Today’s Topic: How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Hi everybody. I am coach Rebecca Smith, the founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching. Our topic today, how to stop comparing yourself to others, is based on a question that I got from a parent this past week.
If you are new to me and Complete Performance Coaching, what we do is help athletes age eight to 18 overcome the mental demons that keep them stuck in sport. This could be fear, mental blocks, performance anxiety, or even just not being as confident as you should be in your sport.
We do this in two ways – through one on one coaching, over facetime or Skype virtually. The other way is through our online, PerformHappy community.
Here’s the question for the day. This mom is named Tricia, and she says,
Q: I have an 11-year-old level six gymnast who constantly compares herself to the other level sixes on her team. Her biggest struggle is the fact that she’s 11 and most of the other girls are eight and nine and most of the time they will get a skill before she does, or she’s more afraid of something that they are not, like the Yurcheko Vault, for example. So we have lots of conversations and tears over the comparisons.
Trisha, you brought me back. By the time I got to level six, I was 13, so I was pretty much over the hill. All the little girls were like my little ducklings. They would cast to handstand, no problem, and then I have this huge, 13-year-old body and would think, “Oh, I can’t do what these little kids can do,” and it would’ve been really easy to get down on myself. And I did, of course, from time to time. I would say, “Well, hey, at least I’m in the Old Lady Age Division so I can still win,” even though the 11-year-olds were going to have these great routines but harder competition. So I can totally relate to this.
Also, just being a human, we’re all comparison machines. I’ve gone through a lot of my life thinking, “Oh, I’m not as good. I don’t have what this person has to be able to be successful.” I can still fall into that trap sometimes. I’m sure that whether you’re a parent, a coach, or an athlete watching, we all fall into that trap of comparing.
I’m going to give you guys some pros, like why does that happen and what’s beneficial about it? Then some cons, which you probably already know, but I’ll just touch on that. Lastly, I’ll give you some ideas on what you can do to get through it.
No More Invincibility
First of all, age 11 to 13, that’s when I say that people are no longer invincible. They’ve become aware of themselves and aware that they’re not invincible. This means they could get hurt, they could get in trouble, they could make somebody mad or sad. They get all this awareness at once and then all of a sudden it’s that Adam and Eve moment where they’re thinking, “What do I do now that I know all this stuff, now that I’m judging people and I’m afraid of what people think, and I’m self-conscious.”
Instead of just being this free kid who could just try stuff, now you’re aware of failure and what that might mean. But that’s important. It’s an important part of your 11-year-old life is figuring out, “Who am I? Where do I fit? What do I like? Who likes me? What is socially acceptable? What is not? Who Do I want to be? What do I value?”
That’s all part of the process of being an adolescent all the way up through high school. At that point, your brain is developing and you’re actually really susceptible to feedback. So if you get positive feedback, your brain goes, “Whoa! Dopamine, hooray! I’m awesome, I feel great!” And you get this big high. If you get negative feedback, it’s the worst thing ever on a brain level because you’re not getting a chemical that you need in order to be happy. Therefore, your brain says, “If I’m not okay, I can’t be happy.”
Identifying With Your Sport
If I completely identify with my sport, if someone says, “Hi, nice to meet you. Will tell me about yourself? And you respond, “I’m a gymnast. I’m Rebecca and I’m a gymnast,” and that’s all that I believe I am, and then I’m doing poorly, I’m getting poor feedback. It can be devastating.
Of course, to make matters worse, we see other people who are doing great, who are amazing, who are getting new skills, and it makes you feel like you’re fundamentally not okay, which seems so intense, but that’s what’s happening in these little brains.
Here are the good things about this. First of all, social contrast. That’s comparing ourselves to others: better, worse, higher, lower, prettier, uglier, smarter, dumber, more talented, less talented. That social contrast is something that keeps us safe.
For example, whenever my husband walks into a restaurant, standing back to the wall, he’s thinking, “I could take that guy. That guy might be able to beat me up. I could take that guy.” That is what’s happening in his brain. I don’t know if it’s happening in everybody’s brains, but he’s the kind of guy who walks into a room and has to scan for threats. “All right, I think we’re good. I think I can keep us safe in this environment.”
Comparison for Survival
I make fun of him. He’s a little bit like a caveman, but that’s just it. That’s what we’re all doing anyway. Actually, we’re all going, “Hmm. She looks smarter, she’s prettier, they like her better. She has more money.” We’re always snap judgment, comparing ourselves to people for survival, and it all goes back to the caveman times where if you’re not good at aiming your bow and arrow, you need to know that so you can find somebody who’s better at it to get into your tribe and help you.
If you’re not a good swimmer, you need to know this because if you’re being chased by a tiger, you need to climb a tree if that’s what your skill is. So you need to be aware of your weaknesses and you also need to be scanning for other people’s strengths and weaknesses so that you can all stay safe together in this crazy caveman world.
But we’re not actually in a crazy caveman world. We’re in a gym or we’re at the swimming pool or we’re on the ice. It’s not going to help us to be constantly putting ourselves down in comparison to other people.
Comparison for Motivation
Other things that are beneficial about comparison is that if you are comparing yourself to someone who’s just slightly better than you, you’re practically nipping at their heels, that can motivate you. If you see that person and go, “All right, we train the same amount of hours. They just did this thing that I want to be able to do and I think I can, I just have to work harder,” then you start chasing them in practice. If they’re doing one more rep, you’re doing two more reps. You use it as motivation instead of saying, “Oh, I’ll never get there.” That’s the negative part of it.
Comparison to Superior Athletes
Another thing that can be really useful in comparison is you can notice how you’re similar to people who are superior. If you have someone you’re looking up to and you’re thinking, “Oh, she’s so amazing,” then you want to go, “Well, I do this also, and I have this in common with her. I also work really hard, and I also have clean lines.” Find the similarities. If there’s somebody who’s doing better than you, figure out how you’re just like them and focus in on that.
Comparison to Inferior Athletes
You can play up the differences between you and somebody who’s inferior. If there is someone who is really negative on your team, who brings you down, then you can go, “Thank goodness I have a positive attitude. Thank goodness I don’t have to be miserable. That looks so difficult to be in that position.” When you can play up your differences so that you can feel better in a way that isn’t, “I’m great and you’re terrible,” but you’re just thinking, “Wow, I’m so grateful I don’t have to deal with that.”
Comparing vs. Expectations
Then there is the relationship between comparing and expectations. If you’re comparing yourself to other people and going, “Well, I should be there, and I should be able to do this skill. I should be at this level. I should be swimming at this pace,” then you have this expectation that you’ve just placed on yourself. If you can’t reach the expectation, then you’re going to feel stressed. If you feel stressed, your focus is going to get messed up. You’re going to be paying more attention to the other person then do yourself.
There are plenty of Olympic athletes, Amanda Beard is one that comes to mind, who say, “Let them think about me. Please be distracted thinking about me. I’m going to think about myself and what I need to do my best performance.”
But you don’t want to be the person who’s stuck thinking about other people because then you’re missing your moment to actually shine.
Comparison on Social Media
Here’s the downside of comparison. It’s made so much worse by social media. What’s happening on social media is you’re watching somebody else’s highlights reel, so you’re watching somebody else’s, “Look at all the beautiful, wonderful things I’m doing. Here’s me on the award stand with my metal. Here’s me with my amazing happy family. Here’s us on vacation.”
People don’t post their falls, their injuries, their sad days, weeks or months. They don’t, well most people don’t. They only post their successes. So here we are looking at all of these people thriving – so happy, so pretty, so well lit, and so everything that we feel like we’re not. We’re comparing them to our own bloopers reel, our own negative view of how terrible we are in comparison.
Use Social Media to Socialize, Not Compare
If that’s you, then use social media in a new way. If you can’t handle it, just get off. But it’s useful, right? Use it for connecting with people. Send them direct messages, ask them questions, build relationships, get in touch with the people who are going to show you both sides, the good, the bad, the happy, the not so happy, the successes, the failures. That’s what you need in order to feel like a human who is worthy.
You need to have people in your life who show all sides, not just what’s going great for them.
Your sense of self and your self-esteem start to go downhill when you’re only comparing yourself to things that are insurmountable. If you’re 13 and everyone else is nine, you think, “I will never be young. I will never be talented.” The end, curtains, there’s no coming back from that. If it’s insurmountable and you’re repeatedly telling yourself hat versus, “The role I took on my team is a leader. I am a motivator. I am kind, they adore me. I’m everybody’s favorite and I’m here for a reason. I have a purpose on this team.”
I had these little girls, and they were some of my favorite little people. That was my role and I accepted it. I didn’t decide I had to be younger or more talented, more strong, or more powerful. That’s just the way it was. So don’t dwell on the things that are insurmountable. It’s not worth your time.
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right” – Henry Ford
Another quote I really like is “Self-esteem is a self-fulfilling prophecy.” If you have bad self-esteem and you feel, “I’m no good, I’m ugly, I’m not talented, I’m not smart,” you’re going to seek out evidence that will prove that. If you believe, “I’m doing the best I can, I’m all right, I’m hanging in there, I am worthwhile,” you’re going to see evidence that’s going to show you that. When you’re surrounded with people who reflect that to you versus people who reflect to you that you are no good.
Helpful Tip Recap:
- Get off social media or use it to connect with people rather than just to compare.
- Don’t ask people how they did
- This one goes for competitions. You know, I hear it all the time with swimmers. People will ask, “Hey, how’d you do?” They respond with, “Oh, I did great,” and then you feel bad. So just don’t ask them how they did.
- Don’t compare yourself to your siblings, especially if you have a sibling in your sport. You just don’t talk about it. It’s like fishing for comparison and judgment.
- Look up just a little. I mentioned that fox chase with somebody who’s just a little ahead of you. Instead of having them be your competition, let them be your training partner. Even if they don’t know it, even if they’re your secret training partner – you’re watching them and you’re doing what they’re doing and you’re chasing them. That’s how you’re going to get what they have, by doing what they’re doing.
- The one I love the most is gratitude, counting your blessings. If you compare yourself to your ancestors from five generations ago and think about how much better you have it today, whatever your situation is, just compare yourself to people who are less fortunate than you. You get to have clean water, you get to have a roof over your head. You get to do your sport, you get to have a family who loves you and supports you. There are so many things at any moment that you can be grateful for. If you find yourself slipping into that mode of self-pity, you can dig yourself out with gratitude really quick. Pull out your five fingers and think of five things you’re grateful for – my pillow, my headphones, my dog, my daughter, my house.
Sending Good Vibes
There’s always five things you can quickly go to that will pull you out of that. I also like to do what I call the care bear stare. This is sending good vibes out to the people who you’re jealous of. That might sound really weird, but send them good vibes because that makes you feel so much better. “I hope she’s successful. I’m really happy for her,” and then go back to you. If you can’t stick with that, just go back to you, compare you to you, and every single practice or every single competition you show up and go, “All right, where am I today? It’s not in comparison to her or him, it’s just, “What is today? You can do it. Great. Now let’s get a little better.” Tomorrow you show up and go, “Where am I?” And then you get a little better.
What Parents and Coaches Can Do
One game that I really love that you can do in the car is called the unfortunately fortunately game. I’ve been talking about this a lot recently because I just love it. Parents, when your athlete is going negative, then you can go, “Well, unfortunately, that nine-year-old got that skill and bars before you,” and then their job is to say, “Fortunately, my cast got higher this week,” or whatever it is, and then you can go the other way. Kids can go, “Unfortunately, mom had a stressful day at work,” and mom can say, “Fortunately, I’m on my way home.” If you play that together, kids love it. I love it. It gives you a chance to find the good in any situation and it can start to recalibrate your brain toward the good stuff, the silver lining.
Coaches and parents – please don’t use comparisons to motivate. Don’t do it. It’s not motivating, it just hurts. Instead of asking, “All right, who’s going to get this skill first? You or you? Your sister’s gaining on you, do you want that to happen?” Those sorts of things devastate kids this age. Instead, say, “You two, you’re buddies, go over there and make six and then come back when you’re done.” You’re not having them working against each other, but you’re reminding them you’re a team and everybody has to make one in a row and then everybody wins. Those sorts of games are really motivating. Kids love them because they’re working together for the greater good.
All For One and One For All
It’s not one against the other, so if you are getting caught in this trap of comparison, you are not alone. It’s completely normal, but do your best to compare yourself to people just a little ahead of you and compare yourself to you. It’s normal to compare yourself to others, but do it in a way that’s going to make you feel better. If you notice that you’re doing it and it’s not feeling good, then it’s time to scratch that as a strategy.
Stop focusing on other people and just tune back into what you need to do right now to improve from where you are right now.
All right everyone, thanks for tuning in. You can join us in the PerformHappy community and you can reach out with questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll see you again soon.