Find your fitness self

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- When you start, it's all about losing weight or finishing a race. Then, it may be about finishing in a certain time. You may want to get leaner, faster, and better. But, before you know it, it might turn into how many hours you put in compared to so and so. Maybe, they rode a hundred miles this week, why didn't you? What if you're doing it wrong?

These thoughts can be especially powerful if you aren't making fitness gains anymore, or your goals have fallen to the wayside. Swallowed by long work hours and after school activities. Social media shows us what we think are everyone else's shining moments. It's a place to share our progress and adventures. It can be a great platform for inspiration, but it can also work against us. You know in reality, that all of your moments are not shining triumphs or glorious training sessions. There is a lot that happens in between. However, we still succumb to the uncertainty of comparison. It's easy to start measuring yourself against the people you follow online (and in person for that matter). It may start with a race or event that you thought was good. Maybe you had a personal record, but when you looked online or at the race results, you weren't even close to competing.

If this changes your perspective, thoughts, or feelings from positive to negative, it's probably time to reassess your motives. Social behavior theory tells us that we look to those around us for behavioral cues in times of uncertainty. It's only natural. These are the times when we lose sight of who we are, or want to be. And, this leads to the forming or reshaping of our social identities. We all have social identities floating around our minds along with all of our other selves, which may include athlete, mother, father, barista, or executive.

Losing sight of ourselves and forgetting that rush of excitement can be pretty common after we achieve our initial fitness goals. So maybe, it would be helpful to think of this particular self, social aspect and all, as our fitness self. This is the self that whispers about sugar in the back of our mind, as we ogle the donut at lunch. It's also the self that visualizes the week ahead and which day is a run day, ride day, swim day, or walk day. This self anticipates the terrible feeling that deep fried whatever will give us, and remembers how good a clean day of eating will feel, especially after a run. Cultivating our very own fitness self keeps us on track, and if we can minimize its tendency to compare itself to others, it also keeps us true to ourselves. It's up to you to shape this personal image into what you need, not what someone else needs. And, by focusing your health and wellness efforts around this identity, it makes it easier to bring healthy behaviors into everyday life.

The idea here is to realize when you are comparing yourself to others and straying from what you really want. Being mindful of what you really enjoy, for the sake of it, is key. If you don't enjoy swimming, but the super star you're following got in 5,000 meters this week, don't let it push you off your own course. You are on your own path and you enjoy exercising, competing, and living the way you want to. It's great to be competitive, but the most beneficial competition happens inside of us. It's the courage to do it your way, regardless of what others are doing. By cultivating our own fitness self and not defining ourselves, or our goals, by the deeds of others, we blaze our own trail through life.

About the author: Master Sgt. Shannon Bond is a photojournalist assigned to the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard.