Our culture is one of constant comparisons. Comparing ourselves to co-workers, celebrities…keeping up with the neighbors…fitting in. So fitness is no different. Everyone eyes up their “competition” at the gym. “I want to be as skinny as her”, “He’s not that strong, I can lift more than him”, “At least my butt isn’t that big!” If you frequently find yourself in these situations, then you need to step back and reevaluate. An environment where you are constantly comparing, and doing so in an often negative manner, is not a healthy one. If we want to have a sustainable change in our health, and we want to get into a rhythm of working out well and feeling good about it, then we need to try to place ourselves in a supportive community. The benefits of a supportive group that consistently challenges us and more importantly, ENCOURAGES us are immeasurable.
Here is where those comparisons come up short:
Shortfall #1 Details & Resources
You may see someone is in better shape than you, and that might be true, but that doesn’t take into account their life situation and how much time they can spend in the gym. You may have more obligations or responsibilities in your life. They may have years of background playing sports or working out whereas it might be a newer endeavor to you. They may have unlimited resources, a personal chef to assure healthy diet, daily personal training, and so on.
Shortfall #2 Genetics
This one is pretty simple. Genetics exist. It’s not to say that with hard-work you can’t alter their path a bit, but if you are 5’3” you aren’t going to be 6’0”. If you have a skinny build you can certainly get strong, but you probably won’t develop into an Olympic shot-putter. So when you are comparing to someone else you are literally comparing to someone with a different genetic make-up (unless you are comparing to a twin).
Shortfall #3 Limited Comparison
Being better or different at one thing is JUST that… one thing. Just because someone has a faster 5k time, a bigger bench press, has a better figure, weighs less or weighs more. Often we look at someone that has a different body type and think we can do less. Sure, the small and thin woman might have a fast 5k time, but perhaps you have a build that allows you to be stronger than her. This link is a good reminder that there are 50 people that are amongst the best in the world at their sport and they all look tremendously different! If they compared to people in other sports, it would hurt their own progress.
Shortfall #4 Bias against Self
Your own comparisons are biased! People have a tendency to compare what they are worst at to what other people are good at. This isn’t a fair comparison! Often these quick comparisons are not looked at with clear lenses… and many of us are hard on ourselves.
What does matter…
We talked a bit about why the comparisons don’t make logical sense. But here are a few truths:
Because someone is better at one thing or even multiple things at the gym, that doesn’t mean they are happier than you or have more self-worth than you. They may have to work so hard in the gym because they are searching for that self-worth.
There is one comparison that matters. You vs. You! The real goal you should have is to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Work to be a little bit better than you were yesterday. That is the goal!
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” You are robbing yourself of happiness with continual comparisons. Ultimately what matters is your happiness. Working out is an awesome thing. Absent these unhealthy comparisons you will almost always leave the gym feeling better than when you got there. THAT is what matters!
You might be thinking, “Great idea in theory, but not as easy in the real world”, and there is some truth to that. However, here are a few things that might be able to help:
1. Ditch the big globo-gym routine and go with the local folks. Gyms like Camargo Personal Fitness will cater to you, help you track your progress against past performance instead of tracking against others.
2. Stop reading so many magazines and blogs (except this one of course!), idolizing airbrushed and photo shopped celebrities and striving for things that aren’t even real!
3. Keep a training log/journal and track progress against yourself. That is a worthy comparison and one that hopefully gives you some healthy motivation. Again, the goal is to just be a little bit better than yesterday! Remember to celebrate your progress.
4. Appreciate the different talents and abilities of others. If you see someone you see that has a talent or an ability that you think is impressive. Be impressed, tell them you are impressed, and if you want to know more… ask them how they got to where they are at. You will be surprised with how warmly this will be received. Use them as a source of inspiration, not of jealousy.