Are You Falling Into the Comparison Trap? Here’s How to Reframe Your Mindset and Achieve Success

Focus on being the best version of you, and limit comparisons.Want to know the best way to continually enjoy running? Refuse to compare yourself to others.

I realize that can be hard. With everything being measured and a tenth of a second potentially making the difference between first place and not placing at all, running is probably one of the most quantifiable sports. We merely need to look at a result sheet to see who ran the fastest and how our time stacked up. However, that doesn’t have to be how you measure success and failure.

My first year as a professional, when I was fresh out of college, I made two world championship teams, won a national title, two international races, and was a runner-up for another national championship. Yet, I finished that year feeling like a failure. Why?  These accomplishments fell short of my expectations not because they weren’t great, but because they weren’t as impressive as the accomplishments of my training partners.

My husband broke out and began setting American records. Though I was more thrilled for him than I would have been for myself, I began comparing my accomplishments to his. I wanted to have the same breakthroughs that he did, but in doing so, I set myself up to continually feel inadequate. At times I even felt like a “second-class runner” despite the fact that I was in the top percent of runners in the world in my event.  That’s the kind of distorted thinking that can happen when we fall into the comparison trap.

Perhaps you aren’t living with an American record holder, but still can’t help but feel discouraged when the person on the treadmill next to you is floating effortlessly at a far faster pace . Maybe your training partner had a great workout, and although you ran your exact split, the day feels like a failure because they finished ahead of you. Here’s where you need to reevaluate your situation and stop the negative thinking.

Running with others is a great way to get the most out of ourselves, but when we make a habit out of defining our success based on how we measure up against someone else, it becomes a slippery slope. Sometimes, we don’t even need another person there and are being taunted by a past version of ourselves—one that reminds us that, while this workout was good, it could have been better. Adopt this way of thinking, and it’s easy to feel like your best is never good enough.

Recently I won the US Marathon Championships in Sacramento, CA, the culmination of my most fun year in the sport thus far. While out there, I reflected back on the years I struggled and the feelings of inadequacy that stole the joy of competing. What a contrast to the freedom I feel today now that I’ve changed my definition of “success.”

When you focus on getting the most out of yourself and rely on other people to aid you in your effort—rather than pairing yourself against them—you’re free to define success by your own terms. If you have prepared and executed to the best of your ability, then you have won.  

Now, I define success not only by winning (which is rooted in comparison), but also by being faithful to the gift I’ve been entrusted with. With that mindset, every day is an opportunity to be successful. 

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  • This is another one of those great lessons from running that can be so helpful in the rest of your life. Most marathoners I know (we aren’t professionals haha) are competing against themselves rather than against everyone else. That’s such a helpful mindset in a world where social media constantly reminds us of everyone else’s activities and accomplishments; the attitude of focusing on your own goals rather than on what others are doing can help overcome the “fear of missing out” that has become very prevalent. Thanks for sharing, Sara!

  • Hi all! First, thank you for writing this article! I just started out with Fitbit and haven’t been meeting my step goals but I believe Jesus knew I needed some encouragement. 🙂 Ready to go on and press forward! 😀 I also wanted to encourage you with something that has helped me when I’m comparing myself. Jesus reminds me that no matter what my value is not based on what I do or accomplish but on the value that was conferred on me, you, and all humanity when Jesus died on the cross for us so that we could be brought back to the Father when we accept Jesus’s life as payment for ours. Ultimately,even if nothing goes right in a day, you can always know Jesus is rooting for you and loves you entirely! 🙂 1 John 4:10

    P.S. Congratulations on winning the 2012 US national Cross Country championship and representing the US in the World Track and Field Championships!! Praise Jesus for strength and his life in us! Cross Country and Track are close to my heart from when I ran in High School. <3

  • A good reminder that even the best among us can fall into the trap of thinking they aren’t good enough.

    Never stop aiming for success, but like you said, the definition of success can and should change when it needs to 🙂

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