Watch out for this Trap

Watch out for this Trap

"Comparison is the thief of joy." -Theodore Roosevelt

As trendy as it is to talk about the dreaded comparison trap these days due to the influx of highly curated 'personal brand' content on social media, the concept and experience is nothing new. Social Comparison Theory suggests that "individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others", with some studies suggesting as much as 10 percent of our thoughts involve comparisons of some kind.

If we are to some degree hardwired to operate off of comparisons, it's no wonder that the experience of sitting on the couch, mindlessly scrolling and consuming highlight reels on repeat of people around us who are seemingly fitter, more attractive, with better houses, happier relationships, a nicer car, more luxurious vacations and not a grey hair, blemish or fat roll in sight might not bode well for our overall well-being...  

Here's the thing. The logic involved in comparing ourselves to others is flawed at best, but anyone who's ever felt the twinge of jealousy, insecurity and inadequacy knows that our mind can play tricks on us to suggest otherwise. The fallacy lies in comparing two drastically different facets of individual experience from different vantage points; our internal lived experience to our own perception of someone else's portrayal of theirs.

That's a lot of layers to say this: 

Let it serve as a helpful reminder that comparison in this way, (you, on the couch, scrolling v. them showing you only the exact moments and angles they want you and everyone else to see) is a trap! It's not rooted in reality, and it doesn't benefit you to go down this rabbit hole. Turn back around! 

The less time you spend worrying about what someone else is doing, the more time you'll have to focus on your own journey.

Harness the energy for your own benefit

When we're fighting against a natural human instinct, we're likely doomed to fail. Why do insanely restrictive diets rarely work? (well, a few reasons, but that's for another day...) Why do we often know what to do in order to achieve our goals, but tend to get in our own way when it comes to actually doing it?

If you've run into some of these stalemates, you might be fighting against your human-ness by trying to force yourself into a diet, lifestyle, or exercise routine that is unbalanced and unrealistic. You fail to meet these ridiculously high expectations, give up trying, and the cycle repeats. Back to the couch to doom scroll and fall into the assumption that everyone else has it all figured out. It's time to work smarter, not harder. 

Now that it's well established that comparing ourselves to others is a natural, shared human experience, let's look at how we can use this energy for good.

A 2016 randomized controlled trial found that in an online social network setting, social comparison was significantly more effective at encouraging individuals to increase their physical activity than social support. These findings support the notion that we can use social comparison as a motivational tool and not just a trap. You may have experienced this before when working out in a group setting. You find someone who's capabilities are similar to your own, and you compete with each other, driving each other to work harder. You may think that you don't have it in you, but when you see Susie go after it, you're suddenly highly motivated and believe that if she can, so can you. You end up surprising yourself, and you never would have tried if it weren't for a bit of comparison. 

The goal here is not to never compare yourself to anyone else ever again. It is to catch yourself when you're comparing apples to oranges and then let that sh*t go. The comparison becomes a trap again if you choose an unrealistic target. Let's say you're at the gym again, and Bob is deadlifting 400+ pounds. "I'll never be able to do that"... the slippery slope of demotivation is real. "what's the point in trying if I'll never get there?" Turn back around! Context matters. How long have you been lifting? How long has Bob? Do you have the same goals, have you dedicated the same amount of time and energy and made the same sacrifices and worked through the same injuries and get the same amount of sleep and eat the same and have the same social support and upbringing and finances and... okay? Obviously not. Make sure it's realistic and motivational. If it's not serving you, it's probably not a fair comparison to make, and you can stop. Let Bob do Bob. You do you.

Which brings us to our last point, another tempting but of little-to-no-use comparison to make:

Current self vs. past self

"I just want to get back to ______". Right? Whether it's the clothes you used to wear, the weight you used to lift, the job you used to have, the distance you used to run, it's incredibly tempting to yearn for the good old days. But this comparison tends to take the wind out of our sails pretty quickly, as it is often times quite unrealistic. You can't go back in time, but you can take steps forward to something new, something different. You can use this information to set goals for your future self. Instead of yearning for what you used to have, flip the script and spend some time dreaming about what the future you can do if you stay consistent right now.

With the right amount of healthy competition, knowing when to halt a comparison trap train in its tracks, and setting your vision forward, the possibilities are endless. 

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