Just after I moved to England, I ran in a semi-competitive road race. At the finish line, a new friend bounded up to me. 

“I hit my PB!” he said jubilantly. 

Hesitating, I replied, “Okay…do you want me to find a First Aid kit?” I had no idea what the term “PB” meant. Laughing, he explained that in England the term “PB” meant “personal best,” meaning he had ran that distance at his fastest rate yet. High-fiving me, he asked, “What was your time?” When I told him my time, which was faster than his, I watched his elation stagnate. 

“Wow,” he said, looking downward. “You’re better than me.” Why does that matter? I thought. 

As a society we’ve been trained to judge ourselves based on external standards. As we become more scientifically attuned to what it takes to achieve amazing athletic feats, even fun-run athletes are shattering records. On the flip side, there’s a marked social fear of being “fat;” in diagnosing obesity, we’ve also developed ideas around what a socially-acceptable looking body ought to be shaped like. We’re told that if we eat like this and exercise like that we will look/ feel/ perform best (which really means better than the rest of the observation field). This creates an environment whereby we ignore what feels right, looks right, and functions right in our lives. We base our self-evaluations on the decisions of others. We hurt ourselves as we work toward the ideals of others. We never feel successful, because the success is not our own. We don’t even know what our personal best is.

Why can’t we rejoice in our own PB, regardless of what another’s PB looks like? Let’s eat and exercise intuitively, doing what feels best for our own body, and find ways to challenge ourselves within that healthy sphere. Yes, it’s important that we keep a pulse on scientific investigation and the wisdom of professionals (binge-drinking every night will hurt our liver and running multiple marathons in a month is a feat for well-trained athletes on a mission). Still, the majority of us are simply waking up, eating meals, working out, and cleaning our house. Can we do so without believing those magazine-cover judgements about what is “fat” or “fast?” Can we be our own genuine “fit?”

Yes: our personal best is only a brainwave away. It begins by evaluating our physical and emotional responses to diet and exercise. It’s simple: when operating at our personal best, we feel most fit. Our psychoanalytical self cues us as to what makes it happiest. Our duty is to experiment and listen. Here are seven signals that you’re fitness is at its personal best.

1) You’re manageably hungry.

I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t get “hangry”- so hungry they’ve become angry (or just irritable). But I’ve found that when I’m in a state of overexercise, my hunger becomes unbearable. I constantly seem to “bottom out” and constantly stress about food. On the other hand, a lack of appetite sometimes suggests a slowed metabolism, a possible result of inadequate movement. When you’re operating at your best, you’ll happily fuel and re-fuel at natural times, places, and means.

2) When you’re sore, you recover quickly.

Consistently sore muscles are a big sign that the exercise you’re doing isn’t appropriate for your body or needs to become more well-rounded. It’s natural to feel stiff, sensitive, or tight after taxing workouts. But if your stiffness doesn’t dissipate after stretching or a lighter-intensity workout, then it’s a sign. Listen to your body, rather than whatever trainer or workout plan you’re following. If you’re using sore muscles as an excuse not to exercise, then it’s a sign that you’re not finding fulfillment in your current workout regime.

3) You feel creative, physically and emotionally.

Being fit at your personal best level is awesome. It makes you confident in the activities you pursue, even when they’re challenging or new. Your brain and your body are humming, feeling adventurous. You’ll feel naturally inspired to try new sports and or hobbies. Being fit is having the stability, mentally and physically, to find creative, personally stimulating ways of living.

4) Your energy levels are relatively horizontal.

Imagine your energy along a scale. Neutral is the base horizontal line. When we’re unfit, our energy levels probably peak and spike. We may go weeks below the line. Or we might feel short adrenaline rushes above the line before falling back onto boring neutral. However, a fit person’s body naturally ebbs and flows throughout the day, resultant of factors ranging from blood sugar levels to time of day. When we’re fit, all of this occurs organically. It’s a gently oscillating line that’s neither on, nor far from, neutral. When he live healthfully, we become better at seeing and feeling the positive in emotional situations.

5) You feel sexy.

Just as we all have different personal best racing times, we also have different versions of “sexy.” Some of us prefer the color pink, others black. Some of us like a lady who can climb rocks; others like a boy who can bake a cake. When you’re fit, your mind and body are your own. You’ll look in their mirror and see the health radiating from you before you see the label a magazine dictates for you. That vitality, creativity, and high-functioning are what make you sexy. 

6) Your PB is your own.

Don’t be that guy from my race in England. Don’t let someone else’s time dictate your own. His personal best was perfect because it was based on the reality of his own psychophysical situation. Each of us must live our own reality. We cannot control the actions or situations of others, so why would we let them control us (even if it is just our thoughts)? It’s helpful to find heroes for advice and inspiration. Remember, though, that our unique life experiences and genetic code will tell us just how far we can go. Find that realistic place, and work toward it. When you get there, rejoice!

7) Eating and exercise bring you joy.

I admit it: some workouts will be a struggle and some meals will be lacklustre. Fit people find a relationship to food and exercise that provides them regular joy. Beware of things in our society that dictate what a good workout or meal “should” feel like. I, for instance, don’t enjoy cooking. My favorite thing to do is grab a local sandwich in a cheap harbour café and eat it on the bus while people-watching. When I told this to one trainer, she balked. “It’s healthier to cook your own food!” Maybe she feels better when she cooks dinner every day. I’m happy for her. The way I eat makes me feel strong, positive, and curious. If both of our doctors are happy, then I’ll stick to my personal best.

Here’s the point: There’s lots of people telling us what makes us “healthy.” We are the only ones who experience our own mind-body day in and day out. Find what brings you joy on a sustainable, consistent basis, and keep doing it. Find what keeps your belly full, your joints juicy, and your muscles strong. When you live in your personal best, terms like “fat” and “fast” simply don’t matter.

 

Hear the author, Emily Stewart, talk about this concept in her recent TedX talk:

 

To learn more about the author of this post, Emily Stewart, please visit her website: www.ahumandoing.org