“U Mirin Bro?” Peer Pressure In the Gym (Stop Comparing!)

My most recent Youtube video discusses the feeling of being intimidated by other people in the gym who are in a more advanced stage of fitness than you are. By “more advanced,” I mean that their “gains” are bigger than your “gains,” or that their lifts are notably heavier than your own. Even as a non-beginner, it’s possible to get this feeling. Learning to deal with it is just one of the many lessons that are learned over a long period of living a fitness lifestyle, or even a bodybuilding lifestyle.

I believe, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, that many folks start going to the gym in order to feel better about themselves, or to bolster self-confidence that they may already have. What comes with that, though, is a feeling of having something to prove and wanting to prove it to everyone around you. Therefore anyone doing better than you poses a threat to your ego, and everyone who’s behind you poses a gratification of your ego.

This is no way to live. Insecurity and feelings of being not good enough are generally not very effective motivators for the majority of people I have seen, worked with, talked to, or read about. They can definitely be short-term motivators, sparking that initial hunger for growth and improvement, but generally something more positive has to take over down the line.

Even if something does, though, such feelings of intimidation and/or inadequacy can still creep up. The gym life never gets easy, including the psychological part, but that’s part of what makes it all rewarding.

So what do we do to try to derive some “reward” from this adverse feeling? All it takes is remembering why you came to the gym in the first place: to feel better about yourself, to improve yourself, to meet some goal (and if you don’t have a specific goal, it might be a good idea to come up with one).

Here are some completely random examples: be able to run for the bus without getting winded, deadlift 300 pounds, perform a semi-planche pushup, run a mile in under 10 minutes, bench-press your bodyweight, eliminate lower-back or knee pain, visible upper abs, run a 5k, lose such-and-such amount of weight in such-and-such a period of time, track ALL of your food on MyFitnessPal for one month, achieve a regular sleep schedule, eliminate processed food from your diet…..there are so many other tasty ones. Notice how none of these resemble anything like, “have bigger arms than that random guy over there,” or “have a cuter butt than that girl doing Smith-machine sumo squats with a calf-raise.”

Most of the time, we end up at the gym because we want to improve ourselves and feel better about ourselves, not because we want to be better than other people, or because we want other people’s approval. I mean, obviously some people do; some people thrive on competition and like to be the best in whatever they are doing, while some people have so many issues with self-esteem and identity that they basically only do things for other people’s approval, and are never happy with themselves or their accomplishments.

So what I’m really saying is that, for most people, these shouldn’t be the main reasons. Sure, these can both serve as secondary motivators, which, when they are met or fulfilled, offer a significantly positive feeling. But this feeling should be seen as a perk of having worked on yourself so effectively, so sustainably, not the end unto itself.

So when you find yourself seeing where other people have gotten and thinking you’ll never get there, just remind yourself of this: those people, the ones you’re admiring right now, were once in your position. They were once behind everyone else, but they didn’t let that stop them. Maybe they even let that motivate them, or inspire them, which is based on maintaining a sense of humility coupled with the belief that “I’m worth it.” Now that’s a winning strategy.

Bottom line: don’t tie the state of your own self-esteem to someone else’s progress. It should only be tied to where you are, what you’re doing, and what you’re working towards. So stay humble, stay grounded, stay focused, and stay the course.

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