I like to think that I’m above the comparison trap insofar as knowing that comparing yourself to others is detrimental to your mental health and well-being.
But isn’t that what life is? Winners and losers? There is only one winner in a bike race, for a job position, at Kona, bar trivia, field day, for fuck sake. In that sense, if you are not the winner, you are the loser. It doesn’t have to be a negative thing where we hold an ‘L’ to our forehead and stick our tongues out at you.
But statement of fact: if you did not come in first then you lost. Because we all have a set of skills we bring to an event, race, or interview, those skills are essentially compared to the others you are competing against. The one with the most advanced set of skills in the particular situation usually beats the others.
In a job interview, the most qualified person is typically offered the position.
The racer with the highest watts out-sprints the field.
The kid with the strongest ankle flip wins the shoe kick.
The opposite is also true: the least qualified for the job isn’t offered the position. The slowest to the finish line is last place. The weak-ankled kid receives the purple participation ribbon for losing.
With all that being said, of course it’s natural comparing yourself to others. And that’s what I succumbed to after the Timnath Reservoir Road Race.
I came in a “mediocre 7th” I told my teammates. It was my first race back after two weeks of dealing with a cold and saddle sore and I expected first place-winning results. Such is the life of a perfectionist.
It was the biggest Cat 3 field out of the whole season – 13 of us duking it out. Unfortunately, there were only two Cat 1-2 women so they were grouped with us. I am still so fucking confused why women do and don’t show up to races. After every race, whether or not I compete, I look through all the categories to see who and how many women raced. I wish I could say I’m surprised with the minimal turnout but I’m not.
Most of the race was relatively uneventful save for the few attacks by a couple of the racers. Andie attacked in the third lap (she attacked every lap and then went on to earn third place) and no one chased her. I looked around the group to see any shifting. Nothing. Then Annie attacked, chasing after Andie. I looked around again. No one else was going for it. I knew I didn’t have the sprint finish power so I considered the pros and cons of chasing Andie and Annie down. You know, in like five seconds. It definitely wasn’t a thorough analysis.
I figured if the three of us could break away then I’d only have to sprint against two people instead of ten. I surged (what I do isn’t really attacking) ahead to catch up to Annie. No one was coming after me. I caught up to Annie and told her “They’re not coming. Want to try to get away with Andie?” I could have sworn she said “Yeah” or at least nodded, so I sped up to Andie.
When I caught up to Andie and looked behind my shoulder, Annie was not behind me. She slowed down. Then Andie slowed down. I didn’t have the strength to do an entire 8.9 mile lap alone so I slowed down too.
As I assumed, it came down to a bunch sprint finish. My sprint needs a ton of work and I can hear Susan now: “Start racing track!” And if I had the funds, absolutely I would.
I managed to get third wheel as we descended the last hill toward the finish. I tried learning from my mistake at Ridge at 38. I worried about getting boxed in at that race, so I came out from behind some woman, fronting the wind for whoever was behind me, coming in mid-pack. My coach and my husband both told me I should have stayed behind a wheel until the end. So at Timnath, I figured I’d put into practice what I was lectured about in my last race.
And what I feared would happen did, in fact, happen. I got boxed in. So much so that I was nearly touching handlebars with the women on either side of me. I even managed to yell “woah woah careful” as we sprinted to the finish. This all happened in a matter of seconds and it was a split decision to either fight to the line, inevitably using my elbows to push them away, potentially causing and being part of a crash, or easing off, letting them get in front of me, protecting my body, my bike, and my savings account. And with the two seconds I had to weigh my options, I chose safety.
Call me a wuss. Call me inexperienced. Call me whatever you want. Sending myself and others to the hospital for a podium didn’t seem worth it to me at the time. I’m no stranger to the hospital, ask my parents about my brain surgery and car crash. I don’t want to go back.
I didn’t know my official results but I knew I wasn’t on the podium. I was mad at myself and my weak legs. When I looked at the other women’s results, I instantly became aware of my shortcomings and judged myself for them. Why am I not stronger? Why does my sprint suck? She’s a better sprinter than me. She’s a stronger climber. I’m too fat. I should have done this. I should have done that.
Because that’s healthy, right?
We’ve all been there, succumbing to comparisons and feeling less than. Do you have tricks to stop comparing yourself to others? Here are some of mine:
Find what triggers me
Social media is my number one trigger. Any time I go on there, I’m inundating myself with people’s highlight reel. When you compare your personal issues with the shit people are CHOOSING to post on social, you’re totally killing your confidence. We all have 99 problems and we don’t post a single one. Stop comparing yourself to others’ curated life.
We’re all marketing ourselves on social. All of the channels. And yes, the “social media for athletes” app as well. How many times have you caught yourself scrolling through that app, comparing your training with other athletes? It’s the same mental fuckery that goes on inside Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.
We market ourselves just like businesses do. You don’t see companies airing their dirty laundry, advertising how they treat their employees or the fact that they’ve yet to make a profit. We’re only seeing a business’ best side. Just like the hundreds of people you follow and ‘friend.’ We compare our dirty laundry to their dry-cleaned bousgie outfits.
If I find myself scrolling a little too obsessively, I tell myself “This is bullshit,” “This is what they want me to see,” and “I can’t compare my bullshit to theirs.” I have yet to take the next step in deleting those apps off my phone.
If you feel worse about yourself after scrolling through activities, photos, and posts on social, then get off of it. Instead, go be “social” with your friends.
Remind myself of things I’m good at
This is a work in progress (like most things) because I have a difficult time listing strengths. I can generate a list of everything that needs improvement as easily as I can recite the alphabet, but listing strengths takes as much effort as reciting the alphabet backward.
Start creating a list. It doesn’t need to be endless. Start with a single thing. And start it when you’re in a good mood. When you’ve already fallen into Comparison Hell, comparing yourself to others, you’re “gonna have a bad time.” You’re not going to be able to think of a thing because you’ll be too busy obsessing over “Barb’s” qualities.
If you’re in a good mood and still not coming up with something, ask your friends and family. They’ll know something you’re good at. The one thing I’m always pointed to is my writing. So when I start to feel less than in one area of my life, I try to remind myself that I’m pretty okay at writing.
I practice gratitude
I may not be the fastest cyclist, but I could not have the ability to ride a bike at all. When I remind myself of what my body can actually do, I’m much more focused on my gratitude for it instead of its shortcomings. When you think of everything you body can do, it’s easier to stop comparing yourself to others. I have a friend with muscular dystrophy. It’s an incurable disease that weakens and essentially, destroys the muscles in the body. If I had muscular dystrophy, I wouldn’t be able to race my bike.
I remember times walking with my friend and he’d fall. The amount of energy and work it took him to get back into a crouching position and the particular force I’d have to place on his low back as I hoisted his upper body back up was astounding. We traveled to Japan together and he fell off the subway onto the platform. People were shocked to see what was happening. The workers wanted to help, but he was dead weight on the ground. You’d have to be a pretty strong person to simply lift him off the ground. I’m not strong enough. Neither were the workers who tried. We all had to stand there and wait for him to get in his crouched position, so I could help him up the rest of the way.
I don’t have to worry about falling and not being able to get up due to weak muscles. You can see by my quads that you don’t want to mess with my legs on a normal day. So, sure, maybe I can’t outsprint other women, but I still have the ability to sprint. And that’s something not everyone has.
I compare myself to my past self
Shall I sprinkle some cheese on your plate of self-worth? I can see all the superficial Instagram picture quotes right now. I almost cringe to write this one because it feels less realistic and authentic, but in actuality, it makes sense.
We are unlike anyone else. No one else could imitate us or be us or have the qualities we do as a whole person. There is no one else like me in the world. So if I’m going to compare myself to someone, it only makes sense to compare me to a younger version of me. When I do, it kind of blows my mind. When you catch yourself comparing yourself to others, stop and look at your younger self and compare against that.
Here’s a quick story: When I was in high school, I avoided working out like I avoid sketchy riders today. I thought exercise was a form of punishment. My Honors Chemistry teacher once pleaded for me to join the lacrosse team. He probably thought it’d be a healthy way to release my pent-up aggression. Instead, I stuck to writing poetry and going to ska shows. I considered “skanking” my thirty minutes of exercise. And sure, dancing for several hours to ska music burned calories and justified the brownie and ice cream I indulged in every night.
My friend Courtney also tried convincing me to join soccer in high school. I agreed to go to a practice. There we were, running up and down the stairs over and over and over again. My lungs burned. I thought I was going to puke. I hated it. I told myself when I got to the top of the stairs, I was going to run away and behind the railing. I totally did. I took off. A girl screamed, “She’s running away.” I hid in the bathroom with my skater friends until soccer practice was over.
It’s hard to fathom that I don’t go a day without moving my body in one way or another. I love to workout now. Unless I had a super hard training week, I don’t look forward to rest days.
When I start comparing myself to other women cyclists or athletes, I remind myself that this “working out” thing is relatively new to me. Like, in the past four years new to me. For twenty-six years of my life, I had no program I followed. I looked at exercise as a way to burn calories so I could continue to eat like shit. Now, I don’t “workout,” I “train.” When you catch yourself comparing yourself to others, think about an older version of you. How have you changed since? What can you do better now?
Comparing yourself to improve yourself is good, it’s healthy, it’s natural. But when you compare yourself to others and feel bad for your shortcomings and then do nothing about it then you’re walking down a path to Comparison Hell.
I’d love to hear other thoughts on how you stop comparing yourself to others. Leave a comment below.