It’s very easy to get down on yourself these days.

Years ago, people talked about the influence of television and movie celebrities on body image and societal expectations. The professional lighting, makeup and other media tricks made it even worse.

Today, this is even more pervasive with social media firmly entrenched in our lives. All day long, we are bombarded with images of ridiculously attractive people with amazing-looking bodies on our phones and computer screens. What used to be contained to the realm of movies, TV and music stars now includes so many more people who seem so much better than us!

Add to that the physical fitness culture, where we are supposed to be taking care of ourselves and improving our health and vitality, but we also are bombarded with examples of beautiful bodies every time we look up a workout article. It can be very difficult to maintain a positive body image.

I’m not saying it’s a totally bad thing to see gorgeous people, especially if it’s motivating and comes along with useful and applicable information for us to improve ourselves. But more often than not, it can be discouraging rather than motivating. It’s important to acknowledge this so that we can understand our own anxieties and feelings better so as not to get dragged down in comparisons and unrealistic demands of ourselves.

What does being your “best self” mean?

“Average” is the kiss of death in the fitness world.

There are lots of admonitions and platitudes about “daring not to be average” and “reaching your highest potential.” And how can I argue with that? Of course, everyone wants to improve and be better. We all should! Personally, I want to be as strong and able as possible for the rest of my life. Who doesn’t want to be better than average?

Yet this kind of thinking, even when well-intentioned, can push us the other way and de-motivate rather than uplift.

Taken to an extreme, it can be an all-or-nothing game, in which you may feel that if you can’t devote the time and energy to be the best, then you shouldn’t bother at all.

But you see, there are a lot of levels between a couch potato and a world-champion athlete. You don’t have to be one or the other. Somewhere in between, there’s a sweet spot with your name on it.

Admitting that you’ll likely never be a world champion or a fitness model means being real and honest about what fitness means to you and how you are managing to make it a part of your life in a way that is sustainable and worthwhile.

There are too many tactics used to make you feel bad about not doing more, including other people telling you that you need to be better. Well, better than what? That’s your decision to make, not someone else’s. When you are motivated and driven by what’s important to you rather than by external judgments, you are going to be more consistent and happier with your fitness routine and with yourself.

My business partner Andy said something that I thought was great: “What average really means is that you are not too bad at a lot of things, pretty damn good at some stuff and pretty crappy at a few.”

Isn’t that liberating? It means we have choices! Maybe you want to emphasize what you’re great at, or maybe you want to spend some time on the things you’re crappy at. That’s how you raise your personal average. You probably won’t turn into a social media celebrity, but you’ll be better—and better in a way that’s real and important to you.

We only have so much time

Now let’s talk about some other practicalities. One is that the vast majority of us simply don’t have hours a day to devote to a physical regimen. One thing that we all have to realize is that the spectacular bodies we see in the movies and even on Instagram are the result of hours upon hours of training and dieting, not to mention tricks such as diuretic pills and other methods that are definitely not reasonable and healthy for us regular folk.

Also, even if we were able to carve out three to four hours a day to work out, would it be worth it?

The concept of “diminishing returns” applies here. An hour a day gets you a certain result, and two hours a day can certainly improve on that. But what do those extra results mean to you? Are they that much better than the benefits of an hour of focused movement?

The increased effort and time of those extra hours brings less return of your energy and investment than that first hour.

Yes, for elite-level athletes, these small changes in percentage can mean the difference between placing and being off the medal stand. But frankly, and without judgment, most of us aren’t and will never be Olympic-level athletes.

Your health, fitness and life will not be worse off if it takes you six months to lose fat and gain muscle versus sacrificing a lot more in your time and life to make that happen in two to three months.

There is a “sweet spot” of training time and energy that will give you fantastic results that doing less won’t give and doing more won’t radically improve.

Be honest with yourself and ask, “How much time can I really devote?” Not just today or for a few weeks but over the months and years. It’s actually pretty easy to be gung-ho for a few weeks. We all see how full the gym is after New Year’s. But then, how much more space is there in workout classes come March?

Having realistic expectations doesn’t mean you are settling for less. It’s about doing the best you can with what you’ve got.

Practical tips to be your best

So what can you do to be the best you can be along with the realities of living? There is actually quite a bit! And like with everything, it’s all about being smart with your choices and having a little introspection about your own individual responses to training.

Cycle your efforts and focus: The technical term for this concept is “periodization.” Originally developed for high-level athletes to peak for important competitions, it can get very complicated in its application, but for you, the simplest and best way to think about it is changing your training to have a different focus over a period of time. And do it in a way that your efforts build on top of each other. So it’s not randomly changing your workouts on a whim but a well-thought-out plan to improve.

So, say for the next month, you focus on resistance training designed to build your maximum strength, then after that, you use that newly developed strength to do a faster-paced circuit-style training that stimulates muscle growth. Then, for the month after, you decide to do bodyweight-style endurance training to get ready for summer activities. You’ve just done a nice periodized plan!

Periodizing takes advantage of focused efforts and also lessens the chance of burnout and injury from too much of the same thing over and over again. Also, it can be psychologically helpful to know there is an “end” to your current training, and in a few weeks, you’ll try something else. The variety and progress is very motivating.

Understand how your body ebbs and flows: Another helpful tip is to realize that there are natural ups and downs in your body’s performance while training, and really in everything else that you do. Knowing this helps you to continue training safely and productively. Some days are better than others, and on those days, you should charge hard and enjoy the feeling. And on the days when you feel off and aren’t performing well, take it easier, do the minimum and don’t worry about it.

If you push through when you shouldn’t, you’ll wear yourself down and end up worse, not better.

Know when good enough is good enough: Please know that “physical development” is not the same as “health.” Great health and fitness does not require several hours a day of training and an extremely rigid adherence to diet.

In terms of straight longevity and decreasing our chance of dying, this study shows that there is a 34 percent decreased risk of dying with 10 to 149 minutes of movement per week. For those who worked out 150 to 299 minutes a week, it went up to 47 percent, and 300 minutes or more was 54 percent.

Frankly, that’s amazing. Ten minutes per week seems ridiculous to most of us because that’s usually how long we like to warm up for one session! And five hours a week is less than 45 minutes a day. That’s a great and reasonable investment of our time to improve our health and well-being.

So don’t feel guilty if an hour of training is all you can spare a few days a week. The “sweet spot” of time allotted for your fitness regimen is a lot closer to that than it is to several hours a day.

Get rid of feeling bad if your priorities are different from someone who posts about their four-hour daily workouts and food-weighing regimen. It’s a personal choice, and the decision is yours.

This doesn’t mean lowering your goals but an honest look at what it will take to reach those goals. Ultimately, it’s not about restricting your potential, but it’s a better realization of what can be achieved with the amount of time and resources you have.

Choose what’s best for you: We all come from different backgrounds, genetics, priorities and expectations. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to others or basing your self-worth on being able to do one thing or another.

  • Do you feel that you aren’t doing enough? Why?
  • Is it really that you aren’t doing enough, or is it that you are trying to live up to someone else’s expectations?
  • Do you feel that you don’t look “good enough”? Why? Because you see a parade of bodies on your social feed and compare yours to theirs?

It’s very natural to compare yourself to others; it’s called being human. But you can recognize this and move on. Dwelling on it is a path to unhappiness.

You can do a lot for yourself, and you can keep improving by doing what you can when you can. That’s where you’ll find your happiness.

Photo credit: Jacob Ammentorp Lund, Thinkstock