So You Feel A Little Insecure?

Note: This post is 1800 words. That means it will take you about 6 minutes to read – longer than an average post.

It’s pretty good and discusses a subject that we all deal with everyday, whether consciously or not. If you don’t have time to read it right now, I’d encourage you to bookmark it for later.




My clock read 3:37am.

I stared in the direction of what I assume was the ceiling, but my windowless apartment denied me of that certainty.

Rather than toss and turn, I decided to start my day on two hours of sleep.

I’m not sure why, exactly.

Partly because carpe diem, and partly because my slightly intoxicated roommate just stumbled in the door and was loudly telling someone how marathon training hinders his sex life. I brewed a pot of coffee and fired up facebook.

The top of my feed grabbed me; a friend posed a question to any “brofessors”. I resonated with the title. Or maybe it resonated with me.



So, earlier today I was all stoked to deadlift, lately I’ve been pulling (approx…) *** for *** (decent) reps…a personal best for me!! when the gargantuan next to me was moving nearly half a ton…with seemingly zero effort!!!!

I know I should have been inspired, driven, motivated…but all I felt was that I was, pardon my french…weak shit…does anyone have a cure for this looming stormcloud of insecurity!?

I’ve been spending the last so many years convincing myself that the only man I have to beat is the one in the mirror…yet today I experienced a bout of self doubt I haven’t felt in nearly half a decade….any brofessors care to drop me an inspirational line???



But Mike, I don’t deadlift. Does this post apply to me?

Why yes, yes it does.  These situations pop up in the gym, at work, in social interactions – everywhere.


I replied to our friend:

Hey Man,

I wish the answer was as simple as: “Don’t compare yourself to others bro! Just try to beat your previous self!!”

Because I can say that. And you can nod in agreement. And we can share internet memes about it. But the truth is, we are both going to get into these situations.

Consider the following.

Scenario 1

You load up the bar with 3 plates. Six people turn and watch you; one of them yells “let’s go champ!” You take a deep breath and pull.

It goes up easy. Mental fist pump.

The cutie in the green sports bra holds eye contact and smiles, a reasonably jacked dude approaches and asks how you got so strong, and you hear the head personal trainer tell his client “that is perfect deadlift form!” – how do you feel?

Mother fucking invincible. I know.

Heck, if you receive even one of these compliments, it can change your day. You exit the gym, greet an elderly couple in the parking lot, save a toddler before he wanders into the street, get the barista’s phone number at the coffee shop, and let your mind spin as you plan exactly how you’ll conquer the world.

Scenario 2

You load up the bar with 3 plates. No one turns to watch you. You take a deep breath and pull.

It goes up easy.

This time the gargantuan (Mr. G) nearby is pulling 6 plates for 10 reps a pop. People watch in awe, and a few cheer him on. No one cares about your measly three plate PR. No one tells you you’re great or smiles at you. Standing next to Mr. G, you feel like a squeaky-voiced 12 year-old boy.

I.. I.. I feel weak

Insecurity, you said?

Bitterness and anger enter your mind as you hypothesize, no, convince yourself that Mr. G is shooting roids. Plus his form sucks. Heck, if you’d been training that long, you’d definitely be even stronger!

Anything to comfort your mind of the fictional defeat you allowed it to create.

You sulk and hang your head as you exit the gym. You conquer nothing – no eldery couple, no toddlers, no barista, no world.

What Causes Insecurity?

So, you pulled three plates for the first time, people reacted favorably and you basically morphed into a superhero.

But, you pulled three plates for the first time, people reacted negatively (actually, neutrally is more accurate) and you feel like a piece of shit?


It has to do with validation.

You see, as human beings, we are constantly seeking validation. Don’t worry, it’s normal.

Validation is the feedback we receive for our behavior.

There are two different types of validation:

  • Internal Validation
  • External Validation

Internal validation is the feedback we give ourselves. Someone with high internal validation is generally very motivated. They validate themselves by completing the actions that will allow them to achieve their goals, which presumably are aligned with their values.

Example: Pretend that deadlifting from a 3 inch deficit will drastically improve your overall deadlift. However, you must decrease the weight to do this. Someone with high internal validation will not have any ego attached to the weight. They won’t be embarrassed that they are only doing 225 when they could be doing 315.

If you have high internal validation, you can stand next to Mr. G, pull 225 and still get that superhero swag. You know that deadlifting a reduced weight from a deficit is a step toward increasing your total deadlift. You don’t care how this appears to other people because all that matters is that it fits your plan. Your vision.

External validation, on the other hand, is feedback we receive from others. Someone with high external validation will usually have a more erratic personality. Their mood, confidence and self-worth are tied to feedback from other people.

For example, someone who frequently posts photos on instagram then allows the number of likes and comments to dictate their mood and present level of happiness is externally validated.

Only 7 likes on my unremarkable lunch!? Well… it’s rush hour, so people are probably driving right now!

To stay with deadlifting for a moment, someone with high external validation might know that deficit deadlifting is a good way to progress. However, they are licking their chops for some chicky-babe eye contact and the approval of the head trainer.

So, rather than stick to the program, they add add weight to the bar.

And maybe he gets it. Maybe he pulls 325 and maybe she smiles at him and maybe the trainer says “keep making gains!” and maybe he saves the toddler and gets the barista’s digits.

But guess what. Three days later it is time to pull again. It’s time to earn that feedback. Program says low intensity today? Psssh. I’m making gains.

335 pounds of iron.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether he lifts the weight or not.

Chicky-babe walks by, but this time she doesn’t even glance up at him. Then the head trainer walks over and says, “Can you quick making such a Goddamn mess with that chalk? Seriously.” And he storms off.

You just pulled a 335 pound PR and you feel like shit. You sulk as you exit the gym. You are not a superhero for the day.

In reality, the trainer is stressed because he is having financial problems and chicky-babe just found out her grandmother is terminally ill. Their reactions had absolutely nothing to do with your performance. But you crave that external validation so badly that it doesn’t matter. You have tied their feedback directly to your self-worth.

You Don’t Deadlift? Okay, Fine.

(btw, what are you doing? start deadlifting)

Your family lives in a nice suburban neighborhood.

Would you rather…

  1. Earn a salary of $70k while every other person on your block earns $60k.
  2. Earn a salary of $80k while every other person on your block earns $90k.

Well, if you would rather make more money than your neighbors, even if that means making fewer total dollars, you are in the majority. A study performed by psychologist and noble prize winner Daniel Kahneman found that most people would choose option 1.

Obviously this isn’t rational.

An extra $10k per year means better food for your children, nicer family vacations and an improved standard of living for you and your loved ones. But apparently we really just want a cooler car or cuter wedges (wedges? that’s what they’re called, right?) than that family across the street who maintains a sub-parly groomed lawn.

I think we can agree that excessive external validation is detrimental to our lives.

How can I become more internally validated?

Really good question. It is very difficult to block out feedback from others and only listen to yourself.

You really just need to marry the process, rather than the outcome.

Have a clear vision of what you want. Design a detailed plan of how you’re going to achieve it. And rate your performance (and receive validation) based on how closely you can stick to the plan.

For example, say you hate your job and want to switch industries.

Yeeeeaaaaaahhhhhh, gonna need you to come in tomorrow, Peter.


Picture the exact type of job that you want. Then plan how you will get interviews:

  • send out 40 resumes in a week
  • contact 5 recruiters
  • ask for 10 friends/colleagues if they can make an introduction to someone in that industry

Make these steps specific and process-oriented.

Then follow through.

When you hit your targets, you will gain satisfaction, confidence and increased self-esteem regardless of external feedback.

This can be applied to job/career, fitness plan, personal relationships – any facet of life, really.

So I want to be more internally validated, is that right?

Well, yes.  Yes, you do.

Especially because the vast majority of people depend heavily on external validation. They have low self-esteem and look to peers, media, even complete strangers to tell them if their actions are good or bad, “normal” or “weird”.

However, while inordinate levels of internal validation can build champions, world-changing innovators and more fulfilled everyday folks like you and I, they can also develop negative, cultish personalities.

You see, if your values are really fucked up (ex: murder all jewish people), then any amount of honest effort toward your goals (ex: putting non-aryans in concentration camps) is going to be bad.  Accepting some external feedback to re-work your values would be a good thing.

So in the long-run, I will obviously concede that feedback from other people can be beneficial. The problem, as I mentioned, is that most people are currently way too externally validated.

Take a guy who lets his emotions rise and fall with each like or retweet, straighten him out so he can feel good independent of external validation, and he probably isn’t going to go all Hitler on us.

Maybe a taaaaad Justinbobby, for a period of time as he walks the line the between confident and narcissistic, but definitely not Hitler.

Kicked Out of The Nest

So how do I know when I’m internally validated?

When you can feel good about a negative outcome because you know that the action you took is part of your long run plan, I’d say your safely on the road to receiving validation internally.

I mean, you could always just forget this validation stuff, take a kettlebell to Mr. G’s knee (or face) and resume your position as gym hero — Loved by chicky-babe, idolized by bros, and exemplified by pt’s.  Its pretty much up to you.




Comments for This Entry

  • Ted

    Mike, Great post! I love the part about "process" vs. "outcome". MJ Demarco talks about this in his book "The Millionaire Fastlane". He uses the example of young entrepreneur millionaires or billionaires after a huge payout, and people sit there and say "overnight success" or he got lucky, had a wealthy family, etc. However, people saw the "outcome" not the "process". They didn't see (or feel) the pain of not knowing if/when that next paycheck was coming. The sacrificed sleep, missing out on fun things, strained relationships, that it takes to be dedicated to the business or goal at hand. In reality, it has everything to do with the process. Who cares what others think or what others are doing - find your process that will get you to your goal, and follow it. If it doesn't get you to your goal, it will certainly take you to some place better than you were when you started - and sometimes its a place you never would have thought of if you hadn't started and executed the process in the first place! Nice words and keep rockin', V! -Ted

    September 23, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Mike Author

      I think you hit the nail on the head; it's much easier to rationalize someone's success as "overnight" because it implies a large degree of luck -good genetics, right place/right time, etc. If it was hard work over many years, and attainable by anyone, people would feel pretty crumby about themselves. Thanks for the rec, I'll check out MJ Demarco. I like Robert Greene's "Mastery" which is based on a formula 1) intense focus & 2) a great mentor to reach the top of any particular field.

      September 23, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Paul Larson

    Don't know where you found a picture of me deadlifting but I'll ignore it because I love what you are doing and keep up the good work.

    September 23, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Thursday trivia #99 | Paul's Down-Home Page

    […] Vacanti is one of my coaches. This blog post on feeling insecure about your own fitness compared to others was very thought-provoking for me. It applies much more […]

    September 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Andi

    Great 7 minute read before I scoot on out of the office for the weekend. I hope tonight when I leave the gym I can save a toddler or high-five an elderly couple. Great article, I am going to have to link it in an email to some friends and co-workers. Thank you for writing these- I just found the site today.

    January 9, 2015 at 5:16 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Dylan

    Holy smokes just found you off of kinobody, this is such an amazing article. oh man so good

    May 20, 2015 at 7:17 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Lisa

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. Internal motivation! Thanks Mike, fantastic post!!!

    March 29, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Reply to this comment

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