Thoughts on Improvement from a Most Improved Award Winner

2017 was a year of change for me. I had some minor setbacks (like being hit and run by an ice cream truck), but I also developed a lot of new habits that helped me become more healthy and productive. The easiest place to identify these gains has been the gym. I’ve been at my gym, FitWit, since October 2015, but 2017 was when I mastered the toe pushup, did my first double under, ran a mile in under seven minutes, lost 5% of my body fat, and did my first chin up (maybe–I’m pretty sure it counted).

For these efforts, I was named the Most Improved at my gym for 2017. I received the award at our annual banquet in December and accepting it I felt a mixture of pride, happiness, and embarrassment. That’s right. I was embarrassed for being the Most Improved. In the weeks since the banquet, I’ve been trying to understand why being recognized for improvement made me feel this way. Here’s what I’ve learned:

I would have preferred to accept the Best to Begin With award. Being recognized for improvement meant I had room to grow, which of course I did, I wasn’t fit before I joined FitWit. Still, acknowledging this need for growth wounded my inner perfectionist that clings to the fixed mindset approach (i.e., if I’m not good enough to begin with, why bother). I’ve been able to make gains because I’ve adopted a growth mindset, but it’s still a challenge for me to be okay with my need for growth.

I want to live my life differently than I did in the past so I must have been doing things wrong before now. I’ve found that another reason it’s hard for me to want to improve is the challenge of coming to terms with how I’m living currently. I’ve found in some cases it’s better to think of the changes I want to make as shifting preferences (e.g., I want to become a person who wakes up at 7am which means it’s hard for me to remain a person who stays out till 1am). In other cases, I’ve had to let myself experience the pain of acknowledging the fact that I’ve made choices in the past that were not optimal for me (e.g., not having a consistent exercise routine in my late twenties/early thirties). Again, my inner perfectionist wants to avoid the pain of recognizing possible flaws.

The award is just proof of my narcissism. In a world where one can dedicate time to many issues and accomplish much on behalf of others, I was being recognized for spending a lot of time on myself at a gym. This is a tough one because helping other people is important to me and my time is limited, but I know I’m in a better position to help others when I’m taking care of myself. Also, it’s okay to want to take care of myself (as painful as that is for me to write).

I’m dumb for caring so much about this award. My pride at receiving the award embarrassed me because it meant I cared. I love going to my gym. I love working out. It’s hard for me to admit these things because as much as our culture idolizes certain body types it also often dismisses those that pursue fitness as vain, self-obsessed airheads. More generally, it’s cool not to care in our culture. Caring about something makes you vulnerable. At the same awards banquet I received the award, I also performed in a short improv set with other improvisers who go to my gym. I rarely get nervous before improv shows, but I was before this one. I didn’t want to do or say something spontaneously in the moment that would get me kicked out of the gym or make people look at me differently. My gym is super important to me.

In 2017, I acknowledged my need for growth and change. I cared. I improved and was recognized for it. In 2018, I’m going to continue to nurture the growth mindset I’ve cultivated so I can continue to grow. If you’re also looking to make improvements, here are some resources I’d recommend that have guided my thinking about growth:

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
The Influential Mind by Tali Sharot
The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame by Brené Brown

And here’s my sweet award that I’m oh so proud of and only a little bit embarrassed by: IMG-0478

2 Comments

  1. Very interesting thoughts, deep analysis. I wonder how many of us think so widely about gym-going and what it means.

    Cuurent evidence suggests that aerobic and strengh exercise is one of the few things that compresses morbidity, allowing us to live easily till shortly before a final exit, so keep up the good work.

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