Mental toughness and self- related comparison

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
Comparing yourself to others is useless. Self- referenced comparison leads to better performance, health and happiness.

Your own bubble

In 2020, COVID 19 lockdown forced us to limit live contact with friend, family and colleagues. Lack of face-to-face contact can have down effects, for example because missing the tone of voice of someone's message can lead to miscommunication. It is also more difficult to resonate to the other person when with less non- verbal communication. 

Situations where people are dependent on themselves can have an effect on feelings of mental health and overall well-being. In these type of situations you are being confronted with your own ideas,your own thoughts, your own feelings, your own emotions and your own problems. It is harder to distract your mind from yourself by focusing on others and comparing yourself to others.

Positive effects of comparing to others

Comparing yourself to others is a natural habit of human being. Comparing helps to connect with others. It makes us feel good to see we can relate to others who have or do the same. Comparing the group we belong to, to others groups we do not belong to, ties the bonds within our own group. (For example soccer- fanclubs)

Negative effects of comparing to others

Comparing ourselves to others can also negatively affect self-esteem and motivation. For example in contrast to what you might think, it is known from scientific research that using a Fitbit and a leaderboard in sports such as in CrossFit, can make people less motivated, feel less competent, and feel less connected to others. 

Although devices such as Fitbit's and leaderboards might motivate people in the short term, there is a potential downside in the long run. Why is this?

Being confronted with a leaderboard means that a lot of times we are being confronted with not being the best all the time. Competition can create pressure and feelings of failure (Fear of failure) when we cannot meet up to the standard. It can cause people to feel less motivated and less competent, and a lost competition drives people further away from others.

Comparing ourselves to others is not necessarily always a good idea. What is the alternative? It is called: Self- reference comparison

Self- reference comparison

Self- reference comparison means that you are comparing yourself to you. You define what your personal goal and ambitions are in life and relate your actions to your own standard. Your actions, thoughts and feelings are intertwined: What you do and what you think effects how you feel, and vice versa. Actions, thoughts and feelings effect self-esteem and motivation. This means, self- esteem and motivation are in your own hands, within your own control, via your actions, thoughts and feelings.

Self- reference comparison is not easy. Comparing yourself to how you were a few years ago, or to what you were capable of once, can sometimes lead to feelings of frustration or sadness. Maybe you cannot deadlift anymore what you could five years ago. 

Although self- reference comparison can be hard, comparing yourself to others is useless most of the time. Simply because every one is unique. Every human being has a unique response to training programs and to nutrition (One size does not fit all), every human being has a unique way of living, a unique background, and everyone has a unique history that effects how we are and what we are capable of today.

Leaderboards in CrossFit

There is a use to leaderboards for recreational athletes in CrossFit if the underlying thought and intent are coached in a constructive way. Indeed, a leaderboard can also strengthen group spirit, or teach athletes to be happy for others and not just have feelings of envy and jealousy. It can teach athletes that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and this is part of it. It can give athletes a perspective for their CrossFit journey since the goal of CrossFit is to be as broadly developed an athlete as possible, so a leaderboard can reveal where strengths and development points lie according to the CrossFit approach. 

Mental toughness

Self- references comparison equals mental toughness. It takes mental toughness to say goodbye to your old- self, to how your life was. It takes mental toughness to re-define your goals, actions and standards. Because living in the past and comparing to what once was, increases feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, maybe even grief, if you cannot live up to your old standards anymore.  

Re-defining what success, health and happiness mean to you today, in the present; setting new goals and new standards, ones that are relevant today and that challenge you how you are today, will help to feel better, perform better and stay motivated. Taking matters into your own hand and creating your own health, is mental toughness.

Create your own health!©