Comparison is the thief of joy…
In the dog eat dog world we live in, it’s difficult to stay focused on the pursuit of self-fulfillment. Too often, we compare ourselves to others to get a sense of how happy we deserve to be. Furthermore, we tend to question our own self-worth when something good happens to one of our peers.
Your coworker buys a new car. Are they getting paid more than you? One of your few remaining single friends finds someone to Netflix and chill with. Are they more attractive than you? Your friend at the gym goes on a streak of personal bests in all the major lifts. Are they stronger than you? For so many of us, our initial reaction is a state of envy. Or, at the very least, questioning our own capacity.
Using the accomplishments of others to quantify your own self-worth is disastrous. Yet, that is how so many of us are raised and ultimately trained to think. Your parents might have compared you to your siblings or cousins in an attempt to motivate you. “Cousin Johnny won his tennis tournament”. Or “Your sister Suzy always finishes her vegetables”.
Most high schools rank students based on a weighted grade point average. In which case, the smartest students in basic level classes don’t stand a chance against an average student in advanced placement. This imbalance squanders future potential from many “middle of the pack” students.
Your annual review at your desk job hammers down the final nail in the coffin. At the beginning of the year, you’re asked to establish goals. More likely than not, you achieve what you set out to do. But so did everyone else. So now your performance report and compensation comes down to if you did more than the next guy.
These scenarios all have one thing in common, the pie is finite. Meaning, for someone to win, someone else loses. Naturally, we tend to harp on our losses more than we celebrate our wins.
The CrossFit box I go to uses a software called Wodify to track athlete performance. It’s an excellent tool that helps you track your progress as you embark on your CrossFit journey. The Whiteboard page ranks the performance of everyone who did the WOD that day. The Leaderboard page ranks over all athlete performance across every WOD. Like high school, the RX (AP) athletes sit at the top of the Leaderboard, regardless of their performance. Scaled athletes fall to the bottom, even if they outperformed for reps or time.
For the longest time, I struggled with something I call “Whiteboard Envy”. I’d look at the Whiteboard at the end of each day to see how I stacked up. Was I in the top 5? If not, who beat me and by how much? Then I’d begin to rationalize, “Well that person is 5 years younger than me”. Or “That person has been doing CrossFit 2 years longer than me”. Or “That person weighs 35 pounds more than me, so of course, they move the bar easier than me”. The excuses were endless and pathetic. Rationalizing why I hadn’t been at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the day was an exhausting routine.
Then my outlook changed. It was around the time my schedule forced me to start attending morning classes. I would log my performance after completing the WOD first thing in the morning, then forgot about it. Something about going first in the day was so liberating. I was no longer meeting a predetermined standard, I was setting my own bar. If I looked at the Whiteboard results for the last 100 WODs I’ve done, I’m sure I’m not in the top 5 for the majority of them. I’m also sure I’ve saved myself a ton of stress over that same period of time.
For people who don’t experience this realization, the comparison based self-worth cycle continues. Many of us never learn a better way. But there is a better way: It begins with knowing yourself and owning your losses. Combine that notion with accepting other people’s wins as a valid argument for what’s possible. And finally, surround yourself with successful people to ensure your progress.
Self-awareness is a concept lost on so many people. It requires doubling down on your strengths while identifying and accepting your weaknesses. In other words, be at peace with your skill set. The majority of people hold expectations of themselves that don’t align. I fell prey to this madness in my early days of CrossFit. I am a small athlete, weighing in at 145 pounds at a height of 5’ 9”. Thrusters and deadlifts are the banes of my existence, especially at Rx weights. Today, I hardly ever Rx 95# for Thrusters in a WOD and will NEVER go above 135# deadlifts in a WOD. Doing 95# Thrusters diminishes the intensity of my workout. Lifting more than 135# for deadlifts is dangerous for my lower back. But, if you put me on the pull-up bar or send me on a run, good luck keeping up. I will smoke you. Reading: Recovering From a Disastrous Deadlifting Injury.
Own your losses
Failure breeds success. Furthermore, to try and fail is better than not trying at all. And when you fail, own it. Adopt an internal locus of control. Everything good and bad that happens in your life is your fault. The economy, weather, or whatever external factor you think caused your failure has zero bearing on what happens in your life. So when you fail, accept it, adjust, and move forward with that new information. Resource: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink.
Accept other people’s wins as a valid argument for what’s possible
When a woman 20 years my senior passes me on the second mile of Murph, I am hopeful for my future, not discouraged. When I see a high school soccer player that weighs less than me squat 100# more than me, I’m inspired to work harder. I’ve come to a place where I can appreciate witnessing these wins and use them as motivation for a better tomorrow. How you view other people’s success and apply that information to your own progress can make or break you. Does it make you feel like a failure, or does it show you what’s possible, and motivate you to take action?
Surround yourself with the right people to ensure your progress
The class I attend at 530 AM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday has been more or less the same people since I started. Within this group of 10-12 people, I attach myself to a different person when it comes to a different skill, movement, or strength. For example… If the strength of the day is a press, I’ll be sharing a rack with Joe. At a lean 155lbs, he punches way above his weight class. If the WOD starts with a run or row, I’m stationing myself next to Eric because his engine runs on all 8 cylinders. If we’re doing Thrusters, I’m setting up my bar behind Jason, because he’s like a piston. These guys are better than me in these particular skills. That is why I shadow them.
I’m addicted to becoming a better version of myself. This is the case for as long as I could remember. The self-aware approach I take today is healthier than the comparison based approach I grew up with. A few years ago, I gave myself Rhabdo trying to impress an onlooking crowd by doing 50+ pull-ups unbroken. Today, I’ll simply modify the WOD if it calls for something I’m not comfortable with. There is no shame in scaling. There is even less shame in not being first. When a WOD calls for Deadlifts, I won’t go above 135# and I’ll use a trap bar instead of a regular barbell. My classmates jokingly call me out for using “training wheels”. In the grand scheme of things, it’s noise. I’m focused on the only thing that matters by telling myself, “It’s you vs. you”.
If you need to make a change, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. If you already made the change, I’d love to hear about the event that changed your outlook.