I used to hate the way I looked.
Standing in front of the mirror genuinely made me upset growing up—I never looked anything like my tall, bone-skinny friends. Calling myself ‘fat’ is probably a cruel overstatement, but I was closer to being overweight than I was to being thin.
A lot of people feel this way in grade school and middle school. However, a lot of them also outgrow their baby fat in high school as puberty works its disgusting wonders.
I outgrew mine, to some extent, but I also stopped growing taller. I’ve been five-foot-nine in the right shoes since I was fourteen. While my friends turned into skyscrapers, I was left at the bottom, wondering if I’d ever catch up to them.
I never did.
Still, as high school progressed, I started taking better care of myself and living at a weight that didn’t attract negative attention. I had a good social life, and I’d honed the verbal skills to quickly retaliate against anyone who might make a nasty comment.
When I got to Queen’s, I gained my freshman fifteen. Or twenty.
At the end of that year, I remember seeing myself in the mirror and once again feeling repulsed, no different than when I was a kid. That’s when I knew I had a choice: I could either start holding myself accountable or give in to the crippling negativity.
I chose to start getting competitive with myself.
Over the last few years, the ‘body positivity’ movement has conditioned people to love themselves, no matter how they look. I think that’s great—life’s too short to go through it hating yourself. However, I think if you truly love yourself, you have to push yourself, too.
There are prominent, vocal corners of the media that have taken to demonizing the pursuit of your ideal body or physique. They’ve convinced people that working incredibly hard to look a certain way is immature, toxic, and unhealthy.
I think, deep down, we all know that isn’t true.
If you’re working to be the best physical version of yourself, and you’re making healthy choices to do so, in no way is working hard a negative action.
Getting six-pack abs is incredibly challenging. Building the perfect butt takes time. The time and effort involved in getting them are why they’re so rewarding. Being lazy is easy; giving in to unhealthy impulses is easier than fighting them.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting abs. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look amazing when you stand in front of the mirror. Personally, in my opinion, what’s much worse is being unhappy with what you see and doing nothing about it.
Devoting yourself to self-improvement, especially as it pertains to fitness, is an exhausting, often downright gruelling endeavour. Sitting at home and lying to yourself about being one hundred per cent happy with the way you look is much, much easier than going to the gym.
This is where self-competition comes in.
You aren’t perfect. The good news is if you’re willing to push yourself, you can look exactly how you want—assuming, of course, you set realistic and attainable expectations.
No matter how hard they train, 99.9 per cent of guys cannot and will not ever look like Dwayne Johnson. However, that’s no reason to let the lazy naysayers stop you from trying.
Let me be clear: getting competitive with yourself is not the same as putting yourself down.
It’s not about over-analyzing your flaws or picking yourself apart. Rather, it’s about identifying areas where you want to grow as a person—be it physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.—and challenging yourself to make those changes.
When I started competing with myself, it meant going to the gym five times a week and never missing a workout. It didn’t matter whether I was tired, sad, hungry, or hungover; I was going to the gym to accomplish my goals.
I haven’t skipped a workout in years. Have they all been amazing? Absolutely not—but what matters to me more is not losing any battles to myself. There are few things in life more empowering than sticking to a challenging goal that you’ve set for yourself.
Competing with yourself doesn’t have to be about fitness.
Think about your favourite skill. It could be playing an instrument, writing essays, or just being a good friend to those you care about. Ask yourself when you last evaluated your abilities, and when you last set a goal to improve them.
It may seem ridiculous to think about being a good friend as a skill, but it involves a series of behaviours you can practice. Attentiveness, active listening, and empathy are all values within friendship that you can improve on. You can challenge yourself to be better at these things every single day.
Humbling yourself is key to personal growth. We all have an ego; when you acknowledge how yours may be holding you back, you’ll see how you can get better.
Personally, another area where I like to challenge myself is through writing.
I challenge myself to at least work with words, if not write something every day. Right now, that could mean writing something for The Journal, working on a short story for class, or, on a good day, adding a new chapter to my forever-in-progress manuscript.
Doing QJ work is usually the easiest—it’s my job, after all. However, sometimes, even when I’m busy or feeling unmotivated, I challenge myself to write creatively.
Try this out: whatever your ‘thing’ is, force yourself to do it today. You might think this takes away the pleasure of whatever that ‘thing’ is, but I think you’ll quickly feel how rewarding it is to persevere through a lack of motivation. Go do your thing.
If you need perspective, think about yesterday.
Consider that version of yourself and compete with them. Did they do something that brought you closer to your goals? Good, then match them. Beat them, even. If they didn’t, then get back on track and be better than you were yesterday.
When I was younger, long before I got a gym membership or knew how to lift weights, I used to force myself to run around the block every day.
At first, I genuinely hated it. Running made my legs hurt, and always made it hard to breathe because of my asthma. However, I never regretted it afterwards. I was always proud of myself for putting down my Xbox controller and being active.
Later, in high school, I fell in love with running for a while and became a sprinter. Challenging yourself is a pathway to growth, self-improvement, and discovery.
Now, when I look in the mirror, I still don’t look exactly how I want after years of working out. The difference now is I’m totally okay with that—I’ll get there eventually.
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