Success - How do we measure it?

Recently I’ve come across a lot of people measuring themselves against others-in the gym, online, everywhere…

It made me ask myself the question ‘How do we measure our own success and the success in others?'

Let’s take a common scenario to start with- the gym floor. For a newbie it’s easy to look around you and see others who lift more, are in better physical shape, push harder, sweat more… the list is endless. Hopefully you will see one or two people who are inspiring (which is entirely different than perspiring to be I might add). People who you can look to for motivation.

When you are a regular gym goer, comfortable in your surroundings, you are more likely to measure up others by their impressive physiques or how much weight they are lifting. Whilst being surrounded by such people can be a positive, pushing you to train harder and enjoy the atmosphere of hard work, it can also create a sense of inferiority; ‘why can’t I lift that much?’ or ‘why do I not look like her when I come to gym just as much?’.

We spend so much time comparing ourselves to others that we don’t even notice we are doing it any more. We look at fitness magazines with models on the front & forget they have been training for years, sometimes decades, and have the genetic potential (and photoshop) to create the ‘ideal’. We follow fitness professionals & celebrities online on Instagram & other social media platforms & think that if we follow their training programme or diet we will transform our bodies into theirs…

For years I did the same, I followed fitness pros whose physiques I admired, did their online workouts, shopped for their diet plans & while it certainly increased my arsenal of exercise and nutritional approaches, in all honesty I think I wasted about 3 years of my life training sub-optimally, eating a ‘so-called healthy diet’ without any real knowledge and wondering why I wasn’t ‘transforming’.

Comparing yourself to others is both natural and inevitable. We‘ve done it all our lives, at school, with friends, family, any social occasion and we are genetically hardwired to consider ourselves in relation to those around us. However in my opinion true change only happens when you stop measuring yourself against others as your ONLY barometer, and start measuring yourself against the only person who really counts – YOU.

How do we measure our success? It’s important to stress that when I say ‘ measure’ I don’t just mean qualitative or numerical things like weight on a scale or marks on a tape measure. When my clients come to me upset that their scale weight isn’t moving, I have to remind them that they have spent years inactive and with poor eating habits, and it’s going to take some time to re address their entire approach. Sure, you still slip up, but what’s your success rate now? Sure, you ‘only’ lost 2lbs this past month, but how much have you added to your working sets in the gym, and how much easier is it to chase your kids in the garden?

When you’re struggling with what you deem as a ‘lack of change’ or feeling a little disillusioned with your progress after weeks/ months of hard work you need to remind yourself of important lifestyle changes that you have made so far in your own journey, instead of looking at the girl/ guy with the toned physique in the gym and thinking ‘maybe if I just do X - I’ll be able to look more like that’.

Your measurement should be against yourself- that 4 months ago you didn’t think twice about eating a snickers every day whereas now you choose a healthier snack bar or piece of fruit 9 times out of 10 instead. Or every time you went out at the weekend you had a blow out, a kebab & a nasty hangover the next day – whereas now you’ll have a few drinks alongside a nice dinner, or at least swap to a lower calorie nightclub option.

Especially hard is when clients come to me having had a history of yo-yo dieting, spending time alternating between very low caloric diets with drastic weight loss and ‘falling off the wagon’ to put it back on again which instills a fear of eating normally or putting on weight. Months down the line their bodies may not have completely transformed on the outside but how they feel, how they look at food and how they look at themselves will have (alongside losing ‘only’ a stone or so). In my eyes that’s a true measurement of success, because that knowledge will be with them for life & they can use that going forward. Not only this, but that weight they have lost?

That’s never coming back.

"How about we don’t judge, but maybe applaud?".

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That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be measuring strength and performance. You should. However you can only do a true comparison if you are using the same parameters. For instance- about 5 years ago I used to squat 60kg for 8 reps. Nowadays I still squat 60kg for 8 reps. So does that mean my squat hasn’t progressed? No, because when I look back at the depth of my squat & technique back then to what it is now- the movement is entirely different so in effect it’s like comparing apples with oranges. However I KNOW now that my glutes are activating, that my squat depth is maximal & that I’m getting the most out of that exercise.

It’s the same when you look and judge others. You see a skinny man struggling to lift the lightest weights however you don’t know his background. You don’t know the state of his health, or the lifestyle that he has led previously. Judging someone in the gym because they are just starting out is ridiculous – here is a person who isn’t in shape, and here is your visual evidence that they are doing something about it.

How about we don’t judge, but maybe applaud? My greatest bug bear is when people but fail to help.

So while a bit of competition with others is healthy, if you want to succeed you need to set your own markers and goals. This, and you should always remember where you have come from.

Want more? I highly respect the US writer & speaker James Clear. Have a read at these articles of his which discuss the topic of this blog.