The value of a little healthy comparison

It’s probably obvious by now, but I really like the gym. Duh, of course I do. I chose a career where I go to the gym for my job, so it makes sense I enjoy spending time there, both as a trainer and a worker-outer.

At this point, you might be thinking, “I’m sorry, but there is no way I can get on board with this sentiment. The gym sucks the life out of me, and there is no reason I should read the rest of this post.”

Stay with me.

One of the reasons I like the gym is that it gives you the opportunity to compare yourself to other people.

Wait! What? Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what we are supposed to do? Doesn’t comparing ourselves to others only lead to unrealistic expectations, diminished self-esteem, and a hatred of/fascination with that girl we see on the step mill every day? You know the one–the girl with the endless supply of cute workout clothes, the perky pony tail and the even perkier butt? How does she stay on that thing for so long?

Anyway, I would argue that the gym’s steady stream of folks of all shapes and sizes is invaluable to your ultimate exercise success. Sure, that perky girl is frustrating; will you ever get a butt like that? Maybe not, but having constant exposure to people who are very dedicated to fitness rubs off on you. And that 350 pound man you see working with his trainer every Monday, Wednesday, Friday; wow, if he can do it, so can you. Everywhere you look, there are stories of change, triumph and motivation, and you can use that to your benefit.

In fact, one of the proven methods of helping wellness coaching clients through the contemplation (“I may”) stage of change is to encourage them to connect with others who have successfully changed the same behaviors. Surrounding yourself with people who have added exercise into their lives–whether they are fitter than you or not–is key to your own success and consistency. Connecting with people you can relate to on some level (same hectic schedule, family life, health challenges, whatever), and who have been able to do what you want to do, is a powerful motivator.

On the flip side, when you stay at home, in your own little exercise bubble, there is only you to compare yourself to. You are your only point of reference. You, in your baggy sweats, and your slouchy t-shirt, going for the same walk, day in and day out. It’s awfully easy to get stuck in an alternate reality where you think you are keeping up your end of the fitness bargain. But with no one to compare yourself to, no one who might spur you to stay on the treadmill a little longer, or try that new exercise or class, or encourage you  with their story of lifestyle change, you risk getting stuck in a serious rut.

So go to the gym. Or a class. Or buddy up with some friends of varying fitness levels. Find some people to share your fitness journey with, even if it’s just a bunch of strangers who have no idea you are using them to motivate your workout.

Photo from Candyce Barnes at Tri-City Wellness Center.

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