The Danger in Comparison
June of 2012, I showed up to do the Cambridge, MD half Ironman. Completing this race would validate my spot to compete in the Ironman World Championships later that same year. I thought, “easy peasy, I will complete this race and be on my way.” The problem is that standing around waiting for the race to start, I found myself looking at the other athletes around me and comparing myself to them. Suddenly, a wave of fear came over me, thinking that I didn’t belong. They were better than me. And all at once, limiting beliefs set in about my ability to complete the race. I felt anxious and nervous and completely inadequate. Had I stayed in this space, it would have cost me one of the biggest dreams and gateways in my life, to instead, live a small, purpose-less and shallow one.
I hear from folks all the time who gave up on something they really wanted because of comparison to others and subsequent limiting beliefs. And the cost is enormous. In fact, I bet you can think of your own situation and what it cost you. This is why there is danger in comparing yourself to others.
This is the point; to give you the understanding of comparison, when it’s actually useful, and the antidote to damaging comparison and the ultimate costly limiting beliefs.
Why Comparison Happens
When we were created, our brain was designed to instantly size up a situation and judge it as a threat or safety, so we could react quickly and stay alive. So, our brains are comparative machines by design. We can’t stop comparing, it’s in our DNA. Comparison is still helpful in modern-day society, recognizing aggressive or threatening behavior compared to safe behavior, allowing us to react and keep ourselves safe.
When we compare ourselves to others in non-life-threatening situations, and deem other’s abilities superior to ours, we experience an emotional reaction and assign meaning to it which becomes “I can’t do that” or “I won’t be able to do that.” These are also known as limiting beliefs. The natural response to limiting beliefs is withdrawal and avoidance, which means a dead stop on whatever you were pursuing.
As I was standing in the group of swimmers at the Cambridge Ironman starting line, my friend read my face and emotions, seeing what I was doing. She grabbed me by the hand and started listing off all of my achievements that brought me to the starting line. This brought me back to MY capabilities and out of comparison of what I thought other people could do better than me. It also transformed limiting beliefs to unlimited beliefs about what I could accomplish.
Learn to recognize when you are comparing yourself to others and questioning ability through limiting beliefs. You can’t stop comparing, but you can use the awareness of it to escape the trap and power of limiting beliefs.
Provide evidence of your ability and options you may not have identified to achieve what you want. Make a list (preferably on paper, as it is more powerful cognitively) of your ability and options. Notice that the negative emotion dissipates right away.
Move forward right away. Take the next step, take the action for what you want. And then, keep going with the next step and the next.
Repeat every time this happens. Even though I’m now a world-class ultra-athlete who competes in some of the toughest races, I still succumb to comparison and limiting beliefs. We all will. It’s what we do in the face of it that makes the difference and keeps us out of danger.