Last week we shared a video on Facebook that created more excitement and controversy than anything we’ve ever posted: A video of Daisy Ridley (Rey from Star Wars Ep VII) deadlifting with great form, 176 lbs/80 kilos:
I don’t know if #fitnessfriday is a thing(?!) but HERE’S MINE! Lifting 80 kilos/176 pounds feeling like an absolute boss. ??? Initially I had to pack on some muscle to look like a desert scavenger, but have continued working out because it makes me feel really good. The female form is beautiful in all shapes and sizes, whether that’s athletic, straight up straight down or curvy; you just have to do what makes you feel good, try not compare yourself to other people and LOVE YOURSELF!!! As it stands I’m of the athletic variety so I’m gonna keep pumping those weights ??? #girlswholift
This post exploded, with 1000+ likes and a few hundred comments. What we saw as the most “Nerd + Fitness” ever, combining two of our favorite things (Star Wars and Deadlifts), soon became a fascinating look into the psyche of society.
The wide reach of the post pulled in people outside of the Nerd Fitness community, and we ended up with responses that fell into a few distinct categories:
- “Good for her! That’s awesome and it’s great to see a role model like that not afraid to strength train.”
- “Hey I lift more than that, good for me!”
- “Why are we celebrating mediocrity? She should be able to lift more than that. Anybody should.”
- “That’s amazing and I hope I can get there some day.”
Obviously a HUGE majority of people fell into the first category, but a number of responses fell into categories 2, 3, 4. And that’s okay – we all have gut-reactions to things and it doesn’t make us bad people.
I bet you instantly had a reaction that fit into one of the above categories, good or bad. Let’s talk about these reactions, and challenge ourselves to fight back against them when they are counterproductive.
We All Start Somewhere
Good or bad, it’s almost impossible not to instantly compare ourselves to the people around us: in line at Starbucks, at the gym, on the subway, at the office, and so on.
We are social creatures. Our brains excel at managing our reputation and navigating animal kingdom concepts like status and hierarchy.
In the case of the Daisy Ridley video, and other fitness media, this can lead to two unfortunate reactions:
- At least I don’t look like that. Good for me!
- Why can’t I look like that person? I suck.
Here’s the problem with the first one (aka any variation of “hey look I can deadlift more than Daisy Ridley, I’m awesome!”) – If we aren’t taking care of ourselves, it’s easy to find somebody else who is bigger, fatter, weaker, slower, or more unhealthy than us and say “at least I don’t look like that person! Phew!” That person you’re comparing yourself to in the gym? They might be there for their FIRST TIME.
Conversely, we can always find someone who is a level higher than us – faster, stronger, more healthy, etc. They might have professional chefs at their disposal, or a day job as a trainer.
Daisy Ridley who is only deadlifting 176 pounds? That might be her new personal best, and has been deadlifting for just a month. It might be a 6-month journey where she’s only going up 5 pounds a month, and will continue to do so for the next two years. She might only weigh 100 pounds, which would be the equivalent of a 200 pound male deadlifting 380 lbs. The truth is: we don’t know!
And here’s the problem with the second one (aka “Why can’t I do what that person is doing? I suck.”). We have NO IDEA how long somebody has been training, how hard they work, or what their genetics are. I find that I often compare myself to other people in my gym and wish I was looking like them or why it’s taking me “so long” to get stronger in certain lifts compared to others. But this is silly: we all play this game of life as different characters with different difficulty modes.
There’s a reason that the only comparison you should make is to yourself the day before; whether you look at a video like that and it makes you feel good or bad about yourself, it’s not a valid comparison.
We have no clue just how hard somebody has been training, how long they have been training, if they used to be a competitive athlete, what their genetics look like, or what other challenges or advantages they had. We also don’t know how miserable they might be for comparing themselves to somebody else.
When we see a video like this, we just see one moment. That’s it. Remember that we compare our behind-the-scenes journey with everyone else’s high reels.
Comparisons Lead to the Dark Side
Years ago when I started exercising, I wanted to look like somebody else because I wasn’t comfortable and confident in my own skin. I figured if I could train, bulk, and get stronger, I would look like the guys in the gym or the guys in movies, and my life would be complete.
I spent every day comparing myself to others and impatiently asking myself “when will I get there?”
It’s a losing battle. When you spend your time comparing your achievements to others, the comparison makes you feel either better or worse than them, but neither are productive:
“He might be able to squat that much, but I can do way more pull ups.”
“I bet she can’t even touch her toes.”
“Why is that person celebrating so much over a 5k? I ran a marathon last week!”
“I just hit a PR. And then the person next to me lifted 100 pounds more. I’m so weak!”
This comparison business is an exercise that will only drive us mad.
And the same can be said when we incorrectly compare ourselves to our past selves that existed under different circumstances. For example, if you get hurt, or need to have surgery, or you have a child and suddenly all of your free time is zapped from you, it’s really depressing when you think about where you are compared to where you used to be.
“I used to lift way more than this. Ugh.”
“How did I take a million steps back? This sucks.”
When we think this way, it’s easy to get derailed and depressed and give up because we ask: “What’s the point? I’m so far behind where I used to be and it’s going to take forever to get back there.”
Instead, I want you to embody a new philosophy. I’d like to think it’s one Master Yoda would teach if he were here:
You do You.
Like Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, our biggest battle in this journey to a healthier life will be with ourselves. Our largest hurdle? The Dark Side that pulls our brain in a direction that keeps us from the goal:
To be better today than you were yesterday.
Not the “you” before you were injured. No the “you” when you were 18 and had all the time in the world. Not the girl who posted on Facebook or the guy who’s blowing up your Instagram with perfectly framed photos. Just the “you” from yesterday.
No matter what you are training or how you are trying to change yourself, there will be people behind you, and ahead of you. They live a completely different life, they have different goals, different genetics, different insecurities, different time constraints, different lives.
Instead, stay in the moment.
Can you be better today than you were yesterday in a way that lines up with your goals? Can you run a second faster than your personal best? Can you touch one inch further down your shins? Can you deadlift one single pound more?
I’d love to hear about the internal battle you struggle with, and be honest.
Here’s me: I compare myself unfavorably against guys 50-100 lbs heavier than me in the gym and what they can lift, and I compare myself a bit too favorably against people who haven’t been training as long as I have been. Conversely, I get jealous when I see people make rapid progress on their squats. My squat is my weakest lift for sure, so I have to constantly remind myself that every day I squat I’m stronger than I have EVER been before, and this has been true every week for the past six months.
The truth is, I’m stronger and more fit than I was yesterday. I’ll try to do the same tomorrow.
Your turn. May the Force, and the Gains, be with you.