How Comparisons Sabotage Your Fitness (And How to Stop Them)

Of the many things that can undermine your fitness, the threat posed by comparisons often slides under the radar.

You might view comparisons as good. You may see them as providing a positive measuring stick for your progress; that they are something to aspire to, goals to reach for.

How comparisons positively or negatively impact your fitness depends a lot on your individual mentality, and the importance of what you ignore as much as what you focus on.

While this impact is highly individualistic, in my experience, more often than not, comparisons work to discourage and sabotage fitness efforts.

Two main types of comparisons most often undermine fitness: comparisons to others and comparisons to the “should” self. Let’s take a look at them.

Comparisons to Others

If you’re like a lot of people, you have friends or people you follow on social media who you think are, quite frankly, better than you.

They conquer huge challenges, crush their fitness goals… and make you feel inadequate. You see what they’re doing and think “I’ll never be able to do that.” You watch them be fit and healthy and think “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do that?” You feel discouraged, which makes it even harder to get up the energy to train, and you fall into a downward spiral of negativity.

Everyone is different. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, different body types, different genetics. We have different likes and dislikes, not to mention different daily schedules and life challenges.

Each person is on their own individual journey. Your fitness challenges and goals are only about where you are and what you are trying to accomplish.

I’ll often hear from people at the beginning of their fitness journey who belittle their own accomplishments. Who think that because what they’ve done or goals they have are not as advanced — or impressive to talk about on social media — as other people’s, that they are somehow less valuable. But the truth is no matter where you are on your fitness journey or what your goals are (run 100 miles or walk one mile), success really boils down to the same kind of persistence and determination.

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Often I have people tell me about how proud they are about an accomplishment, like doing a 5K, but then they’ll immediately say something like, “of course, it’s not a 100 miles” or “it’s no Death Race,” and I just want to shake them and say “But it very much is!”

Yes, those big events have a lot of demands, but by the time you’re doing those events, you are also able to draw on skills you’ve acquired on your journey there — experiences, know how — like in a video game, weapons or abilities you get and take with you to the following levels. Things that make those next levels easier.

When you boil it all down, the basic requirements of persistence and determination required for big events like a 100-mile race are no different (and no more impressive) than a person fighting to do their first 5K, or finally walking a mile or two after not being able to.

It’s all about setting your goals and the process of working toward those goals; it doesn’t matter how flashy those goals are.

Comparisons to the “Should” Self

Most of us struggle with the “should” version of ourselves.

As we workout or try to eat better, we’re haunted by thoughts like: “This should be easier. I should be able to exercise. I should be able to make myself eat better. I shouldn’t be this out of breath.” You then beat yourself up because you don’t measure up to that “should” version. It’s one of those annoying mental games your mind likes to kick you with.

When that happens, take a moment to recognize that is what your mind is reflexively doing. Acknowledge it, then dismiss it. Ignore it.

The “should” version of you doesn’t exist. It’s not real.

The should version of you doesn’t have to deal with work, or kids, or even pesky reflexive instincts to eat or seek comfort and rest instead of working out.

The should version of you doesn’t feel tired. Doesn’t have cravings. Never feels sore.

The should version of you doesn’t have to overcome any of those annoying complexities of actual life. You do. It’s two different ball games. You’re you. And the fact you need to battle with all these things and are still working to improve makes you a hell of a lot better than the should version of you.