nothing has to be in any kind of way.

  14. This was great. So many of those things spoke to me.

    I have a hard time getting time to unwind, with a FT job and two young boys. But last night I just took time to play a game with my 8 year old. I sat on the couch and was going to veg in front of the TV for a few minutes with a magazine when my 2 year old (he just doesn’t SLEEP) wanted a snuggle, so I dropped everything and snuggled.

    (Of course I fell asleep before the 2 year old. I do every night now. He’s up so late. Ugh.)

  15. So true, but…
    I’m a pedantess for the positive.

    I’d rather repeat a positive mantra, something to do, something to be, rather that what not to do or what not to be.

    Something like….
    and here my mind goes into overdrive to think up a cool catchline.

    The possibility is real.
    (I’d love to see the positive statements that others can come up with.)

    The possibility is real – that you will maintain a healthy weight for the rest of your life.
    The possibility is real – that I will enjoy life with physical vitality.
    The possibility is real – that I will prioritise my own well-being and self-investment
    The possibility is real – that my good intentions will succeed and I will be satisfied.

    You get the gist!

    I’m going to write out the positive statements right now.

    Thanks, Mark, for the catalyst to get me going.