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The Subtlety of Atrophy

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5 Ways to Avoid Atrophy in Life and Work

By Shane Bender

Two months ago while playing tennis, my opponent dropped the ball just over the net. My brain forgot that I was not 18 years old and tried to get there. Immediately, I felt a pain on the Achilles tendon at the back of my ankle. The next day the pain was even greater, and I was limping everywhere. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realized the injury was not healing. Now I am not limping, but I cannot run or exercise much without reinjuring it. It is time to go to the doctor to have it checked out.

I noticed that such a small injury to this tendon has a major effect. My stamina and energy have decreased mainly from not exercising.

What is Atrophy? 

One definition of atrophy is a “gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect”.  This definition is broad and not only considers our physical state, but also our mental, spiritual, and emotional states. It seems like we are either growing and improving in these areas or we are experiencing atrophy. It is difficult to stay in the same state, and even this is not a great way to live.

How do we avoid atrophy in our lives? How do we stay focused and live a life of no regrets? Below are five ways to be in continual growth mode for the rest of our lives.

1. Consistency

One of the best ways to keep a healthy lifestyle is to be consistent in your routines. Have you ever started a new exercise routine and you overdid it? You were probably sore for a few days, so you didn’t work out. It is hard to start back up again. Have you ever started a diet that was not feasible to continue? After a while, you just gave up and went back to eating junk food again. I remember a diet where I had to eat five small meals a day, and it was very regimented. We had to keep points because it was a contest. After this was over, I gave up and went back to my bad eating habits.

I like the quote by Oscar Wilde, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”  If we stay in moderation, then we can make a gradual improvement without giving up so easily.

Consistency allows you to slowly improve and build momentum in the right direction. I encourage you to develop a healthy routine that you can do daily that will slightly improve the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional areas of your life.

2. Challenge

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

We all know that life can be challenging, but we also know that most growth occurs outside of our comfort zone.  Start each week thinking about what we are doing outside our comfort zone. The problem with doing anything in this area is that you don’t know how to do much of it. I am publishing a book, and much of this is outside my comfort zone. I am having to ask questions and research. Whenever I work through a difficult financial situation with a client, it is usually outside my comfort zone. Sometimes, I don’t know the answer, which can be disheartening. Yet, when we seek to challenge ourselves and try new things, the answers begin to come.

3. Accountability and Feedback

In reading the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, the author, Marshall Goldsmith, challenged my thinking regarding accountability and feedback. There is quite a bit about ourselves that is unknown to us but known to others. These are called blind spots. Rarely do we get unsolicited feedback that opens us up to our faults. People might not want to hurt our feelings, or they don’t want to be judged back.

So, how do we know what to improve? One idea is that it is easier to see the faults in others if we have the same fault. So, what is something that you noticed others doing that bothers you? Sometimes, I see my kids do things that make me cringe. Do I do the same thing? Probably. Goldsmith says “if we can stop, listen, and think about what others are seeing in us, we have a great opportunity.”

4. Learning, Reading, and Studying

I really don’t think we have much of an excuse to not be continually learning. Yes, we are distracted by Netflix, social media, and the constant interruption of our smartphone. Yet, we have podcasts, audio books, blogs, ebooks, Amazon, and libraries all at our disposal. Even if we are stuck in our car, we can play a podcast or audiobook through our smartphone. Even if you don’t want to pay, there are so many free resources that can keep us learning forever.

Try reading for just 15 minutes a day and see how this changes your life. Just make sure it is helping you grow.

5. Ask for Help

Why is asking for help so hard? Pride? Money? Ignorance? Sometimes we just don’t know we need to ask for help, which is a reason for continually learning. Sometimes, we think we know everything, which probably means that we have not experienced life enough. Have any of you ever thought that the older I get, the less I seem to know?  Sometimes, we just don’t have the money or time to get help. We need to understand the value of the help and whether we will be paid back for spending the money. Most of the time, we do get our investment back if we truly listen to the advice and put it into action.


Atrophy sneaks up on all of us. We have to work hard just to keep from taking it easy. We might buy into the lie that we need a break and should take it easy. Atrophy creates other problems and injuries to our mind, soul, body, and emotional state that can take time to recover. We should strive to continually grow and protect ourselves from not living our life to the fullest.