Have you ever had a moment when you thought to yourself, “How did I let myself get this out of shape?” or “I wish I looked like that” or “I wish I could do that.”
It happened to me last night. I did my first run in ages. It was hard. My running has been sporadic at best since my last Half Marathon 7 months ago. I teach a yoga course, and afterward I decided to take advantage of the gym at the University, and hop on the treadmill. Our single digit temperatures and mass amounts of snow have given me plenty of excuses not to go running, but I am at the school teaching 3X per week so I decided to make use of that time and finish my workout with a run.
I put the treadmill on my normal speed, and I felt pretty tired by the time I hit the one mile mark. I looked at the counter on the treadmill, and realized that I was running what used to be my average pace per mile for a half marathon. So it should be a pace I can easily maintain for a quick 5K run. I felt like I was starting over from scratch.
Enter reality check and subsequent negative thinking. I caught my brain starting to play the comparison game. This used to be easy for you. I can’t believe you’re feeling this pace after just one mile. You used to be so much faster, fitter and healthier. How could you let this happen? Being on a treadmill can be quite tedious on it’s own. I did not need a negative chorus chiming in from my own brain.
I made a conscious effort to change the story I was telling myself. Instead of “look how much you suck now” I started thinking, “You are making a great choice to improve your health and fitness. If you keep this up you are going to see great improvements in your speed and endurance.”
When I teach my Yoga class, each semester I share this quote with my students:
“Comparison is the Thief of Joy“ -Theodore Roosevelt.
In my class I use it as a reminder that it doesn’t matter how flexible your neighbor is. It doesn’t matter if you struggle in a pose, or you don’t look like the most recent #Fitspiration you saw on Instagram or Pinterest. What matters is that you are showing up consistently to your practice and you are expanding past what you currently see as your limitations. Practice and consistency are the true “secrets” to progress. If you keep showing up change will happen.
So how can you stop comparing yourself to others (or even to past versions of yourself)? It’s not always a simple matter, because for many people we have been affirming the process of comparison for so long that we don’t even realize we are doing it, but just like in our fitness with practice and consistency we can start to change our thought process.
- Change the Story: If you find yourself caught in the cycle of negative self talk, make a conscious effort to re-phrase the story you are telling yourself. For example, if you are tearing yourself down for unhealthy food choices, remind yourself that food isn’t inherently good or evil. Making a less nutritious food choice doesn’t diminish your value or end your journey toward making healthier choices.
- When you start comparing yourself to someone else (or a past version of yourself) take a moment to recognize something you appreciate about yourself. Make a conscious effort to stop the negative thought, and change it to a positive thought. We strengthen the neural pathways in our brain that we use more frequently. So make the positive neural pathways stronger, so they are easier to access and follow.
- Recognize and Celebrate Victories Along the Way. When it comes to fitness there are so many non-scale victories (NSV) that you can celebrate! Did you make it though an entire interval of an exercise that you used to struggle though? Yay You!!! Were you able to run one minute longer before taking a walking break? That’s Awesome! Recognizing these victories will help build your confidence, and reinforce the fact that your body is meant for something other than fitting into a certain size clothing, or hitting a certain number on the scale.
- Anchor Yourself In the Present Moment: Sometimes our thoughts run away from us. Before we know it we have a mental train with no brakes hurtling full speed ahead. To help exit the thought process you can anchor yourself into the present moment. To do this I focus on my breathing. I read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh that described a technique I found very useful: to help focus on the present moment take in a breath and focus on the experience, saying “Breathing in, I am breathing in. Breathing out, I am breathing out.” It helps you to orient yourself to the present, instead of ruminating on the past, or feeling anxiety over the future.
- Take Time Each Day to Be Self Positive: Make being kind to yourself a habit. We are often quick to focus on the negative at the expense of the positive. Practice self kindness. Look in the mirror, or ask a friend to tell you something good about yourself. It can be physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual, or all of the above.
Do you have any other techniques you use to stop comparing yourself to others? Please feel free to share them in the comments below.
***Note: This is not a substitute for help from a mental health professional. If you feel that you are caught in negative thought processes that are impacting your ability to function please seek the help of someone who can give you the individualized care that you deserve. You can certainly use the techniques described above in conjunction with help from a certified professional who understands your unique needs.***