“Why can’t I look more like them?” How the comparison complex makes you hate on your body—and 5 ways to beat it for good.
Ever feel like the body you want is always just out of reach? Like you’ll never quite be lean, strong, fit, or healthy enough? Or that there’s always somebody “better” than you? Here’s how to stop hating on your body, and free yourself from the frustration of constant comparison.
Regardless of where you are in your health and fitness journey, it’s common to feel like:
- You’re never quite where you want to be.
- Everyone else is doing better than you.
- Even your best effort just isn’t good enough.
We call this the comparison game.
A secret about comparison: Everybody’s doing it.
It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others.
Back in the 1950s, famed psychologist Leon Festinger, Ph.D. coined the term social comparison theory.
The idea: In order to gauge our “success” in any given area of life—career success, intelligence, and yes, appearance—we look to one another for points of reference.
But we don’t look to just anyone.
We compare ourselves to our “relevant peer group,” says Karen North, Ph.D., clinical professor of communications at the University of Southern California.
This group, explains Dr. North, is made up of people we perceive to be around our same level in any given attribute.
For example, if you’re a high school basketball star, you’ll likely compare yourself to the top players in your district, rather than NBA all-stars.
Now, it’s probably no surprise that your friends, neighbors, and colleagues typically fall into your comparison bucket.
But you can also be influenced by people you have no clear connection to, like a movie star, CrossFit champion, or Instagram influencer.
“Celebrities can become part of our peer group to the point we feel we actually know them,” says Krista Scott-Dixon, Ph.D., Director of Curriculum here at Precision Nutrition and an expert in counseling psychology.
“Think about how you might binge-watch a Netflix series and become attached to the characters,” she says. “This works in a similar way: If you spend time watching or reading about certain people, it can feel like they’re part of your peer group, even if you’ve never met.”
Regardless of who we consider our peers, we tend to feel good about ourselves when we think we’re in the top third of the group.
The big problem? The moment we believe we’re “better” than two-thirds of our peers, we switch groups. And the cycle starts all over.
If comparing ourselves to others is human nature, how can we ever feel good about our bodies?
The five strategies that follow can help, wherever you’re at right now. And sure, they might require you to try some new approaches and make tough decisions.
But aren’t you worth it?
5 ways to stop comparing yourself to others physically.
Strategy #1: Focus on actions, not outcomes.
Maybe you’d like to be a size 4. Or bench 300 pounds. Or run a 6-minute mile.
These kinds of benchmarks often seem meaningful. Perhaps because they offer an objective way to compare ourselves to others. (Red flag alert!) You don’t have to wonder how you stack up; the numbers will tell you.
For some people, these goals are achievable. But for others? They can be totally demoralizing.
After all, we can’t fully control how our bodies will respond to a nutrition or training program. And by setting goals that require a certain outcome, anything that falls short can feel like a failure.
Especially when we see others succeed.
Our solution: Rather than focusing on the end result, concentrate on completing daily actions that’ll help you lose fat or get stronger or run faster. We call these habits-based goals.
For example, if you’d like to lose fat, you might set goals such as:
- Eating lean protein at every meal
- Having five servings of produce per day
- Exercising for 30 minutes, three days a week
These actions, done consistently, are examples of how you lose fat. And they’re under your control.
As goals, they shift your mindset away from comparison and provide more opportunities for you to celebrate your successful efforts—instead of thinking about everything you’ve yet to accomplish.
To be sure, focusing on actions over outcomes may require a mental adjustment on your part. But with practice, it’ll start to feel natural and right.
To be continued next week…
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