So…how are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?
WAIT! Don’t answer that! I don’t want the short answer. Let’s consider this for a minute.
There are really only three short answers: they are going well, they are not going well, or you gave up. Sometimes—and more often than not, in my experience—the difference between the optimistic answer and the pessimistic answer is perspective. It’s a matter of outlook, context, and expectations. Those who have already abandoned their fitness resolutions most likely gave up because they felt as if they were failing; many people reach this point because they don’t know how to set appropriate goals and measure success along the way.
Since I started competing in bodybuilding and power lifting, I have been plagued by a very simple question that, so far, I can’t answer quite so simply: “How did you do?” The short answer just won’t cut it. I panic every time. I’m usually proud of what I’ve accomplished, frustrated with something I could have done better, and excited to make it better for next time. But that’s not what people want to hear–they want to know if I won or lost. But in these sports, outcome is arbitrary.
First of all, there aren’t a lot of women my size in these sports to begin with—so placings matter very little if at all. I won the gold medal in the raw 123 class twice in power lifting. Should I just say that, or should I mention that both times, I was the only person in my class? Should I discuss the frustration of getting red-lighted on my squat, or talk about everything that went wrong? I can put myself down and raise myself up using the same information. It’s a matter of how I spin it.
Second of all, these sports are about personal bests that are sometimes relative to opponents, but are more often concerned only with improvements sometimes so minor that they aren’t discernible to anyone else. In my last meet, I squatted the same weight as before but with better technique…this mattered to me but who else would care? I dead lifted 15 pounds more than 2 years ago, but 15 pounds less than I had hoped to. Which do I report? In bodybuilding, I could make every adjustment and come in with a physique that is precisely what I wanted, and still lose to someone else. Would I discuss this as a success, or as a failure?
An athlete should always be able to name something that went well and something that could be improved. This is because to us, there is more to success than outcome—there are the multiple components that must come together in order to perform a lift, run a race, or win a game. We are constantly evaluating our successes and failures, searching for anything that could be improved. If we perform well, we still want to improve. If we do poorly, we need to be able to understand why. And, we must also be able to accept and acknowledge the things that we’ve done right—there must always be this balance.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, there is something to be learned from this. Can you look at your progress objectively and see the good and the not-so-good? Can you see your successes as well as where you can make improvements? Too much of one or the other will cause you to fail at reaching your goals. Those of you who set fitness-related goals for the new year have been at it for a few weeks now, which means you’ve had a chance to get your feet wet. By now, you’ve encountered a few problems or setbacks, or you’ve identified your challenges—take this opportunity to do an honest self-assessment, including both the positive and the negative.
Questions to ask yourself:
- How am I measuring success-in-progress?
- How will I respond to setbacks?
- Am I comparing myself to others, or am I able to see my success in terms of my own performance?
- What things are going right, and where can I make improvements?
- What things are beyond my control, and how can I redefine my goals accordingly?
Re-evaluate your goals to be sure that the ones you started with are still relevant. Maybe by now you’ve realized that eating 100% clean all the time is unrealistic, or you’ve discovered that you will only make it to the gym 3 times a week instead of 6. That’s ok! It doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means you need to make adjustments. Now, start thinking about the things that have gone well—has anything been easier than you expected? Are you particularly strong on a lift that you’d never even tried before? Are you running longer or faster than you were before, or is it getting any easier to get to the gym?
Just as in sports like powerlifting and bodybuilding, where you are on your fitness journey is relative to where you started, how far you’re trying to go, and what you’ve done along the way. And, because your body is unique, your progress won’t look identical to anyone else’s–so don’t get caught up in the game of comparisons! Do not be discouraged when someone asks how it’s going and you feel like your progress won’t sound as cool as it is in your mind. Do not let yourself feel as if you are accountable to other people at the gym. Some ask because they want to see you do well, while others ask because they want to see you fail. Let them—make it your job to still be standing strong next time they ask. And, give the long answer. Sometimes, “good” and “bad” just don’t cover it. The ones who care will listen, and the ones who don’t…well, they shouldn’t have asked!
Now, let me ask you again: How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?