How often have you or someone you know been perfectly content with your race until you found out your friend did better? How many Crossfit Open participants give it their all… leave the gym feeling proud… only to be filled with disappointment after looking at the standings? How many times do people get discouraged DURING a race or workout simply because they are falling behind their friends, training partners or even someone they meet at the starting line? How often are people discouraged for no other reason than someone they know happens to be performing at a higher level?
This was almost titled “How to Instantly Wreck Your Training”…but I thought that was a bit too negative. Regardless…this is about the destructive effect of comparing yourself to others.
It Goes Way Back
We’ve been programmed to compare. We start at a young age. We’re graded… ranked… compared… repeatedly pitted against one another. It’s sad in a way. If we happen to be lucky enough to wake up…later in life we work to de-program the need to compare ourselves to others. It’s something we need to grow past. It doesn’t really work.
You see…in sports or activities that are essentially a personal test…such as running…there is virtually no interaction with the other participants. That is to say…what you do has no direct effect on anyone else. If you pick up your pace and work harder, no one feels it but you. Maybe you entice someone into running harder too…but that’s entirely up to them. It’s not like in boxing where your opponent feels the energy you put into your punches. With running and similar activities, it’s individual. You’re on your own. No one has any control over you…nor do you have control over anyone else.
When it comes to fitness…we are not created equal. None of us has been given the same tools. Consequently, comparing yourself to others is an apples and oranges sort of deal. Just because you may have started running at the same time as someone else, this in no way means you will perform the same… 3 weeks, 3months or 3 years later… even if you do the exact same training.
Back in the late 80’s I could run in the 33’s for 10K. In those days…this was nothing special. I was lucky to be in the top 10 in my running club. I worked diligently to get to that level. I had been running close to 10 years…and probably running 70-80 miles per week for a good 7 of those 10 years. A fellow…who later became a good friend…took up running and within 3 months he was very close to me in races. By six months he was ahead of me. Since then he’s almost always been ahead of me in races…unless his training is interrupted for some reason. The fact was he simply had a little more talent to work with…just as I had more talent than many others.
This inequity in talent frustrated me for a while…quite a while…but eventually I came to accept it. After all, what could I do? I ran as fast as I could. I trained as well as I could. My friend was just faster. How exactly would it help me to be disappointed with myself?
For the fun of it…let’s use the following key:
· YOU = What you are capable of now. Your current performance level.
· OYC = The current capability or fitness level of the Object of Your Comparison
· DIS = Level of dissatisfaction
· OVR = Overreaching
· INC – Inconsistent training
Using the above…comparing yourself to someone or something else can be expressed by the following equation:
OYC – YOU = DIS
Therefore, the greater the difference between the person…or ideal…you are comparing yourself too…and where you currently are…the greater the current dissatisfaction.
Once that dissatisfaction level reaches a “tipping point”… this equation can be expressed:
DIS = OVR
Dissatisfaction results in Overreaching. The greater the dissatisfaction, the greater the overreaching. Overreaching is trying to exceed your current capabilities on a daily basis. It breaks you down. It impairs your ability to train regularly and can be expressed like this:
OVR = INC
Overreaching results in inconsistent training. Since consistency is the number one characteristic of a successful training program…and inconsistency erodes fitness…YOU become less (capable).
· As INC increases, YOU decreases.
· As YOU decreases, DIS increases
· As DIS increased, OVR increases
· As OVR increases, INC increases
· As INC increases, YOU decreases
And on and on it goes…in a vicious cycle…a cycle that all begins with excessive comparison…and ends when you dump comparison. Hopefully you get the idea.
I know it’s hard…if not impossible…not to compare. There’s no way you are going to stop it completely. But you can discipline yourself to notice it and let it go… to refuse to let it affect your training… and to resist letting it affect how you feel about yourself. Focus on taking YOUR next step. How other people perform has nothing to do with you. You don’t always know how diligently they are training and you don’t always know how much ability they have. Think of it like you should think of other’s opinions of you…it’s none of your business.
And just to be clear… when I’m talking about comparisons, I’m talking about making judgements. Like this is good or bad. I’m not talking about being inspired by the performances of others. That’s something else entirely. It’s looking at things in a detached way… as opposed to taking it personally. You’ll know if you are making a destructive comparison if it causes you to feel bad about yourself…or in any way less than.
Sometimes unhealthy comparisons are made with a former, usually younger, fitter version of yourself. This can be just as damaging. Maybe last year you ran a 5K race in 24:00. But since then…you ran a marathon…lost 4 months due to an injury…gained a bit of weight…and had a few minor setbacks due to overreaching while coming back. When that 5K rolls around again…24:00 might not be a realistic target. If you compare yourself to that version of you, you are likely to fall into the same vicious cycle described above.
Sometimes you can make the comparison thing work…or at least make it look like it works. Like you can draw motivation from your desire to outdo others. The only problem with this technique is that you need to have been born with enough ability to keep up with and eventually surpass all these people you want to exceed. Otherwise, you get very discouraged very quickly. Generally, this only “works” for the most talented one in the “group.” Bad odds. And even then…it usually doesn’t last.
A Strong Approach
The strongest tactic is to focus on yourself. Accept where you are now. Take action based on that understanding… without worrying about what the rest of the world is doing. Be unshakeable. Be tenacious. Measure your own personal progress. As you do, your confidence will grow. And while you are doing so… compete with people…not against them. These people are fighting a hard battle…like you. Best to look on them with a soft eye. If you do so…you may find you stop abusing yourself.
So there you go…wishing you peaceful journeys and good training…