The Comparison Trap

The Comparison Trap

If yoga feels like a competitive sport, it might be a clue that you’re missing the point.  

Apparently, I was missing the point.  Jet-lagged and achy from a long flight, I dragged myself to hot vinyasa yoga to loosen my body.  I gave myself full permission to opt out of anything that felt too challenging.  I wanted to feel restored, not more exhausted. 

Instead of reveling in my child’s poses, I caught my eyes wandering around the room silently comparing myself to others. I’ll spare you the full 60-minute cringeworthy monologue, but let’s just say that I successfully turned a self-care practice into an hour of should’s and feeling less than.

  • They’re really good. I should practice more.”

  • “Everyone looks like an ad for Lululemon. I should put more of an effort into pulling myself together for class.”

  • “Ugh, I keep falling out of the pose. After all these years, why am I not better?”

What happened to my original intent? How did I get swept into a pointless competition of my own making?

But this isn’t just about me and it’s not just about yoga. Each day, we are faced with endless opportunities to compare ourselves to others. Just beneath the surface, particularly when we’re not feeling our most secure, there are lurking questions that taunt us…

  • How am I doing relative to my peers?”

  • “Am I keeping up?

  • “Do I feel good about my choices relative to theirs?”

I recently read an article that claimed that reunions are hard for this exact reason.  Everyone started at the same place, so everything feels like a direct comparison.

The workplace is a fertile environment for competition and comparison.  A client recently said to me, “Marcus and I will be locked into a cage match for the next 5 years.”   It was true – these two high potentials often compete for the same resources, recognition and roles. So while technically it was true, I could also see how it was a distraction for my client.

“By keeping an external focus (Marcus or the woman with good arms in yoga), we miss what actually matters – our own strengths, contributions, values and our impact. And this is no small matter, we also miss out on the enjoyment of our accomplishments.”

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I’ve thought more about competition and how I manage it. Here is some of my best advice for myself. Maybe it can help you reframe it, as well.

  1. Refocus on myself rather than externally. Just like in yoga class, if I’m paying attention to the people around me, then I am not paying attention to myself. By focusing externally, we waste energy by trying to prove something to ourselves or to someone else (someone who likely will not have any meaningful role in our lives). It’s useful to remind ourselves of what actually matters to us.

  2. Lean into healthy competition. The other side of competition and comparison is inspiration. Rather than allowing that sense of envy or comparison to narrow your focus, allow it to be a catalyst for you. There is nothing quite like that feeling of “If they can do it, why the f* am I not?” Let the heat of competition be a catalyst. Healthy competition feels like a challenge – it motivates, expands and inspires.

  3. Are there feelings of envy or jealousy? Both emotions can be great indicators of desire. There is something there that we want. We envy their freedom, their financial success, their family life. What is your envy pointing you towards?

 To possibility,

 Starla

Starla Sireno specializes in Executive Leadership Training in NYC. She has helped develop leaders in some of the most recognized organizations ranging from Fortune 500 to fast-growth technology companies.

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