“I want to get really skinny for my wedding pictures”, she said, sucking in her cheeks to hollow them out.
Interiorly, I cringed.
Now, as a coach, it’s not my job to judge. Question? Often and gently. Guide? Certainly. But judge, never. And any comment I ever make takes into consideration the relationship, the trust that I’ve built with the other person.
In this very instance, as it was a one-off conversation with a woman I barely knew, I had to tread lightly. I talked factually about realistic fat loss expectations.
Inside, however, I wanted to scream:
WHY??? Why are you doing this to yourself? So that you can look back at those pictured and berate yourself for not being able to maintain that weight? So that you can constantly compare yourself to that elusive image and feel bad?
I didn’t say anything of the sort. Maybe I should have. (We’ll never know!)
But this is just another manifestation of this thing that takes up so much of our mental space: COMPARISON.
I’ve written before about how we’re doing ourselves a disservice comparing ourselves to others. Even when we consciously know we shouldn’t do it, the proverbial greener grass can sway us into believing we know what’s going on in others’ lives and becoming envious.
But there’s an even more insidious thing that we do, and that’s just as destructive: comparing ourselves… to ourselves!
“I didn’t use to look like this!”, another client of mine said, grabbing her upper arms.
Actually, now that I think of it, I can think of several clients who’ve done that exact thing!
Granted, there’s a lot of messaging out there telling us―especially in the motivational and fitness realms―that our only competition is ourselves. And while I understand where it the idea comes from and I agree with some of it, I think that many of us use it in a perverted, destructive way.
Should I compare my performance of this week with my performance of a few months ago, where I was essentially operating under similar conditions?
Sure! That’s a valid measure of progress.
Should I compare myself to where I was ten years ago, pre-kids, in a completely different decade of my life, and working an entirely different career, in a way that makes me feel bad about myself?
Ok, be honest: how is that helpful?
The answer is always the same―it’s not. It’s just another insidious way to make ourselves feel bad. Comparison 2.0, if you will.
When our circumstances change drastically―as is the case with major life events―we essentially become this “other person” we know not to compare ourselves with. The problem is that because we still consider ourselves to be the same individual, we believe that this comparison is fair game.
Even worse, we tend to romanticize the past in order to be able to berate ourselves even further. We gloss over the inconvenient details, in order to have that past image of ourselves fit into that idealized “goal self” forgetting all the context―both on the personal and the biological standpoint―that was undeniably different from our present reality.
Beyond this comparison being pointless, it’s also harmful. We can’t berate ourselves into a healthier lifestyle, or a better self-image.
HELP! HOW DO I STOP DOING THIS?
Self-care and self-compassion are key when we want to stop ruining our outlook with comparison―be it with ourselves or with others. We need to recognize and truly surrender to the fact that we are worthy just as we are, regardless of where we are in our personal journey.
Growth isn’t linear. It never will be; no matter how hard we will it to be, it’s just not happening!
The version of ourselves that we’re inclined to celebrate―thinner, younger, more driven, more energetic―is certainly worth celebrating, but no more or no less than who we are today.
By envisioning ourselves with love and compassion rather than criticism and nostalgia, we’re better equipped to build and grow, instead of blame and regret!