Why Getting Caught in the Comparison Trap is so Deadly

Megan Dahlman
April 12, 2016

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​​I always say that inconsistency is the enemy of fitness. In a similar manner, comparison is the enemy of motivation. Nothing will drain your motivation like seeing someone else succeed faster than you.

Comparison is the enemy of motivation. 

​One of the hardest things to overcome as you journey toward being more fit and healthy is the comparison trap. There is no doubt that we are social creatures, constantly aware of the activities of those around us, in community with other people, and learning and growing alongside our friends and family. But because we interact so closely with others, it feels impossible to not compare what is going on in our own life to the life of someone else.

The following scenario happens all the time:

You finally muster up the courage and motivation to begin eating healthy and working out, giving it your best shot for three straight weeks. You feel inspired and are starting to feel your body change a little. You know it will be a long haul, but it’s okay, you’ve got this!

As you get excited about your progress, you tell some of your friends and family. Lo and behold, one of your friends has recently started working out and eating better, too! She’s raving about her progress and is already down 10 pounds in three weeks! You smile and say, “That’s great!” But inside, you are suddenly frustrated and embarrassed by the measly 3 pound weight loss you’ve accomplished.

Your motivation just died. One conversation, one comment on Facebook, one picture from a friend, one magazine article. That’s all it took to compare your own fitness journey to someone else’s and then let it completely kill your drive.

Who are you? A few months ago, I wrote about identity. (Check it out here.) It was fascinating as we explored the different titles that we carry as moms, daughters, nurses, employees, wives, volunteers, leaders, followers, victims, illness sufferers and more. The variety of these titles makes us beautifully unique, but our identities also affect our fitness journeys. You and your friend could be embarking on the exact same workout and nutrition plan, but because you are two very different people, the results will be different.

And this is okay!

You MUST realize that you are a unique individual. You are fearfully and wonderfully made by God to be different than anyone else. So, when you begin to compare yourself (your progress, your body or your experience) to other people, this will tell you NOTHING about who you are and what you are accomplishing.

Keep your blinders on, keep your head down and do your work.

Don’t let someone else’s journey kill your motivation.

But wait, there's more. The comparison trap does not stop there. As some of us mature, we are able to rise above the comparison game with other people. We have learned to keep those blinders on and refuse to let someone else determine our success.

However, we don’t think to guard against comparing ourselves to ourselves. This is so dangerous, and your motivation will die just as quick of a death when this game gets started.

I cannot begin to tell you the number of women I have coached who have gotten in the best shape of their life at some point in the past. Perhaps they worked with a trainer before their wedding, they were incredibly active before kids arrived, or they were fit and healthy before an injury happened.

The nostalgia for this bygone era is so heavy it will bring them to tears...

“If I could just have the body I had before kids.”
“Ten years ago, I did such and such workout and wore a size 4.”
​“I used to be proud of my legs back in my running days before my injury.”

I am not immune to this self-comparison trap, either. Before I got pregnant with my first boy, I made it my goal to get in the best possible shape. I wanted to go into pregnancy as fit as possible. I trained ridiculously hard and ate admirably well. I got down to 12% body fat…ripped. And then I got pregnant.

As we all know, pregnancy changes your body. It just does. I am really fit right now, but my stomach will never be flat again. My skin is a little saggy and my boobs just flat out disappeared (pun intended!). It’s hard to not glance back at what my body was like when I was 25, pre-Calvin.

If these thought patterns don’t stop now, they will certainly get worse with age. Our bodies get older and there is no stopping it. We can’t pretend to be 25 forever. And you will never step forward into being remarkably fit if you constantly have an eye on the past.

Let this passage sink in with you for a minute:

“No, dear (brothers and) sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:13, 14)

No, dear sister, you may not be where you want to be. You may not be as fit as you once were. You may not be as fit as your friend. But, forget the past and look forward to what lies ahead. Press on. Run your race. 

Look ahead. Where are you right now? What state is your body in right at this moment? Take stock of yourself, and then take one “you-sized” step forward. Keep your gaze forward, keep your eyes fixed on the task at hand.

>>Guard yourself against looking backward, at a body you once had or at a task you were once able to do.

>>Guard yourself against looking sideways, at the bodies and the accomplishments of others.

Don’t get pulled into the comparison trap, because it will kill your motivation. And whatever you do, do not let your motivation die.

“Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.” Proverbs 4:25-27  

Hey, guess what? You can start showing up for your body in simple ways, right now.
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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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