Wish you were her? Why comparing yourself to others doesn’t add up.


As a sportsperson, one of the worst things we can do, but one I’m sure we are all guilty of, is comparing our progress and results to those of others. You may feel quite pleased with your 45 minute gym session, until you log on to Facebook to see smugfaced Millicent has just run a 100km ultra marathon. And due to a tweet you saw, you’re now feeling downright obese because Penelope posted her avocado and quinoa smoothie and you’ve just wolfed all the jammy dodgers. Thanks to the power of social media, and the constant drip feed of everyone’s best bits, it is difficult to not compare ourselves to others, and feel just a little bit inadequate.

But let’s keep it real. If you’ve ever had a photo taken at a sporting event, I will bet that you’ve had to sift through a barrage of god awful photos, before selecting one to share that looks pretty decent. Especially when running. Running photos are not pleasant. When you strike the ground at the hardest point, even for the perkiest of ladies, gravity pulls us saggily downward. Gym selfies? Most of the time I go to the gym looking somewhat bedraggled and leave looking worse. I tell thee now, that image won’t be making it on to any timeline that I control.

And now, being relatively experienced in front of a camera lens, I can divulge that good lighting goes a long way; making muscles pop up out of nowhere, when you really can't see them in real life. If I don't even look like me, how can someone else expect to?

Here is a prime example of life as a pro athlete (my sister caught me unawares {I'm the 'reality' btw}):

Appearance comparisons are one thing, but we also need to be wary when it comes to performance.

Follow a sport or join a group of like-minded people, and naturally, there will be homo sapiens who are better at certain things than you. It’s great to have people to aspire to, but equally, their ability shouldn’t make you feel bad about yours. Often, in secret, they’ll be wishing they had what you had in some other area too. For me, I sometimes find myself wishing I could cycle as well as Tabitha, Florence and Geranium* (*names have been changed to protect identity). But then I can swim faster, and I don't stop and consider that they may wish for that! Similarly, just about every pro will be envious of the standard age grouper's annual income...

Keeping tabs on other people can be beneficial if you approach it with the right frame of mind. Used as a benchmark, other people's achievements can spur you to new levels of commitment and performance. However, if these comparisons make you feel worse about yourself, then it’s time to reconsider.

  • Are the comparisons you’re making realistic? Can you really expect to run as fast as a pro and have the abs of a fitness model whilst eating all the jammy dodgers?

  • Are you being truly honest with your goals? Never mind anyone else, what would you be happy with, and how will you get there?

  • Count your blessings. Just because someone is faster or fitter than you, doesn't mean they have made it in life (I would say that part simply depends on how happy you are).

  • Unless you can replicate conditions exactly, it’s difficult to compare courses or results. Especially in triathlon, take times with a pinch of salt. My Ironman time is still 10 hours something which is shambolic for a pro on paper, but I've done Ironman UK and the Bastion (the latter with great success, but still coming in at 10 hrs 40 or so). These courses are not comparable to Challenge Roth. I just need to go and actually do Roth and get me something with a 9 in it!

  • Remember it's all fleeting and our sporting accomplishments will all soon be forgotten. I don't know who won the Olympics in 776 BC, and in the grand scheme of things, soon no one will know what a brownlee is. Enjoy your moments for what they are, but it's healthy (if a touch dour) to maintain a bit of perspective.

We are all responsible for our own happiness and that is more easily obtained when we focus on ourselves and how we feel, rather than falling into the cycle of comparing ourselves to others or simply doing what others do.

For me, well I can't run more than every other day as I seize up, so I can't put run mileage away like others. I can still run really well on my day, but for years I would be constantly injured because coaches would say "Our golden girl Nelly* does that amount, so you must do that too or you'll always run 40 minute 10km's". Not true.

Other things I do that others don't. I won't cut out chocolate, I will drink some wine with my dinner (but those do get restricted when necessary). I will also go to Ibiza for a party weekend every year. Without these little things, I would never be a good pro because I would be suppressed. For some though, Pacha til 6 a.m would be their idea of hell on Earth. Their off-season treats may be kale juice with extra lemons and playing along to University Challenge past the 9pm curfew, and I respect them fully for that. That's not me though. Of course, we all work damn hard. But just as we should, we all too have slightly different ways of 'staying afloat'.

Find out what it is you love to do, and how you operate best. Look to others for guidance and inspiration, but use them to be the best version of yourself, not a washed up version of someone else. Put the good work in and keep in your positive bubble. Results that you can be proud of will happen naturally.

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