I recently got a Peloton bike. I have a lot of feelings about that, and I’ll likely share a few more thoughts and stories in the next few weeks, but suffice it to say it’s as awesome as advertised and I love it.
Every bit of the Peloton world is incredibly well thought out. The bike is super high-end, well built, perfectly balanced, smooth, and quiet. The interface is easy to use. The amount and variety of live classes is phenomenal. And the sheer volume and diversity of the on-demand collection is mind-boggling.
But what I like best about all things Peloton is how carefully crafted the whole experience really is. The instructors are the best of the best – good enough even to meet my high standards for spinning instructors. The community is actually fairly inclusive. Yes, nearly every instructor is ripped and jacked and hot and whatever, and yes, that’s somewhat problematic. But there are a few instructors with bodies that look like mere mortal human bodies. And there are a plethora of instructors of color, and a really good representation of the LGBTQ+ community as well. All of that stuff combines for a community that instantly makes you feel like you’re welcome here – which is apparent by the range of people I see in the studio itself. It gets you excited, no matter who you are or where you are or what you’re doing.
In four weeks, I’ve taken roughly a dozen classes. In nearly every one of them, I’ve been singing and cheering and dancing and “FUCK YEAH!”-ing on the bike. Peloton is clearly about having fun. Instructors make sure of it. Fitness doesn’t have to be awful, and it also doesn’t have to prey on all your insecurities.
But most people these days can’t seem to fathom hanging their hat solely on fun. They need something else, some outcome to reach for, some metric to chase, some performance element to improve. That’s where the metrics and the leaderboard come in in the Peloton community, and also, the monthly challenges, and the focused programs. Always something or someone to chase after, even if it’s yourself.
And that’s got me thinking a lot lately (in true Carrie Bradshaw style): is life really always about competing against something?
I’ve already taken a couple of classes where instructors have said something along the lines of, “It’s not about competing with the person next to you – it’s about being better than you were yesterday!” Which is a super common and perhaps well-intentioned inspirational/motivational catch phrase all over. From Instagram memes to Garmin’s “Beat Yesterday” campaign, it’s a persistent message.
I get it. I’ve operated from this standpoint before. It’s tantalizing. We like data, and when we can collect it and compare it and judge it, we automatically know how to feel. Good if it’s moving in the “right” direction, bad if it’s not. Easy to know where you are on the valuable human scale.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s time to do a little questioning of this approach.
Sure, there are times when it’s important to improve. There are situations and goals that require certain, specific progress, maybe on a specific timetable. But I’m no longer convinced that every single day, we’ve got to be “better” than before.
If that’s all there is, who were we before? And who are we in this moment?
This used to make me wild when I was running a lot and doing a lot of endurance coaching. I ran a weekly running group where everyone was constantly competing – on a casual, three-mile junk mileage run. A run that was meant to be easy. And yet, every week, more than half the crowd showed up trying to best their time and pace. That’s not what long, slow, distance is about. It’s not what easy is about. And if you want data and science – even if you’re following a training program and aiming for a personal best, it’s actually to your training and performance detriment to be better than yesterday in this instance.
Luckily, I was able to detach from that mindset a bit myself and never really got caught up in every run being faster. Ultimately, that made my training and accomplishments a lot more enjoyable, and life a whole lot better by my definition.
And the same has applied to strength training, for me and for some clients too. I’ve chased strength goals. Numbers goals. Size goals. And guess what? Better than myself yesterday led to a few injuries that were 100% not worth that “progress.” I’ve been able to protect my clients from that happening, but I have had to challenge them quite firmly on their mindset and approach many a time. Better can look like literally anything you need and want it to look like – including showing up and failing miserably.
No different in the professional world, either. It’s really easy to measure anything and everything you do in year-over-year numbers – and then find your confidence or devalue your worth accordingly. Unchecked growth seems to always be what we’re after, no matter the cost, no matter what the rest of your life might look like.
If you think about it, a lot of the ways our struggles with confidence and self-worth in our personal and professional lives stem from some version of this belief in “better than you were yesterday”.
We’re not good enough because:
We didn’t beat last week’s sales numbers.
We made less money or had fewer clients than last year at this time.
We’re not exercising as much as we used to.
We weigh ten pounds more than a few years ago.
We can’t fit into the pants we used to fit into.
We can’t keep up with our kids like we used to.
We haven’t read as many books as we read last year.
We can’t run as fast as when we were running half-marathons.
We didn’t put as much money into savings as we did last month.
We can’t squat as much weight anymore.
Our performance review wasn’t as stellar as last year’s.
Our friends don’t call us as much they did a few years ago.
Honestly, every single one of those things is a commentary on “it’s about being better than you yesterday!” But seriously, is it?
In a few of these instances, of course, it might impact your life in real and meaningful ways. But even so, it’s likely that it’s not something you can’t live with, or you wouldn’t be making your way through at this point just fine. In most of these instances, however, it’s entirely possible that you’re in a far better place in many ways of your choosing, even if it doesn’t necessarily look or feel objectively better. The “of your choosing” part is the key point though.
Better can be less. It can be more. It can be neutral, or nothing at all. It can just be different.
Every single day of your life is not about being better. It’s about what’s right, what’s best, for you. But it’s absolutely not always a battle, a competition, against yourself or anyone else.
I hid my leaderboard for the first time on my Peloton ride this last Sunday. I rode from the heart, I got deeply in tune with my body, I sang, I had fun, I whooped, I felt sweaty and awesome and motivated. Equally as sweaty, awesome, and motivated as all the times when I was chasing those rabbits on the leaderboard. When the ride was over, my output was 29 points lower than my previous best. Not even close. Hell, I looked back, and not even close to my next lowest output.
Does that make me worse? Does that make me a failure? Should I just give up on ever being fitter, or even as fit as I once was? I’m sure you’d tell me emphatically, no, to all of those things. Maybe that it doesn’t even matter. In that, I think we can all agree that we can find peace, and enjoyment, and motivation, and progress, and definitely meaning and worth and happiness, in exactly where we are today, regardless or wherever we may have been before or might be in the future.
So, to answer that Carrie Bradshaw question: No, life is not always about competing against something. It is always about meaning, and we won’t find that in constantly chasing higher output.
If you feel yourself struggling with this, I’m happy to talk through it. Schedule a call below when it works for you, or email me anytime.