For the past couple weeks, my workouts have had a very heavy emphasis on squats. As I gear up for another lifting session of front squats, I can’t help but focus on the critiques I’ve received each and every time I perform this particular movement. “Your butt is coming up sooner than the rest of your torso, your knees are coming in, keep your elbows up, and don’t forget to squeeze those glutes!” These flaws in my form are not new, and despite my concentrated efforts, I can’t help but feel frustrated, especially when I see others not struggling in the slightest with their squats. It’s easy, and normal, to compare our performance and progress to that of those around us. If everyone else is doing so well, why aren’t I? However, defining our achievements relative to those of others is a dangerous habit. By doing this, our personal strengths and weaknesses, struggles and triumphs, become invalid. So how do we measure success?

First and foremost, you must know your starting point! Success is a measurement of how far you’ve come from where you started. So whether you are focused on fat loss, getting stronger, improving your eating or sleeping habits, or perhaps fine tuning your squat form, it is essential to have a good grasp on the current reality that you would like to change. Honestly identify and accept your weaknesses and areas you’d like to improve upon. Get specific with your intentions and goals, and focus on goals that are important to you. Drop the word “should” from your vocabulary. Phrases such as “I should work on,” or “I should be able to” imply slight guilt, and that you ought to be doing something for reasons that aren’t important to you or that are out of your control. Remember, success is not about having the same capabilities and strengths as those around you, but rather improving in your own capabilities relative to where you started. Replace the “should” phrases with “I’m aiming to,” “I’m working towards,” and “when I’m able to” to indicate that you are taking action to reach your desired goals.

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Once you have figured out where you are starting from, use a journal to jot down notes about your workouts, nutrition, sleep, energy levels, the way your clothes fit, or whatever is relevant to your goals! Journaling will not only help with accountability, but it is a great reference tool that can be used as a definite marker of improvement. Change and growth take time, and sometimes when you are working on gradual changes and making slow progress, it can be difficult to feel that you are making progress at all. Flipping back in your journal can be a great reminder of where you were in your goals weeks, months, or even years ago! I have kept my exercise log from when I first started regular exercise, and let me tell you, the difference in my fitness levels and workouts from when I first started to where I am now is amazing! 

While seeing vast improvement certainly constitutes success in my book, the little victories are equally, if not more important.  Did you add 5 pounds to your squat, do an extra rep, walk a few minutes longer than yesterday? Maybe you practiced a little more self-control and only had 2 cookies instead of 4 or 5? Or maybe you took 5 minutes in the evening to unwind and stretch rather than jumping straight into bed with your muscles tense and your mind running in circles? Whatever it is, the daily triumphs will inch you closer to your overall goal, and it is important to acknowledge and celebrate them!

Success is about embracing your unique struggle, and acknowledging personal improvements. It is important to identify and accept your strengths and weaknesses, because they won’t be the same as everyone else’s. You must credit yourself for hard work, effort, and perseverance, and resist the urge to compare yourself to others.

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