Use It or Lose It, Say What?

How many times have you encountered the phrase “use it or lose it”?

I’ve used it as a mantra for years. It’s given me that last little push to go the distance. It gives encouragement and motivation to consider the long term gain versus the short term pain.

Maybe it’s recovering after an illness or injury and you want to regain mobility, strength, or endurance. Maybe it’s weight loss or toning for health, vitality, or looking good. Maybe it’s showing that you can do better or more.

Whatever it is, physical or intellectual, the idea is that if we don’t use it, we will somehow lose what we already have. Whether we want to build on what we have or just keep what we already have. It could be we are working against time, injury, or our own desire to be something else.

Pushing against inertia is tough. So, we motivate ourselves by warning that if we don’t use it, we will lose it.





Scare, bully, or nag also fit the bill. We justify it to ourselves that whatever it takes, that’s better than losing.

The phrase “use it or lose it” takes on a whole other meaning when:

… You can’t use it no matter what you do;

… You can’t get back what’s been lost;

… People can’t understand why you’ve changed.

I live with rheumatoid arthritis. My disease works constantly, tirelessly, to remove the good from my body and at the same time put bad into places it has no place being. The result is the same: inflammation, pain, and loss of function.

I can push against the pain. Hell, it’s agony just opening a cupboard above my head some days, so I’m up for the challenge if it would do any good.

I can figure out new ways to open up my milk carton so I don’t spill it because my fingers lose strength unexpectedly. Again, I’m up for the challenge because I’m already making accommodations on the fly as a matter of course.

I can even push back at people around me that tell me I should try a little harder because if I don’t use it regularly, one day it’ll be too stiff to move. After all, I know they mean well and for the most part I take what is good from their words. I am confident that I really don’t have to do what they say at the end of the day.

Here’s the thing: I used to believe in the phrase. I used to live by the phrase. I used to get so much from the phrase. It really ticks me off I can’t use it anymore.

Because, it’s a lie. For me, it’s a lie. There is no use it or lose for me.

I will lose it.

There will be days that it is too painful to be able to use it. There will be days that I cannot use it and then there will be days I can use it. But, I will lose it. That’s just the reality of my disease.

See, it’s not just about being motivated enough. It’s not about working through the pain. It’s not about anything other than some days you can, some days you can’t, and one day you won’t be able to.

What do I make of all this? I changed my mantra, naturally.

Use It Until You Lose It.

No denying it’s going to happen. No sense crying over it either. Use it when you can, do something else when you can’t. Be grateful when you can and kind to yourself when you can’t. To the extent your disease allows, you determine when you can and when you can’t by assessing your strength, ability, pain, needs, and wants.

It’s about you; not anyone else … and definitely not anyone else’s idea of what you should or shouldn’t do.