Comparison IS the thief of joy.
And one of the many places where this is true is in our fitness endeavors.
I recently sent out an email asking for topics to cover. And one of the more common responses was this:
“How do I stop comparing myself to other people who are getting so much better/faster results?”
The first thing I’d like to note is the assumption that others are objectively getting better/faster results. Dearest reader, I gently and firmly push back on this!
While it’s certainly possible others are progressing faster, let’s always remember we only see everyone else’s “highlight reels,” while we get to see our messy “behind the scenes” footage. This means it’s easy to feel like everyone else is making great progress while we’re stuck in the mud.
Good News AND Bad News: No One Knows What They’re Doing
This is actually the fitness equivalent of a bigger phenomenon of the human condition: the pervading sense that we alone are making it up as we go along, while everyone else seems to actually know what they’re doing.
Alas, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that EVERYONE is making it up as they go along. And depending on your worldview, this can either bring great comfort (“Yay, I’m not alone!”) or be disconcerting (“Wait… shit. So no one knows how to drive this thing??”).
So oftentimes the culprit is just a warped view of how others are progressing.
With that said, it IS true that some people do progress faster than others. And it’s only human nature to benchmark ourselves. So how can we prevent ourselves from sliding into despair over our (perceived) slow(er) progress?
A common rejoinder here is to “compare yourself to yourself.” And overall, this is probably better advice than “compare yourself to the genetically gifted person who looks like a fitness model after a few weeks of semi-regular training.”
Self-Comparison Is Also Not (Always) Better
But this isn’t my favorite way to go either.
After all, whether we’re talking about performance goals (max deadlift, sprint times) or aesthetic goals (body fat percentage, lean body mass), we’re going to see some decline as we age. Now to be clear, this can still be a powerful tool for people who can approach this with the right mindset. Maybe you want to be in objectively better shape at the age of 40 than you were at 25. Based on your circumstances, this can be doable and an inspiring goal!
But the reality is most of us will see ebbs and flows in our fitness as we prioritize competing professional and personal demands. Logic dictates we’re unlikely to get in better shape each and every year until death. So while I’m all for “raging against the dying of the light” (<— DRAMATIC), for some individuals this is self-defeating.
This leaves us to my favorite focus for achieving sustainable fitness greatness…
Focus on Process/Behaviors Over Outcomes/Results
Most fitness results are not entirely in our control. Whether we’re looking to set a record for pull-ups, build up our glutes, or lose bodyfat, genetics are going to play a role.
Furthermore, even if we’re always doing “our best,” our personal definition of “our best” will change over time as our life evolves.
That’s why the healthiest place for us to focus is on the process. We can’t always control exactly how our body responds, but we can set (and achieve!) realistic behavior goals. Whether this be tracking our time in bed, or the number of workouts we do in a week, or the number of servings of vegetables, this focus on behaviors allows us to “control the controllables.”
But putting our focus here, we can take it away from comparing ourselves to the results of others.
And this can have a powerful effect on our sense of self-efficacy. Because it lets us focus where we DO have control. And over time, we build a track record with ourselves of “doing what we promised ourselves we would do.” And self-esteem is largely our reputation with ourselves. It’s a reflection of how well and how often we keep our internal commitments.
AND if we consistently nail our fitness behaviors, it’s only reasonable that over time we’ll see positive results and outcomes.
Final thought: it’s totally normal to compare yourself to other people.
Sure, when we’re discussing your personal fitness, it’s not particularly helpful. But it’s also not “wrong,” and to be expected, at least to an extent.
So while I’ll lovingly encourage you to focus on your own behaviors, a heapin’ dose of self-compassion will always be a welcome side dish.
By all means, keep on your fitness path. Look to get 1% better every day. Reflect on the personal values that inspire your behaviors and how you show up in the world. Seek progress and momentum for the thrill of achieving your potential.
But remember you’re already perfectly worthy and wonderful right now, just the way you are.
Love ya always,
P.S. If you’re ready to snag a taste of MFF…