“I’ll never be able to do this,” a new friend recently said when we went skateboarding together. She had just picked up the sport and was struggling to balance on the board, “you make it look so easy.”
I zoomed around and met back up with her, I completely understood where she was coming from because I had once been there. I would watch YouTube videos of amazing skaters and see pictures of these skater babe girls doing awesome tricks and find myself filled with defeat. A shadow would fall over me and I’d think- I’m not good enough to do that.
It took away the excitement that I felt, it made me not look forward to stepping foot on the board. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and no truer words have ever been spoken.
That day, my friend wasn’t able to enjoy the sunset, the smooth concrete, or be proud of the fact that she was trying something new. Comparison can be a real bitch.
And yet, there is an immense amount of value that lives within comparing yourself to others. The key is, to compare yourself with the right people and come from the best frame of mind.
While this may be easier said than done, it is possible, and if done right, can be a powerful way to improve your sports performance and your life.
So often, our comparison stems from a place of envy, greed, or wishful thinking about what our future could hold. There are a few pitfalls within comparison that can be avoided to use this superpower for good.
1. Comparing with the best.
When I workout in the gym, I love to people watch. Every once in a while I’ll notice a newbie standing in a corner watching the fittest, strongest guy in the gym workout. You can almost feel the comparison steaming off this new guy’s body. He’s measuring up his meager muscle mass, the small weights he’s lifting and the timid energy he’s producing.
While looking up to the best is an amazing way to learn great technique, to see a powerful example of what is possible, it creates a massive wall between where you stand now and where they are. This lands you in a place of demotivation and running the risk of giving up too soon.
Your day 1 is going to be very different than someone’s day 10,000. It’s like comparing apples to…a hunk of wood. It doesn’t work.
I battle this sense of defeat by offering up a reminder, of where the best came from. After all, no one comes out of the womb setting world records, you work towards them. Watch the tape of a professional when they were first starting out. Watch the very first YouTube video they ever published or the first game they ever played. Chances are…it will feel like watching a completely different person. And this will gift you with a perspective, they were once in your shoes, and if you put in the work, you can one day be in theirs.
Within the book The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyle discusses the value of putting yourself on an edge, where you are doing something just difficult enough that you are improving, but easy enough that you believe you can do it. The more you tetter on this ledge, the better you become. Take this same approach when it comes to whom you choose to watch and compare yourself to. If you are an orange belt in karate, watch a blue belt for inspiration, don’t stare at the black belt’s feeling bad about yourself.
2. Chasing meaningless goals.
Have you ever found yourself competing to be better at something, just because everyone else is, not because you actually want to?
The truth is, when you measure your success using comparison, you start chasing goals you might not necessarily care about. Perhaps you saw someone squat clean 200 lbs and now find yourself suddenly chasing 205lbs, or perhaps you saw someone breathe fire from a handstand and now you suddenly feel the need to do this too. But, how often do you pause and ask, is this something I truly care about?
When you repeat this often, you end up pursuing goals just to beat other people. And believe me, I get it, winning feels great, and not losing feels even better. But for what cost? By pursuing the wrong goals, you are avoiding the ones you really care about.
In order to avoid this trap, only step into a mindset of comparison when it is something you have already decided you want to do. Otherwise, view these wonderful examples or feats with awe and inspiration, instead of coming from a place of the drive to emulate.
3. Comparison never ends.
There will always- I’ll repeat- always- be something next. One level after another, one competitor to the next, and even if you are at the top, you will always be chased.
When you can acknowledge this, you’ll realize connecting your happiness by how well you’re doing compared to someone else is the worst thing you can do. The reason being, beating one opponent will immediately land you to face the next with a higher benchmark. You will wind up in a constant state of chasing the win.
Instead of looking at others in relation to where you stand, compare yourself to what you can do. If you want to grow, look at who you were yesterday and determine how you can be better today. Constantly measure yourself against no one other than you. If you haven’t heard Matthew McConaughey speech on who his hero is, watch this here:
You don’t have to compare yourself against the best performer or knock your opponent out cold. If you enter a race against yourself, you embark on an endless journey of self-improvement.
Don’t come out of the gates trying to shatter records. Chip away at the record that you have set thus far. When I was a competitive swimmer, I slowly knocked off fractions of a second in my races. Every time I would get behind the block and race, I would beat my time ever so slightly. Sure I would use the girls in the lanes next to me as fuel, to push me, to fight harder when it hurt, but it was me against myself. It was a gradual improvement, a slow transition, and in the end, I found myself so focused on my own race, on everything that I could control, that I often won…not just beating myself yesterday, but also beating everyone else.
The only thing we should compare ourselves to is who were before… or to what we are capable of now. So go beat her/him. I dare ya!
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This article first appeared on Medium.