Getting Out Of The Comparison Trap

Don't let comparing yourself to others hinder your fitness progress.

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Photo: Danny Chan
Photo: Danny Chan

*Courtesy of The Fitnessista

So this post is a little bit all over the place, but I’m just going to roll with it. It started yesterday when I was thinking about changing and modifying workouts, and how I’m scaling back a bit after working hard to lift heavier weights, sprint faster, etc. It would be easy for me to compare myself to how things were before, or even to my last pregnancy (which felt entirely different and my workouts have changed a bit since then). Instead, I’m too focused on right now and how my body feels, and enjoying taking it day by day. It took me a long time to get to a place where I was cool with that. Back in the early early days, I pushed myself hard and didn’t have a great sense of intuition. Now that I’m here (and don’t get me wrong, I still have off/blah days), it feels good. I was thinking about comparison and how it has the ability to help or hinder us along the way to our goals.

On one hand, comparison can be a good thing. You can look back and compare your present situation to quickly assess how far you’ve come, or determine tweaks you can make to accomplish more. You can use comparison as friendly competition, which is a tactic many people find motivating. Or you can use it to change actions along your course when you realize something isn’t working particularly well. I think many of us have experienced comparison in some form or another, and how it can assist us or be a negative presence in our lives. This could be in your family, at work, on social media, but it is especially prevalent in fitness/healthy living.

When I was first getting started with fitness and healthy living, I hit some bumps and obstacles along the way. I had the problem of being flooded with too much information—and too little experience/education to separate the good from the trash. I quickly found myself stuck in a comparison game between myself and other people. Equal work does not equate equal results, which can be a frustrating and a hard-to-grasp concept in the fitness world. Genetics and physiological components can greatly affect how or why our bodies react a certain way. For example, two people could follow the exact same eating plan and training program and have very different results. This is why it was frustrating for me when I saw friends accomplishing their fitness goals at a more rapid pace. (Little did I know at the time, many of them would quickly gain the weight back or lose muscle because they weren’t creating an attainable lifestyle for the long term.)

Related: 4 Easy Ways I Ramped Up My Running

I think it comes with age—so many good things that come with growing older. After a while, you stop caring about how green someone else’s grass is, because you’re too busy watering your own. When I finally jumped out of the comparison game, I was able to accomplish some of the fitness and health goals I’d set out to do, without the negative voices in my head.

Here are some of the things I learned about comparison:

  • It can negatively affect your results. Are you going to do your best work when a nagging voice is in your head, telling you how someone else did it and why you suck? NO. When you can allow yourself to think positively without the comparison culprit, you can see the whole objective picture and do what you need to do.
  • Know that every body is different. It took me a long time to learn this, but my body doesn’t do well on a high fat or high sugar diet. I can do moderate levels of both, while some people I know can eat handfuls of candy and still crush their fitness goals, which I’m crashing from a sugar coma. This is why it’s so important to do YOU. Listen to what your body is telling you and adjust from there. In yoga teacher training, we learned that an asana is not simply one pose: it’s the act of posing and then re-posing. You settle into the pose, you breathe and adjust. It’s not total stillness. This is the same idea. You are moving along, listening to your body, and making small changes as necessary along the way.
  • Know when to compare. Maintain awareness of when comparison is going to help you, and use it in a manner that positively benefits you. For example, if I know I’m working on achieving something at the same time as someone else, I can talk with them and we can motivate each other along the way. We can also collaborate and assess what’s working and what isn’t.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. Do you ever find yourself in a comparison trap? What was a turning point for you?