It’s spring break week in my neck of the woods, and I’m watching my social media feed fill up with families having fun, palm trees, and beaches.
We took a long weekend Spring Break and we road-tripped down to Moab, which is about three and a half hours from me in Southern Utah, to do some Jeep trails and sit by the pool and relax together. It was beautiful and 80 degrees and we saw some pretty awesome views, like the arches and other magical works of mother nature. We’re now having a chill week at home, sleeping in and relaxing.
So even though I know I’m not picked on, can you guess what my toddler brain is telling me as I am seeing my friends in exotic locations? Yes, the whiniest, most entitled things. I’m having thoughts like, “I wish I was there instead of here. “Everyone gets to do fun things but me.” “I’m missing out.” “It’s unfair.”
Now, I know this isn’t true. I know this is silliness. I know that I have so much to be grateful for and so much goodness to focus on, and I have a choice as to what I do with my time, energy, and money, like go to a beach for spring break if I want to make it happen.
But my toddler brain sometimes wants me to focus on the lack of palm trees and sandy beaches in my current life. When I focus on what I lack, I miss seeing what I have.
Comparison is the thief of joy
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying comparison is the thief of joy. I think this is true, because of the way we become blind to what we have when we focus on what we don’t.
It’s difficult to feel joy in the deficit.
It is a tendency of humans to frequently compare ourselves to others. I’ve heard statistics like 10% of our thoughts each day are comparisons of some kind.
We compare ourselves to others to keep our bearings as to where we fit in, or to make sure we do fit in. It’s a function of our primal need to be accepted and be acceptable to the tribe. We compare ourselves to gauge our skills, our value to the tribe, and to see how we’re doing.
However, much of the time, we don’t think critically about what and who we’re comparing ourselves to or why we are comparing ourselves to them. These are important questions to ask.
Who are we comparing ourselves to?
I read a study where researchers were asking people what they thought about their social lives. Most felt they were home alone more, went to fewer parties/get togethers, and had fewer friends or were part of fewer social circles than other people, including their close friends.
So most people were sure that even their close friends were invited to more things, were having more fun, and had more friends than they did.
But the flaw here is in who we are comparing ourselves to most of the time.
We are choosing to focus on the most visible, most social people. Who’s out there posting about the things they’re doing and the places they’re going and the friends they’re having fun with? The most social among us.
Who’s posting about another Friday night watching Netflix? No one. Who’s posting about the super fun tropical vacation they’re on? Everyone on a tropical vacation. Who’s posting about staying home and not going anywhere? No one.
So we’re seeing some people posting about things and we’re generalizing it to all people. Before long we believe that everyone but us is doing something amazing or having the time of their life.
Comparing lows with highs
Our typical control subject when we are comparing ourselves in certain areas is also a bit flawed.
We typically pick someone who is super fit when we’re trying to gauge our fitness. Or someone who’s amazing at a particular skill when we are wanting to evaluate ourselves in that area, whether it’s cooking, organization, or meal planning.
When we do this it has us predictably falling short.
I see this happening with my weight loss clients all the time. They come to our group calls when they’re having a rough week and they hear someone share their three-pound weight loss. Someone else may share how they’ve planned and executed every day this week and they’re so proud.
And then this person who’s having a rough week will come to their individual coaching call with me or message me and say how everyone’s doing well but them. How no one else seems to be struggling.
I like to point out that they heard two people out of 10 share successes. But they’ve still decided that means everybody’s doing awesome and they’re on their own.
They forget how the three-pound weight loss friend was struggling last week and how the perfect planning and executing friend had three weeks last month where they felt like they couldn’t get it together.
Somehow we don’t notice the four people who didn’t share because they weren’t feeling proud.
When we want to feel better, we compare ourselves to someone who’s doing worse. When we want to improve, usually we compare ourselves to someone who’s doing better.
But this doesn’t always serve to motivate us. Sometimes it just serves to make us feel worse about where we are.
Comparing your current self to your past self
What can be even more discouraging is when we compare ourselves to ourselves.
We compare our bodies to the body we had in high school, or pre-baby, or pre-menopause. We compare ourselves pre-quarantine and post-quarantine, or our college selves to our now selves.
We think we should be able to get back to where we were before, or that because it was possible once, it should be possible now.
But let me tell you, these stretch marks from my four pregnancies are not going back anywhere. The flappy extra skin on my arms is not going back to tight and toned no matter how many weights I lift. My eyes are not going back to not needing glasses ever again.
There’s no such thing as going back when it comes to our bodies, even if we happen to hit the same number on the scale as we used to see once upon a time.
Using a realistic point of comparison
Your body will never go backwards.
It’s marching forward. It’s aging and changing and evolving every minute of the day. I don’t say that to discourage you from wanting to change or from setting a number goal based on a number you used to see and hope to see again.
I just want you to use a realistic point of comparison. Look at where you are now. Your age, your lifestyle, your desire, your time, your priorities, and your values.
Then set an achievable goal for the future based on that.
Gauge your process towards your goal with all of those things considered.
Before starting my business and working, I had all my kids in school all day and all the time in the world to workout, meal prep, and whatever else I wanted to do and I took it seriously. I worked out hard every day, sometimes twice. I ate carefully.
But as my business and work life have changed, the balance and priorities of my time look a little different.
I could absolutely have kept the same workout frequency and added my work life to it, people do it every day of course, but it didn’t feel good to me. So I’ve scaled back my working out from daily to three times a week, I’ve changed it up a bit from Orange Theory at the studio, to Peloton in my bedroom, and added in more rest and more white space, more quiet time, more me time in different ways.
If I compared my now self to my past self, in terms of super fitness, I would probably judge myself as failing instead of listening and honoring what works for me in this season.
There may be a time when I get back to working out hard and being super focused on my ab definition and training for a race.
For now, it feels good to move my body in different ways, to count both 20 minutes and 60 minutes of cardio or yoga as my exercise, to allow myself the space and freedom to walk or run, and to compare not who I was but who I am and what I want now.
Notice and question your urge to compare
When you notice yourself wanting to make comparisons, ask yourself, “Is this a realistic point of comparison?”
Notice who you’re comparing yourself to, whether it’s someone else or yourself of the past.
If it’s not someone you can realistically become, it won’t be an effective comparison target. It will just serve to make you feel terrible and less than.
I will never be 5’10 and have thick brown curly hair and no stretch marks. If I spend my energy comparing myself to someone who is, I will perpetually be disappointed and discouraged.
It can also be helpful to ask, “What am I trying to achieve through this comparison?”
If you want to use someone who’s killing it in some way that you someday aspire to, focus on the ways you could become more like them.
How did they build the skill they have that you want?
How did they learn?
How did they work to improve?
What do they do when they fail?
Think about the small details and the things you could also implement. When it comes to planning and executing your food, for example, think about how that person sets themselves up for success.
Here are some questions you might consider:
- What time of day do they plan and why?
- What do they focus on in their planning?
- Is the plan realistic?
- How do they make it easier for themselves?
- When it comes to executing the plan, what do they do at 4pm when they want to throw it all away?
- What do they ask themselves?
- How do they remain focused and honor their commitments?
We have a tendency to just think, “Well, it’s just easier for them. They have something that I don’t. They’re a special unicorn.”
But that leaves you on the outside, powerless to change.
You may not be exactly where they are, but you can be with some thought and attention to the little changes you can make to work your way there.
You don’t have to do it exactly as they do in order to be successful. Your path will be yours.
Disrupt damaging comparisons
If all you feel is down and discouraged when your brain is comparing you to others or yourself, disrupt it.
Choose to look at your progress instead of your problems. Look at the gains, not just the gaps.
Choose to see what there is to be grateful for, how it is exactly as it should be.
Notice how much worse your brain makes it than the reality of it.
Think about how you are the someone that someone else may be comparing themselves to. You are a role model to someone, just like you look up to your role models.
Comparison may be the thief of joy, but you can protect your joy and be the hero, not the victim.
When you’re ready to get started, watch my free video on how to lose the first five pounds — and keep going.