Sermon II: Comparisons
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” —Theodore Roosevelt
Most athletes come to the gym with distinct goals. They want to get stronger or leaner or faster, and a lot of their progress can be measured with quantifiable metrics. This is one of the single greatest things about the gym. You know exactly how strong or how fast you are, or how much your body fat has gone down. These are the small things that slowly add up to big things over time.; the first indicators that you are working in the right direction and that you are achieving something you didn’t think previously was attainable.
The problem with these metrics is that inevitably you compare yourself to someone else. Everyone does this, and if you say you don’t you are probably lying. While there is merit to competition, the single biggest way to ruin an accomplishment is to compare your achievements to someone else’s. Everyone is going to be guilty of this at one point or another. However, if you are constantly comparing yourself to others, then you are creating a habit that is not only unrealistic, it’s unhealthy. If there is one thing you can do to increase your training longevity, it’s to stop empty comparisons to others. These comparisons are the single fastest way to ruin a perfectly good day and find disappointment in a moment when you should be grateful.
Are they fair? Athletes often talk about fair and unfair and few things are less fair than comparisons. You are comparing the worst thing about yourself to what you assume to be the best thing about someone else. You just finished a cycle and your Back Squat increased +10lbs but Willy’s increased + 30lbs. Instead of being happy with your +10lb increase you are instead disappointed that Willy’s is so much better. What did you do wrong? Why didn’t you improve as much? What was Willy doing that you weren’t? These are all incredibly unfair questions. Willy might have dialed in his diet or he might have been in a plateau for over a year – not increasing his lift a pound. These are things you not only don’t know, but you can’t comprehend. All you can know is you and what you accomplished and what you are capable of.
What did you gain from comparing your numbers to Willy? Nothing. A gain that you should have been ecstatic about has instead left you disappointed, wanting and jealous of another. You have nothing to gain by comparing yourself to others, but you have everything to lose. By making these comparisons you are sacrificing your dignity, your pride, and quite possible your passion. Not only does this deprive you of the joy of your accomplishment it can lead to creating a feeling of resentment towards Willy for no other reason than he had an amazing achievement. You should be celebrating for him and hoping that you too will share in achievement, instead you are comparing yourself and tarnishing both of your achievements.
You can only take control of one person. Yourself. In doing so you are responsible for you. Your actions. Your training. Your lifts. Comparison takes the focus from where it belongs and what can be controlled: you. And shifts it in a direction that you have no control over.
Comparison is a habit, a monkey if you will. And like every habit it has to be fed. If you nourish it and feed it daily it will turn into a Gorilla and it will rob you of every joy and tarnish every success you might have. So how do you stop feeding the monkey?
Replace comparison with gratitude. When you start to compare yourself with someone else instead of being jealous, be grateful. Grateful that they were able to accomplish so much. If they can do something, then you can do something. It might not happen today or tomorrow, but as long as you are moving forward, even if it is only one inch at a time, then you are moving in the right direction. And the more thankful you are of Willy or whoever you might want to compare yourself to, the happier you are going to be on that path.
Don’t compete unless it’s required. Competition has the power to make a champion, but it is a limited pursuit and for every winner there are many more losers. Competition should be a hallowed joyous thing, and not taken for granted. It is the great teacher and you will learn more about yourself in one hour of competition than in a year of training. That being said if you are competing every day you are unnecessarily torturing yourself and sacrificing personal growth for a trivial victory. Training is building and improving inch by inch to help you in competition. When you compete you have to be willing to sacrifice your health and your very being to win. If this is part of your daily practice then you are just breeding disappointment and cheapening the work you are putting in.
There is only one person to compare yourself to and that is you. Who you were yesterday and who you will be tomorrow. Hopefully they are for the better. But these are safe comparisons and they allow you a metric of your real success. And even these comparisons might not always be positive. Your lifts might not go up, and that’s ok, but you need to learn to be happy with some level of success and take pride in that. Maybe you missed training sessions. Or maybe even though you didn’t get faster you recovered better or weren’t as sore and exhausted afterwards. There is a small victory in every single thing you do if you are willing to look for it. There is also some level of misery and disappointment if that is the path you choose to take.
Learn to appreciate your training partners and coworkers. View their successes as your successes. Be happy to celebrate with them when they perform well and counsel them when they have a bad day. Every day gives you the opportunity to focus your energy on improving your mentality and physicality. If you take it you only add to the positive environment around you. However if you choose to go the other direction, over time you will find yourself with fewer and fewer people to compare yourself with because there is no one else around because no one wants to be around the guy that is never happy and eternally ungrateful for all he has accomplished.