STRONG BODY, STRONG MIND: Rethinking Before and After

It’s possible to grow — as an athlete and a person — without trying to control the outcome.

Donut and apple

It’s hard to enter the fitness world without encountering the concept of Before and After. It’s based on the idea that everybody — yes, you and me! — can be a success story, to borrow the magazine jargon I grew up on in the 1990s. At that time, weight loss was the ultimate indicator that an After had been achieved.

Today, Befores and Afters are more inclusive. Weight loss is still a common sign that someone is an After, but so is gaining strength, confidence, and health. After-hood, after all, is more than skin-deep, and there are endless ways to measure success.

Fitness professionals share clients’ Befores and Afters, along with the inspiring stories of overcoming adversity to achieve a new level of health and happiness. Scrolling through social media, we’re prompted to click or swipe for the full progress reports.

Open an issue of Experience Life and find My Turnaround, a section of the magazine formerly known as Success Stories and, later, How I’m Doing It. The name changes were meant to show that the After is not the end.

But alas, the After is often the end of the story we tell. The high note of each story we share.

What’s Your After?

Last year, this simple question seemed to chase me. Emblazoned on posters at every Life Time I entered (and as a team member, I visit a lot of them), around faces of people enjoying their recent and hard-won Afters. For months, not a day went by without a face quizzing me with the query: What’s Your After?

Am I allowed to say I don’t want an After? I wondered, acutely aware of my professional role. Each time I passed a poster, I asked myself: Before what? After what?

My intent is not to disparage a motivational tool that has worked for many people. The Before acknowledges a starting point — it accounts for where you are in a given moment. Without knowing where you are, how can you get where you want to go? How can you achieve your goals? And what is an After if not your goal?

I lived and breathed Befores and Afters for years. In all honesty, though, I only ever felt like a Before. I looked at my Before-ness as brokenness. I believed I was full of undesirable parts to fix and bad habits to change. Nothing I did seemed good enough to qualify as an After. I was chasing my After so hard that I lost my self in the process.

A couple of years ago, I gave up my pursuit of an After. I realized that through everything — all the workouts, all the diets, all the habit-change seminars — I have been my own constant. I started to see how my body showed up for me even when I didn’t treat it all that kindly.

Most importantly, I suspected that I could be committed to caring for myself while also letting go of all the striving.

My suspicions were correct.

It’s a misconception that without an After in mind — without a concrete and visible goal — there is no growth. Having a goal can certainly be useful for some people. But for anyone who needs permission to hear it: You can grow, as an athlete and a person, without trying to control the outcome. You can move your body for the joy of it and for the health of it without ever looking to become a preconceived After.

We live in a society that places a great deal of value on goal-setting. (It seems to be especially true when it comes to health and fitness, but perhaps that’s because it’s the world I live and breathe for work and play.) We rarely hear that doing what you love and following what feels good — even if you don’t know exactly where it will lead — can take you someplace great.

I still struggle to face language such as that in the What’s Your After? posters. It stirs up something in me that I, as a recovering Before, am still processing.

Circuit Training, Fitness Priorities-Progress, Real-People Profiles, Strength Training, Alpha Strong, exercise, how to enjoy exercising, favorite workout, favorite exercises, workout, workout routine, Maggie Fazeli Fard, before and after, befores and afters, body confidence, body positivity, journey to many great places, I am not a Before. I am not an After. I am Me, and I feel pretty great about that.

is an Experience Life senior editor and Alpha Strong coach at Life Time.

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