Death by a thousand cuts.
Luckily I don’t mean a literal death, since that’s the least anabolic activity of all time and would surely negatively impact your gains. The death I’m speaking of is more sinister, capable of covering your otherwise great life with a general malaise that seems unshakable.
Most of us know objectively that to compare ourselves to others is an exercise in futility. We’re emotional creatures, and logic and rational thinking get drop kicked right out of the window when it comes to our wants and desires.
When it comes to how we look, how strong we are, how fast we’re progressing and everything in between, our emotions can push our rational minds out of the driver’s seat, take the wheel, and drive us straight towards Crazyville.
Like sticking a fork into an electrical socket, or taking a 3 hour nap while you’re cooking a steak in an oven (I’m not alone in the last one…right?), comparing ourselves to others is more often than not a horrible idea that no good can come from.
Much like a moth drawn to the flame, we just can’t help ourselves. None of us are truly immune to it.
Our Behind-The-Scenes VS Their Highlight Reel
We’re with ourselves 24/7, and as a result we know more about us than any outside observer would; our motivations, goals and hot button issues. When we go into comparison mode, our brain wrangles up those demons and throws them right back into our faces, completely unfiltered.
The problem is that we aren’t comparing our demons to someone else’s – we’re pitting them against only what we can see on the surface, and given that people typically put their best foot forward in the public, this is rarely an accurate portrait of the situation.
Imagine yourself doing all that you can to get results in the gym. You’re logging your workouts, keeping track of your calories and nutrients, making time to prepare your meals when you would love nothing more than to ease up on the reigns just a little bit.
Then one day you see someone working out there with a physique that you would sell your first born child for, casually strolling through their session. And here’s what kicks you right in the junk: they’re eating a candy bar post workout.
All of a sudden, your inner comparison beast busts loose.
Why do they look like that and I don’t? They clearly don’t work as hard as I do. I train hard ERRYday. #BeastMode #NoDaysOff #AnotherRidiculousHashtagHere.
I take my nutrition way more seriously and here they are eating a candy bar, looking like they just walked off the set of a photo shoot.
But you don’t know the full story. You don’t know what they sacrificed to get there, or anything about them. All you have to go off is this brief snapshot in time, and it’s easy for the comparing mind to take that and create a vivid picture that’s far from reality.
Getting caught in this trap can cause you to do things you otherwise wouldn’t do. I’m talking constant program hopping, ridiculous diets, setting unrealistic time frames for yourself, and setting out on a never-ending quest searching for “the secret”.
Our worst vs their best. Our inside vs their outside. It’s always a losing battle.
Welcome To The Black Hole Of Suck
The appetite of a black hole is insatiable, feeding off of everything around it. When it comes to comparisons, this is the exact scenario that we find ourselves in – and it will drain your life dry if you let it.
In this mode, nothing is ever enough. You constantly feel inferior.
You’re never strong, because someone else is stronger.
You never feel truly feel comfortable in your skin, because someone is always leaner, has bigger biceps or more ab definition.
You aren’t making progress fast enough, because someone is always achieving more in a shorter amount of time.
Comparison feeds off of these types of thoughts., and it never ends.
I once dated a woman whose ex boyfriend was a UFC fighter. After a quick Google search to find out who he was, I went from being completely happy with my development and progress to feeling like Captain America pre-Soldier Serum.
Here I am, a guy who works out 3x a week, loves to eat ice cream by the pint, enjoys a good marathon video game session and more often than not falls asleep to a YouTube video because I stayed up way too late clicking my way through the internet rabbit hole, comparing myself to an Olympic champion with ungodly genetics who trains more hours in a week than I do in a single month and makes a living training to punch a hole through the soul of other elite athletes in front of thousands of people.
If I were looking for a recipe to help make myself feel like hot diggity dog shit, I hit the nail right on the head.
By constantly sucking in all of this outside stimuli without any filter, letting it bombard our inner world, all we do is diminish our own accomplishments, taking the wind out of our sails for no good reason.
The Only Way To Slay The Comparison Beast
To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
The act of comparing may never really go away, but you can turn the tide in your favor.
When you notice in the moment that you’re falling victim to this mindset, stop immediately before the thoughts build any momentum.
Take a deep breath and relax. By doing this, you go from being reactionary to proactive, creating space to decide what you’re going to do next with the information you have.
This may sound woo woo as all hell, but give it a try. Your breath (that thing that keeps you alive) is intimately connected to controlling how you feel in any given moment.
Is your training partner progressing faster than you? Great – there’s something that you can learn from them. Maybe you won’t have the same results as them for a host of reasons, but if nothing else it shows you a vision of what is possible, and you can bring that energy and excitement to your workouts.
There will always be someone better than you out there, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. All that you can focus on and truly control is the effort that you bring to the task.
You’re the only person that you need to compare yourself to, and only to check-in and make sure that you’re improving at a rate that’s acceptable for you and your goals.
When this is the focus, what others are doing becomes irrelevant.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying that you can’t look at what others are doing and using that as fuel to push yourself forward.
Sometimes seeing others making progress towards their goals can be a healthy gut check for you, allowing you to reconnect and give yourself an honest assessment as to if you’re playing it safe or if you have more to give.
For others it does more harm than good. It’s like fire: you can use it to warm up your house or burn it to the ground. The devil is in the details, and it will take time to learn when to push forward and when to be kinder to yourself and pull back a bit.
Instead letting the accomplishments of others feel like a slight towards you, use them to build yourself up. Choose to be inspired by what others are doing, no longer making yourself the victim of outside forces, and tap into a constantly renewable source of motivation and energy – yourself.
Fabulous article Rog! I too have been facing the same issue recently, comparing myself with a lot of people, thinking ton of reasons why I am not getting those 16inch biceps when I eat and workout heavier and more regularly than those guys but this article mentioned exactly what I should have done!
I would rather now compare them as a motivation and use it to fuel my energy in the gym which will help me improve my workout rather than getting jealous and demotivated. Thanks again for the great article.
Good advice. And, as usual, I laughed and felt lighter.
Fantastic! Great advice that also cracks me up! A winning combination.
I think everyone falls prey to this ailment at one time or another. Especially since we are constantly bombarded with media telling us how we should look, etc., etc. For me, the practice of yoga helps me keep this beast in check. There is just something about connecting my mind with my body that works so well for me. Yes, the jealous monster can rear it’s ugly head even in that realm, but the practice is designed to combat that as well. Now, as I progress on my continuous fitness journey, I find I am kinder, gentler to myself while still being able to kick some ass and make progress. It is nice to know that everyone, even those who seemingly have it all figured out, can fall prey to the most human of trials. Thanks for your wit and wisdom.
Shane Mclean says
I’ve been telling myself that and my clients for years. Your on point Rog, really liked this post.
The candy bar hit home with me lol
getting 800 grams of carbs a day is no joke
plus people are so one sided on nutrition freaking out about sugar
I don’t think topics like this get talked about enough. We all look after our physical selves with food and fitness so it makes TOTAL sense to look after our minds and mental health.
Really great article, easy to read and easy to concentrate on long enough to finish (always useful!)