Updated: Sep 8, 2021
First of all ,what is success anyway and how do we decide if we are successful? I think its important to think about this because if you get this twisted you will always by your own definition.
If we view success only as winning or being at the top, then simple statistics leads us to the inevitable conclusion that very few people are actually successful. I like to use the Crossfit Regionals as an example. With the new changes to the qualification format, in Canada West only 5 girls and 5 guys are going to have a “successful" season in 2018. That is of course only if you think that successful Crossfitters are those who make it to regionals. What about the other 1000+ plus people who are training hard for the Open. Were they not successful? It is entirely possible to have the best year of training of your life, and dramatically increase your strength and fitness across measurable domains, but end up finishing worse in the Open. Does that mean you were unsuccessful? I think not.
If your definition of success is dependant upon how you rank against others, you are not going to be a happy camper. Of course this is the nature of competition and that is why we do it, but you can also be a successful loser. Think about it. In the example above, if you “double” your fitness in a year, but finish worse in The Open, did you have a successful year or an unsuccessful year? It depends on your definition of success.
Using a great training season but a worse open finish as an example, you can determine success one of two ways...
Compare to others- A line my Dad used to tell me was “No matter who you are, there will always be someone stronger, tougher, better looking, etc.” I think about this often because with my Napolean Complex, I continually catch myself talking myself down because I am comparing to people I have no business comparing to. There is an infinite progression of people you can compare yourself to that are better than you unless you are truly the best like Eddie Hall, who has literally deadlifted more than anyone in human history. By comparing to others you can quite easily over-shadow actual success that you have experienced. In the example above, that person may have had a great year of training, but if their metric of success is The Open finish, then its not really in their hands. It is like rolling a dice and waiting to see how everyone else's training year went and then deciding that defines you.
Compare to Yourself- If you finished worse in The Open, but in the past year you have increased your 2k row by :35, added 6 reps to your unbroken muscle-up total, deadlift 50# more, snatch 25# more, and clean 20# more, I’d say you had a really successful year. You would f#%& up your old self in a competition or any other measurable metric and that is where your focus should lie. There are simply too many variables that can influence your level of success if you are defining success based on how you compare or stack up against others. The only person you can accurately compare and measure yourself against is yourself. Comparing with oneself is the only time there is actually a level playing field.
With The Open just around the corner keep in mind that if you focus on the your leaderboard finish, that that is a largely arbitrary way you to evaluate whether you have been successful in your last year of training. There could be 50 new people in your region/division who were in a position to dedicate more time than you did, and although this means a lower placing, it certainly doesn't mean you didn't have a successful year. Someone else being good shouldn't make you worse. If there is a repeat Open workout, then that is the only time you really should expect to beat someone and that someone should be yourself a year ago.
Speaking of comparing...
Tips for lowering your self-esteem:
Spend 1 hour a day (which is common) scrolling through Instagram to expose yourself to an unnatural amount of unnatural beauty, strength, and ability in an unnaturally short amount of time. The images and videos that end up in your instagram feed are the most awe-inspiring of whatever area you are into whether its booty’s, weight-lifting, fashion, or architecture. Since Instagram is a global phenomenon, and there are almost 7.5 Billion people on the planet, that means that there are a lot of freaks and freakish things out there. Now thanks to Instagram we have access to it on a daily basis on a scale that is extreme and completely new to us. We have never in human history had such easy access to the freaks. To use a number, if you could agree that the top 1% of the top 1% are truly amazing individuals, that means there are 750,000 true freaks out there in the world. If a third of those have Instagram accounts that means you could be following 250,000 people that make the truly amazing look normal. Good luck having a realistic view of what normal is when being exposed to that daily.
Fifteen years ago it was a lot more difficult to view or be exposed to true physical excellence in terms of ability and beauty. You might catch a strongman competition on tv late at night on occasion or wait every four years to see certain events from the olympics like weightlifting. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion show was once a year. You might be able to scrape some clips together on the internet, or go buy a magazine, but you had to work or wait to see that stuff, so when you did it was really amazing. The feats of the strongman, and the beauty of the models was rare, and therefore it was kind of rare to see, and that made sense.
Today the complete opposite is the case. I can go down to the Instagram rabbit-hole and spend an hour straight looking at 1-30 images/videos/minute of truly insane shit like a 16 year old Chinese kid who weighs 135# hang snatching more than the top senior 85kg lifter in Saskatchewan, a 16 year old girl from Latvia hitting my back-squat 1rm for easy reps and virtually endless images of Calvin Klein model level attractive guys/girls. Do I feel inspired after this? Sometimes, maybe a bit. But more often than not I feel like a weak, unattractive, hopeless bag of …. Perhaps I am more sensitive than others in this regard, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only one who loses when playing the compare game on Instagram. We all naturally compare ourselves with whom we see and nowadays we see more and more of people we shouldn't measure ourselves against.
I do not think its good for us to be exposed to such a crazy amount of beauty, and top .01%-1%-edness so often and so easily. The outcome of social media is that we are beginning to think the freaks on Instagram are normal because we are seeing such an immense amount of them so frequently, and on the other hand an in-proportionately small amount of “normal”.
99% of the images/videos we see are of the 1%, and maybe 1% of the images/videos we see are of the other 99%.
It’s way off. Cathy from Wisconsin who is experiencing great success might post a video of her back-squatting her body-weight for the first time, but the likelihood that that pops up on your feed is low when instead you can watch The Mountain from Game of Thrones put what most strong people deadlift over his head. Instagram gives us an opportunity to compare to an almost endless stream of people that are, let’s face it, stronger, better looking, and more successful than we are and are truly one in a million. Our circle of comparison used to be A LOT smaller and more realistic because it was in the community. We used to compare with the neighbourhood and maybe the city, but now we literally compare with the best of the world daily.
Success should be measured against yourself, not others. The only truly equal playing field that exists is the one that has two people on it; you today and you from yesterday. If you are always gauging your success based on how you stack up against others, you are going to have a tough go of things. The crazy amount of eliteness, success, and freakish levels of ability, strength, fitness, and beauty that we are now exposed to in our social media driven world makes a realistic concept of what success is even more important. It is now exceedingly easy to find people to compare to who will make your valid personal successes less shiny.
So, look in the mirror, be more successful than that person, and remember that Instagram is not real life. Have a great day,