Goal Setting Part 2: Justin’s Story

I want to share my own experiences growing up and being in environments that some of you might feel are intimidating. Last week, I emphasised focusing on yourself as an individual when it comes to setting your goals. I stressed the importance of not getting caught up in other people’s images and capabilities. Today, I will talk about the times in my life where I was faced with certain confidence issues, and how I overcame them.

Onward and Upward

I have been playing and watching sports ever since I was a kid. For me, being active has always been a normal thing. I call myself an athlete, and I love the challenges that new workouts bring. My first taste of real competition was a soccer league when I was 9-years-old.

North York Cosmos 2005

I played in different leagues until I was 15-years-old, and I also played on various junior high and high school sports teams – soccer, rugby, cross-country running, and track and field to name a few. I was never the best athlete. In fact, my schools always had some of the top athletes in Ontario, but I tried to use that as inspiration rather than letting it demotivate me.

I honestly never strove to be the best athlete, but I did push myself to catch up to those who were just a bit better than me. The top athletes would always be beyond my reach if I never dedicated myself to sports, and quite frankly, I just didn’t want to. I wanted to spend my time enjoying a plethora of activities rather than just sports. I also loved cooking, music, and gaming – I needed balance! To you readers, find ways to keep doing the things you enjoy when you set a new goal for yourself.

If you want to look like an Olympian, then you need to be prepared to sacrifice a lot of time for training, and you probably won’t be able to eat all the same foods as your friends and family. Unless your life is in need of drastic change, set realistic goals for yourself. Don’t burn yourself out trying to emulate someone with a vastly different lifestyle.

The culmination of my soccer, junior high, and high school sporting achievements. Playing on those teams was some of the most fun I’ve ever had.

Despite not being the best athlete, I would not let myself feel inferior. I still pushed myself to improve at what I enjoyed through hard work and hours upon hours of practice. I set realistic goals for myself, continued to do what I loved, and finished high school being proud of my accomplishments.

When I got to university, I simply wasn’t good enough to make school teams anymore. Instead, I turned to the gym, and I had a great time working out with my friends from kinesiology – our major – as we applied what we were learning in our classes at the time. It really felt like I was back in high school playing sports; learning new strategies, and practicing until our efforts paid off.

I loved the new competition in the university gym. Just about everyone was larger than me when I first stepped foot in there, but I never saw too many hulking beasts that intimidated me. (Years later, I learned that the school’s athletes had a private gym for training.) I was most surprised by how people only slightly bigger than me were lifting weights two or three times what I was capable of. I thought it was fair to compare myself to them and to model my goals after them. Since they were somewhat close in size, I figured I would catch up to them in strength in no time.

My primary goal was increasing my strength, and I designed a routine that worked well for me despite a busy school schedule. My friends and I kept each other accountable for working out when we were feeling lazy. By the end of my third year, I was around the same size as everyone else in the gym, and I was very proud of the strength gains I made.

A Startling Realisation

It has been two and a half years since I graduated university, and I have spent most of that time working out in a different gym. My peers are no longer just students around my age, but people of all ages and backgrounds.

Not only that, but it seems like the majority of the men in my gym at any given time are massive or have ridiculously chiseled bodies – usually both! I remember when I was fairly new to this gym, walking into the free weight section would always lead to astonishment. “Wow, I’m tiny.” What was I doing the last five years if so many people in the gym looked 100 pounds heavier than me and could lift such heavy weights with ease? For the first time in years, I considered the gym an unhealthy environment.

You must be careful not to get a distorted perspective on reality when you go to a gym. Sure, more than 50% of the men in there may look massive, but that’s not how it is in the real world. Take a walk in a mall and you will see that those muscular monsters are just a small fraction of the population. After a couple years of working out, you might be one of the bigger guys around!

News flash: I’m not tiny, and my last five years were full of hard work and amazing progress. I would be silly to dismiss that just because of how other people look. I just needed to step back outside the gym for a moment so I could see what normal people look like again. Of course I don’t consider the gym to be an unhealthy environment, but it can be difficult to keep your individual goals in mind when you are surrounded by so many muscular monsters. You may suddenly see yourself in a worse light, and you may be tempted to change your goals and set out to have a body just like theirs. Don’t! At least not before deeply considering what it is you really want to achieve.

Are you more focused on your health or your image? Your health should always take precedence over your image.

I am not going to spend too long talking about this now, but please be aware that there are far more people abusing steroids and growth hormones in the gym than you would ever expect. I will not say “most,” but I can assure you that plenty of the musclemen you see achieved their bodies through unnatural means. Women are no exception to this, but there are significantly less women abusing their health for unrealistic aesthetics. Never endanger yourself by taking any of those products.

Focus on What Matters

One of the bodyweight exercises I’ve always been fascinated with – a muscle-up! Now if only I could do 8-12 of these…

As I stated earlier, I made it my goal during university to focus on strength training. I occasionally enjoy setting new challenges for myself, such as being able to do more with my bodyweight, or being able to run faster for longer. My goals rarely have anything to do with my appearance, but when they do, I simply make small adjustments to my workout routines that will lead to results weeks or months down the road. I am delighted by maintaining a proportional body, not by having enormous arms or a jutting chest.

Don’t let other people’s size and strength change how you feel about yourself. Remember that the bodies we see in the gym are sometimes too good to be true. The changes you make to your diet and physical activity should only be done to better your emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Once again, I encourage you to find people you can share your experiences with as you work towards your goals. Working out with my friends always motivated me to do better.

Until next time,

Justin Dickins

Owner and Lead Trainer