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  • Writer's pictureTom Foxley

Comparison: not necessarily the thief of joy

There are two types of comparison. One really is the thief of joy. If you compare in this way, you’ll always find proof you are not good enough. Your workouts will be filled with doubt and negativity. Your progress will stutter to a halt.

Whilst this form of comparison will hurt you, comparison’s lighter side will guide you to better performances. It will highlight your best path to growth. And it will provide fuel for your progress as an athlete.

So maybe you should be comparing yourself more, not less.

This week, I’ve had conversations with a handful of the athletes I work with about comparison. They have been struggling with comparing themselves to the athletes they either look up to or want to beat.

I told them they need to stop that way of thinking.

Yet I had a conversation with another athlete where I encouraged them to compare themselves more to those kinds of athletes. When they did that, their performance excelled, their motivation spiked, and they felt more positive.

Today, I’ll be explaining how I approach comparison with my athletes, and ensure that they’re using the correct type to fuel their process, not beat themselves up with.

We’ll be covering

  1. The difference between the two types of comparison and what to avoid if you want to perform well

  2. How to recognise the negative type of comparison and limit how it shows up

  3. An antidote to the non-serving comparison to fuel positivity

  4. How to train positive comparison to excel as an athlete

The two types of comparison

Getting fed up with constant comparison, and the negative outlook surrounding it, is one of the main things that brings athletes to work with me. When I coach them, and when I coach myself too, I don’t try to eradicate comparison all together, I try and redirect it to a form of comparison which inspires rather than discourages.

The negative form of comparison seeks to exaggerate the gap between where you are and where you want to be. It looks at the people who are further ahead than you and interprets the gap as proof that you aren’t good enough, and that you never will be.

The positive form of comparison however, sees the exact same gap, and uses it as proof: if this is possible for someone else, it’s possible for you too. In fact, when comparing positively, the path to your best performance, and to your potential, will be clearer, not murkier.

Non-serving comparison is looking at people further ahead than you and seeing reasons you can’t. Positive comparison is looking at the same evidence and seeing reasons you can.

How to recognise positive & negative comparison

Awareness is your path to growth. If you are aware enough of your mental state, you will be able to drop it. If you act unconsciously you hold onto comparison.

If you are falling victim to the kind of comparison which prevents you from performing at your best, you will recognise four signals.

Thoughts: “I’ll never get this,” “I’m not as [strong/fit/lean/attractive/funny] as X”, “why can’t I just…”

Emotions: resentment, judgement, fear, scarcity, anger

Physical sensations: anxiety, tightness.

Behaviours: playing small/safe, avoiding risk, trying not to be seen.

Positive comparison however has thoughts like “that’s awesome, I can try that,” and “i’m going to try that next time.” The emotions are far more like inspiration and excitement. Physical sensations are usually more free, and the behaviours are essentially mimicry.

Your first job in changing your comparison mindset is being aware of exactly how the positive and negative show up for you. They will be different for each person.

An antidote to comparison

The negative form of comparison is a form of scarcity-based thinking: “if they have something, I cannot.”

It’s also a side effect of a fixed mindset, where you believe that change is impossible for you.

The wonder tool which overcomes both of these is an AMWAP: As Many Wins As Possible.

If you’ve been reading this blog, or following my work for any length of time, you’re probably wondering if I mention this in every single blog post. The answer is probably “yes,” and the reason is that it’s the single best tool to begin training your mindset with.

This is the first tool I introduce my athletes to. Always. Because it works.

To perform an AMWAP, write down as many wins as possible from a recent time frame. For example, from the training session just gone, or from the past 24 hours.

A win is anything that proves you are progressing. Do this at least once a day and you will see your mindset begin to shift.

Training the positive comparison mindset

You’ve just read the first two steps in dropping harmful comparison and beginning to use comparison as a tool. First, you become aware of the comparison - painfully aware. This will be very uncomfortable. Next, you reinforce the new perspective with the AMWAP. Now, let’s move onto the third step.

The hidden benefit of the AMWAP is it teaches you how to flip your perspective in a moment. When you’re having a shitty day, but you sit down to count your wins, you will feel your perspective shift: “ah, actually the session wasn’t so bad…I did actually do quite a lot today…”

The way this becomes helpful when I work with athletes, is now the athlete has trained their ability to flip their perspective. With enough practise they can do it during the intensity of a training session too. Eventually, they can do this in a comp or qualifier.

The third step I get my athletes to perform uses this ability as well as the awareness too. It’s very simple. First, they catch themselves experiencing the negative comparison, and then use a small dose of willpower to flip the narrative to find something that embodies the positive side of comparison.

Final thoughts…

Used poorly, comparison really is the thief of joy. But used correctly, comparison is a tool to use to inspire you to growth and highlight the character skills, techniques, and attributes you can recreate to perform at your best.

Practise positive comparison and your progress as an athlete will excel.


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