Today I want to talk about The Comparison Trap. Marie Forleo calls this having a “Comparison Hangover”—the negative and defeatist emotions you feel AFTER you compare yourself to others. There’s nothing that drains motivation or empowerment faster.
I remember years back when I was yo-yo dieting up and down 15-20 pounds each year. Competing, “leaning out” and then gaining it all back during my “off season.” I’d feel terrible when I was, what I considered to be “fat”—even though it was actually normal and fit and lean comparatively. I’d feel like I was weak and lazy and WHY COULDN’T I JUST EAT CLEAN? AND STAY LEAN, LIKE ALL THESE OTHER COMPETITORS AND MODELS?
Well, besides the fact that I eventually learned that the majority of those models and competitors I was looking up to were having the same difficulties as me, it was a trap. Always wanting to be 12% body fat. Always wanting to “have abs” and fit into my size 4 pants. It’s ludicrous, considering I was doing hours of cardio and barely eating any carbs to get into “show shape” (only to blow up after)—thinking I’d stay in that kind of leanness? Crazy. And yet, I wanted it.
And so, I’d look around and see people prepping for their shows or friends losing weight, and I’d … get jealous. Envious. Insecure.
It felt like life was a zero sum game. Like, if someone else was getting lean, it meant I was getting fatter? Or it at the very least magnified the fact that I felt “out of shape.”
Again, it’s all relative (and frankly looking back, ridiculous), but the feelings of less-than are very real.
In retrospect, I see that it was The Comparison Trap at work. I have never experienced any positive motivation or affirmation by looking out there and spotting someone who I perceived as better or further along and then telling myself I suck because I am not there or further along, too. Negative motivation that we are consciously choosing by perpetuating those comparisons never serves us.
This is a trap.
Comparison is a trap for two reasons:
First, ninety percent of the time, it deflates our motivation instead of encourages us. I say 90% of the time because I think for a select group of people, it inspires them, but I think that’s further along the journey. For most people, it makes them feel like, “I’ll never get there” and “So-and-so is doing it so much better than me, I suck.”
When comparison is your operating system, by definition, things are relative. So if one person is this, then compared to them, we are this (fatter, less disciplined, weaker, softer, less consistent, less successful, whatever). And I don’t know about you, but when I feel less-than, sustained motivation is hard. It almost feels like I might as well give up because what’s the point? What’s the use?
Which is kind of absurd when you think about –the idea that because someone else is getting results, it means you can’t? But on some subconscious level, that’s how we tend to feel. Like results are finite. Even though we know rationally that they’re not.
And second, comparison is a trap because it keeps us program jumping. Our neighbor lost 50 lbs doing The Cookie Diet and this person is losing weight wearing the Waist Trainer (or whatever the latest gadget is), this person is doing HCG and getting results and this person over here started running marathons and got in shape.
We look around and compare our journey to theirs, and in light of the fact that they are getting results (and we feel like we aren’t), it’s the easiest thing to think, well, I’ll just do what they are doing!
Isn’t this true?
Comparing what someone else is doing (and getting results) to what you’re doing (and seemingly not getting results) makes program-jumping almost irresistible! Why not?
And I don’t blame you for wanting to. New programs can be exciting. They hold promise of being THE THING that will get us results once and for all (Just look at your neighbor!), and so we jump.
But here’s the thing: all diets work.
All diets work for a short time. Change the way you eat, cut calories, increase your exercise, follow whatever program for 1-2 weeks … and you will get fast results.
We know this. We have experienced it an infinite number of times.
But what we also know is that those results don’t last. Or the program gets too hard to follow (or course it does, it doesn’t us into account). Life is not perfectly planned so things come up. It doesn’t take out metabolism, personal preferences or psychological sensitivities into account, so we just. can’t. do. it. dammit.
And so we end up defeated again. Starting from scratch again. Feeling like we will never “get there” again.
Comparison kills motivation.
So what’s the solution? Because we live in a relative world, so everything will always be “more” or “less” than what we have. But navigating that, while tough, is not impossible.
Some tools for you to keep your eyes on your own paper, so that you are motivated to stick with YOUR journey, YOUR process, YOUR unique way of doing things, regardless of who else is doing what:
1) Mark Manson says that the most confident and motivated people are the ones who are okay with what they don’t have.
In other words, way back then, could I simply have come to terms (and even embraced?) the fact that I would never fit into a size 4 pants 365 days a year? Just owned it. Been okay with it. And not make it mean that I am overweight, out of shape, that I suck and am somehow unworthy? Of course I could have (and I did over the last 4 years!). Could you, ahem, find a way to feel secure in what you do have, versus constantly feeling bad for what you don’t?
2) The above is an extension of gratitude, isn’t it?
This is a practice. Look around and ask, what do I have that I absolutely love? What things have I accomplished that I can be absolutely proud of? You’ve heard it a million times, but gratitude turns what we have into enough. Count your blessings.
3) Realize that there is no way that two people can ever be comparable.
You are 100% unique. Both in mind and body. And the idea that comparison is even possible between two people who are so uniquely biochemically different and psychologically different is insane. Your journey is unique, as is your physiology.
4) Remember, no one can know your body better than you can.
No plan out there knows what’s best for you. No coach, expert, diet book or latest Dr. Oz gimmick will be the solution for you. YOU are the solution for you. And putting in the time, energy and patience (for example with the Total Training Experience) is helping educate you in YOU. Trust YOU. When you trust yourself more than you trust anyone else with your body, there is zero reason to look for a solution outside of yourself.
5) If you know something works for you, don’t let anyone else tell you different.
This is part of building self-trust and maturity. Let other people scramble and try a million different things. Let them program-jump. Let them listen and try to implement every little thing. You do you.
6) Work on your self-confidence.
The people who are the most secure are also the least likely to want to be someone else or do what someone else is doing. Mark Cuban was famously asked, “If you could be anyone else in the world, who would you be?” And he said himself. Call it arrogant or whatever, but dude is on to something. Isn’t that the way it should be? When we are truly secure in ourselves, like ourselves and are doing what we need to do for ourselves, anyone else can be doing anything else and it doesn’t phase us!
The journey continues.
If you find yourself getting caught up in The Comparison Trap, remember the answer is not to “get leaner” or “be more successful.” The answer is to figure out WHY you are feeling insecure in that moment and WORK ON THAT.
Remember the story of when I was in my off-season. Believe me, when I was getting lean for a show, I couldn’t have cared less what anyone else was doing because I felt in my power and I was achieving. It was only when I felt out of my power that I started looking around and comparing myself, feeling less-than.
In those moments of comparison and insecurity, the fastest way to get back into your power and #DoYou, is by taking action. Hit the gym. Take care of those healthy nutrition steps that you know work for you. Go for a leisure walk. Learn a new skill. Write a blog. Create.
Action dissipates uncertainty. Making moves dispels insecurity. When in doubt, head down and grind. #GSD.
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