I’m not an overly fast runner.
I often marvel at the fast runners I see in the local park, and wonder how they manage to maintain such flighty speeds.
I compare myself to them. I tell myself that I’ll never be as fast as them.
And then I feel like shit.
I’ve noticed this pattern in other areas of my life, too.
I am exceptionally lucky to have a host of friends from all over the world who dazzle me daily with their jaw-dropping innovation, talent, creativity, and balls-to-the-wall all out bravery.
I compare myself to them. I tell myself that I’ll never be as good at writing/as savvy/as successful/as courageous/as committed as them.
And then I feel like shit.
Sound familiar to you?
At some stage in our lives, we’ve all done it.
We’re an observant bunch, us humans. Whether we are people watching on the train, sitting in a bar with friends, flicking through a fashion magazine or spectating at a race, we’re constantly observing. And when we observe, our minds naturally start to process this information; we start to evaluate, to quantify, to contextualise, to self-appraise – to compare.
The thing is, constantly comparing ourselves to others is a no-win situation. It’s an awesome thing to be inspired by someone, to look up to their achievements and aspire towards your own greater goal as a result, but to compare yourself directly? Nuh-uh. It doesn’t work that way.
So how do we stop doing this?
I believe it starts with something called cognitive re-framing.
Sounds too psycho-babble-scary? How about this then:
I believe it starts with changing the way we view ourselves in context to situations, people and concepts.
Let me give you an example.
At the end of my marathon season this year, which culminated in an Autumn ultra marathon no less, I decided to give my body (and mind) a break from the rigorous and often regimented running training I had been used to. The prospect of not running AT ALL felt uncomfortable and wasn’t something I wanted to implement, and so I decided to train for a December 10K race, a short distance in comparison to a marathon, and concentrate on getting faster instead.
Yep, the very thing I believed I sucked at.
During my training, as I practiced my speed intervals in the park or on the track, I was often lapped, not once, but twice, by the faster runners. My instant reaction was to stop. To pack it all in and go home; “What’s the fucking point”, I would catch myself thinking. And yet with cognitive re-framing, or more simply, by saying to myself, “Hey, Liz, let’s look at this a different way, 2 years ago, you could barely run 5K without stopping, and now you can run marathons – I think there’s a high possibility that you can get faster, just like the guys who are lapping you”, I would continue my workout,
As the weeks of training passed by, I got better and better at re-framing. I was still conscious of the faster runners in the park, but I found myself less inclined to compare myself to them. When I felt the comparison temptation kicking in, I would gently remind myself of the achievements I have made over the last few years, whether they were running triumphs or personal endeavours, and mentally pat myself on the back. As my re-framing improved, so did my running speed. I cannot prove that either of these things are mutually inclusive of the other, but I really believe they are. Look at it this way, if you spend your entire marathon training hating every moment, and you purposefully allow that little voice in your head to tell you that there’s just no way you’ll be able to run 26.2 miles, there’s a strong likelihood that your marathon experience will be a pretty shitty one. If you constantly tell yourself that there’s no point applying for a job, because there are people out there who’ll land the position over you, people you believe are more talented/confident/experienced/knowledgeable, there’s a high possibility you’ll remain in the same job forever.
The mystic philosopher, Lao Tzu once said, “When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”
He had a bloody good point.