“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Teddy Roosevelt
The first time I remember comparing myself to my peers was during my first gymnastics competition at age 7. Before being on the competition team, gymnastics was only about fun and learning. Accomplishing new skills was so exciting, and that alone pushed me to want to learn more, train harder, and get better!
Then I went to my first competition, and everything changed. I watched my teammates – who I had always considered my equals – get called up to receive their trophies and medals for their accomplishments, while I sat on the floor wondering what they had that I didn’t.
Wondering what they had that I didn’t.
Let that sink in for a second. I wasn’t wondering how I could work harder, or what actions I could take to improve. I allowed that one moment to define me. I concluded that I was no longer a good gymnast and my teammates were always going to be better than me. Gymnastics was no longer just about fun and learning; it was now also about comparing myself to everyone else.
(I would eventually have my own moments of glory on the podium, but that didn't erase the memories of sitting on the floor watching my teammates be rewarded for outperforming me.)
This comparison trap followed me into adulthood. When I no longer had judges’ scores or teachers’ grades as measures to compare myself to my peers, I started using image as my means for comparison. I looked at other women and thought things like, “I’ll never look like her” or “I wish I had her [arms, legs, abs, etc.]”
We’ve all used comparison to define our self-worth in one way or another throughout our lives. And if you think back to a time where you’ve done that, it most likely doesn’t bring back warm and fuzzy feelings. That’s because, as Teddy Roosevelt said, “comparison is the thief of joy.” As soon as you allow someone else’s accomplishments to define you, you lose the ability to simply enjoy the process and the journey that you’re on.
When it comes to our health, we are all going to have different struggles and setbacks along the way. This is to be expected, as we know that improvement and growth is never linear. However people tend to keep their struggles and setbacks to themselves, while only sharing their successes with the world. This gives the unrealistic impression that what they accomplished came very easily. When we start to compare our journey to theirs, we feel like failures for not being able to do it with the ease that they did.
We need to get ourselves out of the comparison trap, and below I have laid out three ways we can start to do that:
1. Focus on what you’ve gained rather than what you lack.
If you’ve actively put yourself on a journey toward better health, you’ve most likely gained a LOT, but sometimes we forget to look back and see how far we’ve come! You’ve probably gained strength, gained confidence, gained a better understanding of nutrition. Keep focusing on how far you’ve come, rather than how far you feel like you still have to go.
2. Compliment your peers rather than silently envying them.
If your first reaction when seeing someone is jealousy or envy, ask yourself where that feeling is coming from? Are you envious of someone’s ability to go to the gym 4 times a week when you can hardly drag yourself there once a week? Instead of silently envying them, go up to them and let them know that you’re really impressed with their ability to stay so consistent with their fitness routine. This will accomplish a few different things:
First, they will feel great and will be so flattered that you noticed their hard work!
Second, they will be more likely to tell you the full story. Perhaps they have a strategy they use to keep them consistent that could help you in the future. You would have never learned that crucial piece of information about their success, and would have gone on thinking that it’s just “easy” or “natural” for them.
And finally, you will feel great that you made someone’s day! You know how sometimes it feels even better to give a gift than to receive one? Well the same thing can go for genuine compliments. When you put a smile on someone’s face, you can’t help but feel good yourself!
3. Let your peer's accomplishments inspire you rather than define you.
It's okay to want what someone else has, but it's not okay to diminish your self worth because you don't have what they have. Instead of letting someone else's accomplishments define you, use them as inspiration to grow and learn. The more you can focus on the process they took to get there, the more inspired you will be to start on a similar process yourself! Eventually you might find that you're inspiring those around you as well!
Learn more about getting fit with the Unify Approach, a new, four-part fitness methodology.