Author Steve Young once said: “The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.”
This attitude is helpful in all aspects of life (which might be why it’s Day 7 in the “30 Days of GOOD” challenge), and it’s especially helpful at the gym. It’s why gym diaries can be helpful: they encourage you to focus solely on yourself and your own efforts, on beating your own best time and lifting more weight or doing more reps than you did last time. There are also multiple smartphone apps for this purpose: Gym Hero for iOS, and Jucy Workout for Android are just two examples. Senior Runner’s World columnist Hal Higdon also wrote a book on the subject, called Run Fast: How to Beat Your Best Time — Every Time.
But basically, no matter how you choose to implement this strategy, don’t lose sight of the decision to focus on yourself and not on others when exercising. Think back to why you decided to begin a physical exercise routine to start with. Be really honest with yourself. Did you start exercising to improve your health and live longer and without lifestyle-related diseases, or was it solely because you wanted your body to conform to a societally-approved standard of beauty? Because if your goal was to look “better” than other women, then you’ve already put yourself in competition with those other ladies, on a subconscious level. This doesn’t make you a bad person — each and every message women are bombarded with in media encourages them to compete for attention and respect using only the proportions of their bodies (and the quality of their skin and hair and clothes and accessories). But in the long term, it will mess with your mental fitness game. Why? Because your standard of success will forever be based on other people, not on your own talent.
Furthermore, it’s an enormously stressful way to live life, and it automatically objectifies the other women in the room, making them into nothing more than goalposts. As Lindy West wrote about what it’s like to be an overweight person at a gym:
It’s entering a building where you know that every person inside is working toward the singular goal of not becoming you.
Do you know how hard it is to walk into a building devoted to not becoming you when you are you!? It’s the worst! I’m me literally every day! “Fat=bad/thin=good” is so seamlessly built into our culture that people I consider close friends don’t hesitate to lament their weight “problems” to me—not stopping to consider that what they’re saying, to my face, is “becoming you is my worst nightmare, and not becoming you is my top priority.”
So. Stop staring. Remember that you are the reason you’re there lifting the weight or running the miles or doing the yoga. You are your own priority. For the time you’re at the gym, make it the top priority.