Every fitness post I've written on this blog, I've written to a target audience of people for whom exercise and weightlifting specifically are sporadic parts of their lives. In general, my basic thesis is that lack of know-how and motivation are the two predominant reasons why so many people in America can't work their way into a regular fitness routine. And everything I write about fitness on this blog I write in hopes that it will be helpful in combatting those two enemies, lack of know-how and lack of motivation. But lately I've been thinking about a third reason that people do not work out, a reason that so far I have done nothing to combat, a reason for not exercising that I've most likely made worse, not better. And that reason is the attitudes of fitness-oriented people across the country (and let's face it, the world). That reason is the abundant amount of self-righteousness that any person will encounter as soon as they enter any gym, yoga studio, running club, sports league, CrossFit box, swimming class, or any other fitness activity or center you can think of. Fellow fitness devotees, ask yourselves this: are we the problem?
This issue of self-righteousness has weighed heavily on my brain lately. I used to be a very self-righteous person. I thought that everything I did, I did the best way. For me, life was a competition, and I was winning. That two equally-valuable strategies for doing anything could exist was beyond my powers of comprehension. Luckily for me, I met my husband before my obnoxiousness had solidified completely, and he slowly opened my eyes to the fact that different people could do things in a variety of different ways that were (at least!) equally as valuable - different strokes for different folks. When I realized that someone didn't have to be a good-grade getting, Office-watching, joke-telling, exercise-enjoying Republican to be a good and worthy person, I had taken a huge step forward.
All of this is not to say that I am no longer self-righteous. I am. I'm working on it, but I am. While I don't think this attitude shines through too much in my day-to-day life, I think it probably bursts through whenever I get to talking about fitness. Because while we fitness-lovers love to talk about how humbling a workout can be, we still pretty much always consider ourselves superior to those who don't work out at all (or don't work out regularly). It never seems to occur to us that maybe, just maybe, people aren't coming to the gym NOT because they don't have the self-discipline to come to work out every morning, but because they don't want to be around us. Think about that for a second.
The thing about self-righteousness is that it just isn't all that easy to hide. I've found that the easiest time to spot (and be turned off by) self-righteousness is the first time you try something new, particularly in fitness. For example, I can look back on the first time that I tried any kind of exercise class and tell you almost word-for-word the self-righteous material spouted by the teacher that made me want to turn around and walk back out the door. In my first cycling class, I remember the teacher going on and on about how cycling was superior to every other form of exercise, how we were special because we were burning so many more calories than everyone else, and feeling really self-conscious that I hadn't clued into the magic of cycling before that day. I remember how during my very first yoga class the teacher said something about how people are unable to truly be connected to their bodies and their souls without practicing yoga, and I wondered how I could have possibly functioned in this world up to that point considering I was clearly out of touch with my soul. I remember my first day of Pure Barre, when the teacher kept talking about how the workout was going to be so hard and so challenging and how there was no way that most of us would be able to do it right for awhile...but how we might get it someday. Ugh. And I rolled my eyes so hard on Monday morning when the coach in my introductory CrossFit class spent ten minutes lecturing us on how wearing our standard tennis shoes is akin to attempting to work out while standing on a mattress, but don't worry, she's not judging us for our shoe choices. Yeah, right.
Each of these experiences made me feel alienated and like an outsider and, honestly, none of them made me raring to go work out with those people again. In all of this, I think there are two primary lessons to be learned. One: if you do not feel comfortable about fitness and are turned off by the self-righteousness you encounter in an exercise situation, I urge you to power through those negative feelings and give it a second chance. Do it for your body, not for the holier-than-thous. Secondly (and more importantly): we gym-goers, we proselytizers of the exercising word need to be far more careful in how we spread our message. We need to take a closer look to make sure that "because I do it this way" isn't forming the base of why we believe that working out a certain way is better. We need to find a way to be encouraging, without being simultaneously judgmental. And we need to stop thinking that we're better than everyone else. Lastly, we need to stop being so determinedly blind to our own self-righteousness. If you are reading this right now and thinking that you aren't self-righteous, you're being self-righteous. It's a trap, and so many of us are in it. Let's find a way to climb out, shall we?
Okay, preaching over! Time to look forward to a fun and exciting day. My going-away happy hour is tonight, and I'm really excited about having an evening to reflect on why I love my coworkers so much. Have a great day!