Do you know how to tell if your friendly competition has crossed the line into something that’s toxic and harmful? We know there are plenty of benefits to friendly, mutual competition, but how do you know when you’ve taken it too far? Many of us are engaging in these all-too-common and encouraged behaviors that could be making life harder. Competition and comparison can increase your stress levels, harm your self-image, and hurt your relationships. Let’s just say there’s a reason we say comparison is the thief of joy…
As a trainer and nutrition coach, I’ve encountered very few women who can stay on the healthy side of that line. And since weight loss and body image are so personal, you’ll want to do all you can to stay away from toxic mindsets that can fuel discouragement. You’ll want to read these 5 ways and analyze your motives, experiences, and feelings. This way you can tweak your perspective or find new motivation to reach your goals. Then you can be the best you can be without sabotaging your success, body chemistry, or emotions along the way. I’m focusing on health and fitness comparison and competition in this post, but you can easily apply this to any part of life.
Here are some ways to tell if your competition and comparison are healthy and helpful, or not-so-innocent and toxic:
1.You’re filled with negative emotions
We can experience negative emotions whether we come out on top or fall short in the comparison. When the competition or comparison makes us feel lesser, we experience frustration, anger, disappointment, and often resentment towards our competitor. When we come out on top, we feel good right? This lasts for only a short while though, because we’ve entered ourselves into a vicious cycle where our feelings of positive self-worth hinge on someone else. Our pride and success rely on how our competitor fares, and those feelings fade quickly. In order to feel that high again, we need to continue to compete and come out on top.
These negative emotions affect our stress levels, hormones, state of mind, and self-image, and can extend into our relationships as well. If competition is supposed to make you better, why are your health and self-worth taking a hit? If you can relate to these negative emotions, don’t fret. There are other ways to motivate yourself that don’t rely on another person!
2. They make you more insecure
Women usually compete out of their insecurities. We compare to make ourselves feel better about our flaws, insecurities, and what we’re doing right. Other people’s flaws and weaknesses can make us feel better about our own, and help us feel more confident about our strengths. We find the thought “At least I’m doing better than her” very comforting. However, there’s always two sides to the comparison coin, and sometimes we end up losing and more insecure than before. It’s good to check your thoughts and feelings to see if you should end this comparison:
- How do you feel when that person is around?
- How does it make you feel when they succeed?
- Were you proud of yourself and success until the comparison?
If your thoughts are ugly and comparing makes you feel bad about yourself, then you should consider a new motivator. Your self-worth should not rely on someone else’s behavior. Your confidence should come from within and based on your actions and achievements- not someone else’s.
3. You’re not running your race
What if you’re competing with people on a certain track, but it turns out you’re running in the wrong lane, in the wrong race??
There’s only one you. You’re unique and important, and so is your contribution to this world. If you’re constantly looking at what someone else is doing, will you be running your race, or someone else’s? Veer from the “traditional” path if needed to find the lane you were meant to run. If you’re not you, we all lose.
What does this have to do with health?
OK so I’m not talking about finding your correct lane in an actual track competition, although that’s important too! I’ve seen competition distract people from their lanes, their focus, and what’s safe and best for them many times. Some fitness or weight loss competitions can be dangerous, too- people sacrificing safe form while working out just to lift more or finish faster. Others cut calories so much they damage their metabolism. Some get discouraged and quit- the list goes on.
You’re competing and comparing yourself with people who have different genes, different schedules, different stress levels, etc. There are a lot of factors that can affect how quickly someone loses weight or shortens their half marathon time. And what if the person you’re comparing yourself to slacks off? If they set the bar low and your goal is to just “do better than she is” then you’re selling yourself way short. And again, we all lose. This world needs you healthy and able.
Maybe “your race” involves heading toward your goals at a slow and steady pace, and you inspire others to do the same. Maybe if you’re not running your race you get discouraged and drop out. Or injured. Or rack up credit card debt for supplements and expensive gym memberships. Running your race is crucial for you and those who you’ll inspire.
Find your lane. Run your race.
4. They are harming your relationships
There are a few ways comparison and competition can hurt your friendships. If your so-called friendly competition leaves you with ill feelings towards your competitor, then maybe it’s crossed a line. Remember, the goal is to be the best you, and the best you probably doesn’t have a growing list of enemies. If the competition gets in the way of your relationship, nix it, or set some boundaries. If you leave an interaction with that person and find yourself feeling worse, if you have to act really fake to celebrate their success, or even worse you avoid them altogether, then it’s not helping you anymore. It’s time to find a healthier motivator.
If you “lose” the comparison game or competition and it puts you in an inconsolable mood, then it’s toxic. Don’t make your loved ones continually cheer you up because of a toxic mindset that you’re willingly participating in. It’s not the easiest habit to stop. It will take time, but you’re strong and you can do it.
If it makes you a gossip, and you find yourself talking negatively about someone to feel better about yourself, then it’s toxic. You’re not only filling yourself with negative thoughts, which affect your brain and emotions, but your also poisoning your friends.
If you can say yes to any of these, then maybe it’s time to start competing against yourself or focusing on self-improvement instead of playing the comparison game.
5. They are fueled by jealousy
I have some friends that I totally want to be like. They’re amazing, and I’d love to dress more like them, read social situations like them, be as easy to talk to as them, be as creative as them- the list goes on. These amazing women inspire me to become better and to do things I might normally shy away from. I sometimes compare my actions to theirs to see if I’m doing something right, or to see if I’m making improvements. For me, this hasn’t been toxic since I’m using them as inspiration and still trying to be “me” the entire time.
When this type of behavior is fueled by even a hint of jealousy, it’s already toxic, and you’re headed down an unhealthy path. Jealousy is just gross. It brings out the worst in us. Jealousy, envy, resentment and their cousins are terrible motivators. If you’re competing with someone to lose more weight, be fitter, stronger, hotter, etc out of spite, then what happens when you reach that goal? And it doesn’t end there, since you’ll have to work really hard to stay ahead of them, which creates a cycle of jealousy and bitterness.
Admire someone’s abs, self-control with food, 5k time – whatever – but don’t push yourself to be better than them out something as ugly as jealousy. You, and the other person, are worth much more and deserve better. Weight loss, beauty, strength, and success are not finite resources. Just because they achieved something doesn’t mean they took yours. It’s available for you, too!
Jealousy is Poison
I have reason to believe that jealousy creates a physical state similar to holding a grudge. Even just thinking about that person can boost our stress hormone levels, feelings of not being in control, and make us sweat. Long-term grudge holding is linked with many diseases, lowered metabolism, and lowered quality of life. Jealousy is extremely toxic, so ditch this motivator ASAP. If you’re interested, read more about the physical effects of holding a grudge.
How To Stop Comparison and Competition
I really want your eyes to be opened to realize the value that you carry on your own, regardless of what others are doing. Your self-worth should have little to do with how successful others are. It just doesn’t matter that much if you’re skinnier, prettier, make more money than her- what matters is that you’re running your race, and trying to be the best you that you can be. If your comparison leaves you feeling down, choose one of these healthier ways to measure your success.
By comparing your accomplishments, progress, and victories to someone else’s, you’re getting a really blurry picture of your success. It’s distorted and not giving you the feedback you deserve. Redefine what success is to you. Find concrete ways to measure your accomplishments. Here are some ways to measure your health goals: You could
- (literally) measure your progress with body measurements
- progress photos
- the scale
- keep track of the increase in the weight you’re lifting
- run a faster 5k than before
- set a goal time and work towards it (vs. setting a person to beat)
- complete harder intervals than before
- make time for yourself a priority
Change Your Self-Talk
This is huge, and we don’t have the energy to get into it now, but changing how you talk to yourself will change your life. Start by identifying negative things you say to yourself on a regular basis. Check yourself with the comparison game- how do you talk to yourself if you lose? What do you allow yourself to say about the other person? Respond to any negative comment with a positive one. Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend.
I struggle with anxiety and realized I had the phrase “I’m so stressed” on repeat in my mind. So now I make the effort to say things like “I’ve got this,” “this isn’t a big deal,” and “I have plenty of time” to bring myself back to reality. Change your self-talk and start cheering yourself on for being badass enough to make an effort. When you struggle, give yourself grace and say “I’m a work in progress” and “I won’t do everything perfectly.”
Any time you focus on someone else, change your self-talk to inspire your progress. “If she’s brave enough to do this, then so am I.” “If she can make the time to train, then so can I.” If all of this self-love makes you gag, start with counteracting every negative comment with identifying something you’re thankful for. Stop letting toxic thoughts control you!
Improvement, Not Perfection, Is The Goal
Friends, who told you that you needed to be perfect? Are you aware that’s humanly impossible? Even the hottest girl is on the toilet all night after eating a bad burrito. The richest woman easily gets caught up in an expensive lifestyle that she feels trapped in. The fittest woman is sacrificing things you can’t right now…. the list goes on and the moral of the story is that no one is perfect. Stop comparing your behind the scenes with someone else’s highlight reel.
As long as you’re trying to improve and become a better you, you don’t need to validate your flaws and imperfections. Smile and breathe a sigh of relief for that, instead of your rival’s latest misstep.
If you’re a die hard competitor to your core, and if competing against yourself or the clock won’t cut it, then find a friend to compete with. Set up boundaries beforehand, and limit your competition to those boundaries. Participate in a fitness tracker step competition with your friend or your family. Compete for who can log the most miles, or who can get the most workouts in this week. Winner buys coffee! Cheer on and encourage your friend to do their best. And revisit this article to make sure it stays friendly and benefits you both!
So where do you go from here?
Pick one of the measurable ways of tracking your success mentioned above. Take some time to analyze your competitive nature and your motives. Make the effort to love yourself. Freakin A! You’re awesome, and there’s only one of you in all the earth. Make it a goal to see your value!
And to help keep you on track, be the biggest encourager you know. Encouragement is free, ladies, and it benefits you! Seeing the bright side, pointing out other’s successes, and cheering them on does wonders for your own brain chemistry! Instead of feeling annoyed when someone kicks ass, cheer them on. There’s enough negativity going on in the world. We don’t need to add to it when we could be counteracting it!
What would you add to these lists? How do you check to see if your comparison is unhealthy? What other ways do you track your success? You’re brilliant and I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever competed with a friend? How did it end up? Share in the comments!
Ladies, you’re awesome. I’d love to help you reach your health and fitness goals, and I’d be honored to be in your corner! I offer online workouts, accountability, and nutrition coaching! Stick around my site and see what it’s all about! :)