Each of us has a self-manufactured self-image: the alpha male athlete, the smartest girl in the room, the taciturn and bookish mother, the intrepid adventurous father, the surfer girl, the skater boy, the fashionable foodie etc …but such personalised images are formed when we are young, and as such, are idealised. As we shed the skin of youth, these idealisations often haven’t changed to reflect our new reality. They are out-dated and ill-suited to our life trajectory, often leaving us with a sense of chronic dissatisfaction as impossible standards can no longer be met.
As an athlete in my early twenties, having a superior physique was standard, being selected for representative teams was expected, having that extra gear I could activate separating me from my competition whenever needed was my birthright (or so I arrogantly presumed). It was a comforting self-created and self-perpetuating image, handy for the heady world of competitive athletics, but was and could only ever be short-lived.
Now at fifty years old, the instinct to compete has waned, keeping ultra-lean is far harder, the‘extra gear’ has gone, no more break-away speed, and no more do I use the metaphorical greeting ‘what are ya benching?’. Nothing is what it used to be. But that’s okay.
To not only accept, but embrace change, adjust my self-image and with it my expectations about what constitutes progress and success has been a revelation. As the physical elevator goes down, the mental elevator goes up. The days of competing are gone, the boundaries of my athletic abilities have been traversed; I’m learning to let it go. Progress now is to be measured not via my 6RM on the squat rack but in less apparent but more subtle domains: applied creativity and intelligence, or the wisdom that comes with living a long life.
If you’re not careful, life can pass you by.
For those north of 35, it’s a worthwhile thought experiment to re-imagine your self-image. How do you see yourself in the ‘here and now’? From that image, tip out the criteria necessary for its actuation. Use these criteria as the motivating force behind your goals and the measure of your progress. One could argue, that not doing this, is to sleep-walk through life, merely existing, with neither a pathway forward nor an objective in mind. It’s an insidious form of laziness, of being content to luxuriate under the seemingly comforting blanket of mediocrity.
Opening your personal aperture to better view possible orbits your life might take is a rewarding endeavour. What are the criteria I need to fulfill in order to be the best version of myself?
Physically, set yourself a short period, say 4-6 weeks, then give your absolute best shot at getting into the shape of your life (with the guidance of a qualified health professional). No excuses, no shortcuts, just complete, dedicated and focused attention. At the completion of this period assess the results you have obtained then ask yourself “was the effort expended worth the results obtained?” The answer to this question will provide an excellent guide to what is sustainable moving forward. With these parameters reset, re-imagine your own self- image, and with an uncompromising determination, set about living up to your expectations.
The Carousel would like to thank J. A Gleeson for this article. He is a Personal Trainer at Tribe Social Fitness, Sutherland Shire, Sydney.