How many times have we told ourselves (or others) that comparison is a bad thing? Lots I’m guessing. Things like “a flower doesn’t compare itself to others it just blooms” and “comparison is the thief of joy”. And those sentiments are admirable, but there also not real.
Humans are hardwired to engage in comparisons. We even to a certain extent base our own understanding of our abilities on the abilities of those around us and it provides the context for things that cannot be answered objectively. In Friend & Foe, the authors talk about the phenomenon of comparison and happiness. Silver medalists at the Olympics tended to be the most unhappy because they were comparing themselves to the Gold medalists, but Bronze medalists were far happier because they were comparing themselves to the people who came fourth or fifth.
Comparison is completely unavoidable, so you might as well get comfortable with it now. You aren’t going to be able to stop, and feeling like you *should* be able to stop is only going to make you even more miserable. If you think about it, so many things that you will assess in your life can’t be objectively obsessed without comparison – whether that be about what school your kids go to or how much money you earn or what kind of improvements you are making in your running. Without context, it becomes kind of meaningless.
The downside of comparison is that it can become toxic and destructive and the upside is that it can drive your motivation. For me the key way to make comparison transformative is to approach all comparisons with curiousity.
What can I learn from this person? How long did it take them to get there? What did they do or change to improve in such a dramatic way? What do they do really well that other people don’t do? How long have they dedicated to this area of their life?
Inspiration is just finding someone who started where you started and showed that they could forge a path to where you would like to go, isn’t it? Which is why for me personally, when I’m looking for inspiration, I’m not going to find it among the genetically gifted. Those people are amazing and I marvel at their ability and the hard work they’ve put in to hone that ability. But to be inspired, I want to recognise more of myself in that person, because they help me to believe that it’s possible. If you listen to coaches for any length of time (which I do!) you’ll hear them say the same thing across a range of difference sports – for the truly gifted they are outliers and they could do almost anything (in terms of training) and be amazing, so to a certain extent as long as they are doing something, it doesn’t matter. And while they are amazing to watch, from a training perspective, it’s just not that interesting. What is interesting is the people who weren’t built for it and what they had to do to create those leaps forward to make themselves competitive.
So the next time, you start feeling unhappy because of comparison, do something with it.
1) Whoever you are comparing yourself to, make sure you go back to there beginning, or ask them about it – I bet you will be surprised how many people started where you are.
2) Write down what you admire in other people and it will give you a great list of goals to work towards
3) Embrace your comparisons. They are people who can mentor you and teach you something.
And remember that one of the coolest things science has discovered about the power of comparison is that when we are surrounded by people we are cooperating with our belief in our own abilities is elevated. Which is what #opmovesisterhood is all about.