Getting Out of the Comparison Trap
Hi, everyone. I’m Coach Taryn. I am here to talk about something that’s come up a lot with the athletes that I’ve been working with over the last couple of weeks – getting out of this comparison trap. Very often, particularly in individual sports, it can be very easy to compare yourself to the other athletes or competitors, particularly those who are in the same age group or training or those that you’re training around.
Today, I want to talk about a couple of things that can help an athlete get out of this comparison trap where they might tend to get stuck comparing themselves to others. When you compare yourselves to others, you tend to feel inferior. You tend to feel frustrated by your mistakes or areas of weakness that you might see in comparison to those other athletes, and you might get distracted.
Internal & External Distractions
When you’re watching what others are doing, you then start to experience external distractions. You are paying attention to what others are doing which results in experiencing internal distractions like negative self-talk. You may start saying, “I’m never going to be as good as them,” or, “How come they can get all these skills easier than me? It must mean I’m not talented.” When you get stuck in that internal negative dialogue, that distracts you and then pulls away from your ability to perform the way that you know you’re capable of.
What’s in Your Control
The first thing I talk to athletes about when I talk about this comparison trap is the importance of focusing on what’s in your control as an athlete. Even if you were the most perfect and you trained hours upon hours in your sport, you were succeeding and winning, there are still going to be athletes out there who you might look at and see that they’re doing things in a way that you might see as better than you. Or you might have a coach or a parent or a friend tell you that another athlete is better than you. That’s going to be there, and you cannot control that. But what you can do is focus on the things that are in your control, in the present moment as you go through training in your sport day after day after day.
Process vs. Outcome
Next, I encourage athletes to prioritize the process rather than the results. The results are an outcome. They are based on a lot of things that are out of your control. Again, even if you do the most perfect routine, you land all of your jumps in your skating program, you score a whole bunch of goals in the game, you still can’t control what the other competitors are going to do, or how the judges score the routine or the event. By focusing on the process, focusing on what you’re doing on a day to day basis is going to be where the secret lies.
Set Daily Goals
Setting small goals each day in practice can help you stay focused on what you are doing and what’s in your control. Once you have those daily goals, you can use them to employ your mental skills. Imagery, self-talk, breathing, focusing strategies, will help keep you connected to those goals. If you feel like you’re struggling to achieve those goals, then you might work on some of the progressions and drills that are going to help you build confidence in your skills and in your process. It’s going to help you maintain and build a better mindset as you go through training, which is then going to translate to more confidence in competition.
If you’re comparing yourself to others, others, you’re going to be constantly feeling stress and anxiety. If you’re focused on you and bettering your performance and taking those small steps towards your goals, you’re going to be enjoying yourself more, feeling less stressed, and that’s going to result again in better performance.
Trust Your own Path
I think it’s really important to remember that every athlete develops at different rates. People achieve and master skills in different ways, in different sports. You can look at a lot of sports and see athletes who have developed at various different trajectories. It’s really important to trust that you are putting in the training that’s going to help you get to the point where you’re trusting your coaches, trusting the practice, and the repetition that you’ve been doing.
Look at Your Successes
A good way to do that is to go back and look at successes, go back and look at your accomplishments. Maybe even make a list at the end of each day of practice of the things that you accomplished and the successes you had. At the end of practice, it’s really easy to go back through all of the things that you feel like you wish you did better, or the mistakes that you made. That’s a habit we often get into that creates a lot of negative emotion.
If you can get to the end of the day of practice and identify, “This is what I did well today. Here are the things I can be proud of.” Maybe even watch some videos and celebrate those successes. These are ways to help build trust in your abilities so when you get to meets and competitions and games, you’re more likely to be able to trust your training and tap into that trusting mindset. That’s so important for athletes.
Being Trusting and Present
It’s also important to remind yourself that nobody has the same path to success and that path to success is never, ever going to be a straight line for nobody. It’s always going to be twisty and like a roller coaster. Part of this is trusting that you’re going to get to the place where you’re meant to be, but in order to do so, you have to focus on being in the present moment.
Defining Success in Your Own Terms
The last thing I want to talk about is creating your own personal definition for success. A lot of us look at success as the medals and standing on top of the podium, which is great, right? That is success. However, if we define success as only that, then we start to feel a lot of discouragement and frustration when that doesn’t happen. Standing on the top of the podium, a big part of that is out of our control because it depends on so many other external factors. What you want to do is take a moment and define what success means for you as an athlete. Maybe it’s that you had fun each day when you were at practice, maybe that’s getting out there at your meets, your competitions, your games, and just giving it everything you have on that day.
We also know that nobody’s going to be able to give 100% every single day they step into their sport. There might be some days where you’re experiencing pain, injury, or sickness or fatigue, and you step out into your sport training environment and you only have 80% to give. So success might be just giving that 80% on that day. We know it’s not possible for everybody to be perfect every single day. In fact, we know it’s not possible for anybody to be perfect.
Identify Your Successes
I want you to think about what your definition of success is? What does that mean to you? One of the things you can do at the end of each day is to identify what it is that you did that fell into your definition of success. If you had fun in the gym or you had fun on the ice that day, you are able to walk away and say, “Okay, I was successful today”. We know that success on a daily basis adds up to success in a career or a lifetime. Each time you have those successes it’s going to build a foundation of confidence, of trust, and of belief in yourself, of optimism, of a positive mindset.
Think about your success as being something related to the process. If you can do that, you are going to win each day that you step into your sport. Maybe that’s something that you can do with coaches or with parents – take a moment and sit down and think about what success means for you in your sport? You might even want to ask some other athletes how they define success, especially if you’re looking for inspiration.
Speaking of inspiration – that’s the last thing I want to touch on. I want to make it clear that inspiration is good in sport. It’s ok to be looking at other athletes and watching what they’re doing for inspiration, modeling and looking at what they’re doing if you can then say, “What can I do or what can I improve on in my own sport to be able to master some of the things that I see that athlete doing?”
If you see an athlete doing a skill that you’re really inspired by and you want to be able to do, then start thinking, “What can I incorporate into my training so that I can get to be more like that athlete?” This is different than comparing yourself and saying, “Oh my gosh, that athlete can do that. I’m never going to be able to do that.” You end up feeling a lot of negativity and a lot of frustration. So if you look to other athletes in your sport, think about it as modeling and inspiration, rather than getting stuck in the comparison trap.
Getting Unstuck Takes Time
This is something that I love talking to athletes about. If you find that you’re getting stuck in that comparison trap over and over again, feel free to reach out to me. I would be happy to speak a little bit more about how to get unstuck from these comparison traps. As always, remember, it’s a journey. It’s going to take practice and repetition of focusing on the opposite of comparing yourself to others, focusing on you and what’s in your control. The more you do that, day after day, you’re going to start to see that growth, that shift, and that build in confidence.
Again, I really hope that everyone has a great day. Thanks for tuning into this live. Feel free to reach out with any questions. My email is [email protected]. I would love to answer any other questions you have about getting stuck in the comparison trap. Have a really great day, everyone.