You’ve heard it once. You’ve heard it a thousand times.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Comparison is a fickle thing.
Sometimes it can be used to inspire you and help you push yourself to perform at a higher level.
I always push myself harder when I’m in a race as opposed to when I’m training solo.
And I certainly wouldn’t push myself as hard as I do during my Wednesday morning stair repeat sessions if it wasn’t for the company of the strong women I train with (#girlsquad).
Whether it’s the person in front of me in a race or my Wednesday stair repeat crew, drawing from their strength and trying to keep up with them helps me bring out the best in myself.
But other times, it’s not nearly as helpful or constructive.
Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote about comparison is often used in articles, memes or posts on Facebook about comparing yourself to others.
And we all know the dangers - the self-sabotage, shame and embarrassment - that can follow.
But don’t overlook the (potentially) destructive ways you compare yourself - to yourself.
I’ve seen it in myself and in many of the women I’ve spoken with recently; unrealistically high standards and expectations (that we’d never set for someone we love) and then disappointment and shame when we don’t meet them.
Here are a few ways I’ve seen this recently:
Looking back (aka “I used to be so fit”)
Anyone who has lost fitness and is struggling to get it back will relate to this (and it’s certainly where I’m at right now).
It’s easy to fall into the trap of beating yourself up when you’ve lost fitness and/or gained some weight - especially when your lungs are ready to explode out of your chest during a training session you used to do with ease.
But until you or I invent the time machine and go back in time, beating ourselves up or feeling like shit isn't going to change the situation.
One thing Olympic Gold Medalist Lydia Lassila said on Sparta Chicks Radio has stayed me when I feel myself slipping into this mindset. It was words to the effect of - stay in the moment or look forward; never look back.
It’s great advice because so much of our mental suffering is caused by looking back at what was or we project into the future about what might happen.
If you’re struggling with this, how will you bring yourself back to the moment and appreciate what you can do, right here and now? For me, it’s remembering that I get fitter and stronger every single time I train.
Do you compare apples to oranges?
Do you set realistic expectations for yourself?
Or are you comparing apples to oranges and then being disappointed when your apples don’t measure up (so to speak!)?
I’ve heard many women this year express disappointment and even embarrassment or shame when they’ve compared results between different races.
But is the comparison you’re making, or the expectations you’re creating, realistic and objective?
If you’re comparing your 5km PB from parkrun or another fun run to your 5km run split off-the-bike in your first Sprint triathlon, two things are happening. Firstly, you’re setting unrealistic expectations for yourself; one you’re unlikely to ever achieve (no-one ever runs the same pace for a fresh 5km as they do when they are running off the bike - and if they are, their 5km PB is soft!). And secondly, you’re destined to be disappointed with the outcome - despite the fact finishing your 1st Sprint triathlon is a huge achievement in its own right.
This can be a big issue in triathlon where courses are renowned for being inaccurate and in trail running where the terrain, elevation and even the surface can have a massive impact on the speed you’re able to travel and the time you finish with.
Comparing a race on a flat fire trail to a flat yet gnarly and predominately single track race is like comparing apples to oranges - or red wine to white 😉
What comparisons are you making?
Old, and outdated, stories
We all carry “stories” - our perceptions and beliefs about who we are and what we can (or can’t) do.
But is it time you updated your stories?
Two women in the last week have told me they aren’t very good at sports.
When I dug deeper, I discovered it was because they weren’t very good at sports as a kid and they’ve carried that perception of themselves - of who and what they are or aren’t - into adulthood.
Yet both women have finished multiple triathlons and one of them has finished multiple ultra trail running events.
We all have our own “stories”.
These stories shape our lives because they effect and influence the decisions you make, the actions you take, what you give yourself permission to try and whether you listen to your curiosity (the part of you that whispers “I wonder if I could…” or “I’d love to try that”).
It’s hard to recognise these beliefs - the version of our history we believe to be true - as a “story” we tell ourselves. And it’s even harder to explore them, to understand where they originate from, to see them in a new light or to update them to reflect who you are now.
What outdated stories do you still carry?
If you don’t think of yourself as sporty, reflect on what you’ve achieved and how far you’ve come since you started. Sure, you’ve still got a long way to go (don’t we all?) but is it still accurate to describe yourself as “not very sporty”? I doubt it.
If you don’t think you’re a good runner or perhaps you have a goal you aren’t sure you can accomplish, what past achievements (and even life experiences) can you use to change the story you’re telling yourself about what pressure you can handle or what you can achieve?
If you told your BFF your story, what would she say? Trust that and use that.
Our friends see us, our achievements and our strength, more than we can ever see it in ourselves.
I’d love to know: how have you held yourself back, or beaten yourself up, by comparing yourself to an old, out-dated version of you?