The ONE Comparison You Should Make Today

blue legos

“I wish I looked like him.”

“Look at her! Why can’t I look like that!?”

“Ugh, I just wish I had his genetics.”

We all do it; we’re humans, and thus we are hard-wired to compare ourselves to those around us, wondering why we don’t look as good as that guy/girl next to us in line (while also patting ourselves on the back for not looking as unhealthy as the person on the other side of us).

Over the past few decades, thanks to the power of the internet (thanks Al Gore!) and advances in science and technology, it’s pretty damn easy to find ways to feel inferior:

  • Fashion magazines tell women that they’re not skinny enough or not pretty enough because they don’t look like runway models.
  • Any men’s health magazine will tell us that we’re not big enough, that our muscles need to be more defined, and that we need to look more like Hollywood actors.
  • Gentlemen: Unless we have a six pack, we’re not real men.

Whether you’re looking enviously at that girl/guy on the treadmill, or feel inferior because someone half your size just lifted twice your max, I’m here to tell you there’s only one true comparison that needs to be made.

Although it’s easier said than done (I know this all too well), this change is going to remove tons of anxiety, lift a huge burden off of your shoulders, and allow you to RELAX.

Let’s do this.  

Bigger, Faster, Stronger…Better?

army lego

Last weekend, I rented Bigger, Faster, Stronger through Amazon (WELL worth the $2.99). This is an incredibly well done documentary that takes an in-depth look at the fitness industry, bodybuilders, health marketing, supplements, and more. It follows the director’s shifting mindset about steroids, as he’s chosen to NOT take them, but has two brothers that take them regularly.

This particular clip from the documentary jumped out at me, as it showed just how the fitness industry specifically creates advertisement campaigns to make you feel inferior:

Bigger, Faster, Stronger Clip

We all compare ourselves to others, and it’s nearly impossible for us to make these comparisons and still think we’re good enough.  After seeing people like Daniel Craig in Casino Royal, Ryan Reynolds in Blade 3, and Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers, we tell ourselves we want to look like these people, do the ‘same things’ they do, and then wonder why we DON’T look like them after a few months of training.

Maybe you even read stories like Joe, Jake, Saint, Bronwyn, and Staci, and wonder why you don’t look like them yet!  Don’t feel bad if you’ve had these moments of envy or frustration.  If you have, don’t feel bad!  We’ll address that 🙂

Chris Bell, the director in Bigger, Faster, Stronger, talks about how his feeling inadequate lead him to try steroids; his two brothers ON steroids do them regularly because they are never big enough or strong enough.

You might be wondering the same thing that I am: “I know that I’m making these unhealthy comparisons…why do I do it?  Can I fix it?”

Yeah you can, and it all boils down to one thing: happiness. 

The Happiness Equation

Happiness Video – Prager University

This video above highlights the difficulties we all have in being happy.  It really comes down to two issues:

  • We compare ourselves to others and identify our shortcomings without having all of the information.
  • We naturally assume that this other person is happier, more successful, and better at life than we are.

Believe it or not, there’s actually an equation that we can use to determine our level of unhappiness.  Simply put, as the image of ourselves gets further and further away from reality, we become less and less happy:

Unhappiness = Image – Reality

We have an image in our minds for what we expect our lives and bodies to be.  If we spend our time reading Muscle and Fitness and fashion magazines, that image is of a size zero woman, or a 235 pound Hercules with 7% body fat.  We spend our days working to improve our health and lives, week after week, and we’re distraught to find out that we’re not much closer to the image we have in our minds.

We’re unhappy because our expectations (which are distorted, lacking complete information) don’t line up with the reality we currently see.

Here’s why chasing that image isn’t a losing proposition.

The fallacy


When you see somebody that appears perfect, they mostly likely have a few things going for them that you don’t:

  • Incredible genetics – a HUGE part of the battle.
  • Ready access to steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.
  • Enough time, energy, and money to devote to making themselves appear perfect: trainers, chefs, hours and hours a day, etc.

You see that bodybuilder you want to look like?  He’s that way thanks to a combination of incredible genetics, often steroids, and years upon years of hard work and dedication.

How about that actress that’s always so thin? She probably has two chefs, three personal trainers, incredible genetics, hours per day to dedicate to her fitness, and a job that REQUIRES her to look good all of the time.

Now, I am not saying this to downplay their hard work to get to where they are; I don’t want you saying things like, “I don’t have their genetics or resources, so why even bother?”

Instead, I want you to know that there will ALWAYS be somebody leaner, bigger, faster, or stronger than you.  There will always be somebody who’s younger, better looking, and had more success than you.   Until you learn to accept that, you’ll never be truly happy.  Don’t be mad that this 13 year old girl can bench press 240 and you can’t do a complete push up yet.

I LOVED this story from James Altucher (one of a few blogs I read consistently):

Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, once was at a party in the Hamptons. A guy came over to him and pointed at a young, 25 year old standing in the party who worked for a big hedge fund. Heller’s “friend” said to him, “see that guy over there? He made more money last year then you will ever make with all of your books combined.”

Joseph Heller said, “Maybe so. But I have one thing that man will never have.”

His friend was skeptical. “Oh yeah, what?”

Heller said, “Enough.”

If your goal is happiness (and it should be!), you need to adjust that unhappiness equation, and learn to work with “enough.”

  • Change the image.  Stop idolizing people who you’ll never have any chance of looking like.  You have NO idea what they’ve gone through to get to where they are, if they’re truly happy and healthy, and if they’re being honest about how they got where they are.  Instead, find real heroes, people who aren’t on steroids, who live busy lives, who have less than perfect genetics, and learn from them.  
  • Celebrate the reality you DO have.  This is probably my favorite solution – be okay with who you are and how your reality turned out.  It doesn’t mean getting complacent and accepting “good enough” syndrome, but rather realizing that where you are right now is where you need to be to find happiness in the life you are currently leading.

Draw the comparison


I’m going to ask you to join me in a ridiculous fruit metaphor:

Imagine you are an organic Fuji apple (stay with me here), and you want to be the best Fuji apple you can be.  You’re in the store, hoping to get noticed, and you see a lady come in and buy five non-organic Red Delicious apples.  You’re bummed out, you’re wishing you were noticed, and so you start to wonder why you can’t be more like Mr. Red Delicious.  You work out, you start taking apple improvement classes, and you become the best damn Fuji apple in the whole bunch.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, you will never be a Red Delicious apple.  No matter how good you think you are, you’ll never live up to that image of “Red Delicious” that you have in your mind.

Besides, I hear those Red Delicious apples are on the juice. ZING!

Keep measuring yourself against impossible standards, and you’ll end up feeling angry, inferior, and disappointed.

Stop comparing your apple to her orange, but rather to other similar apples raised in similar situations, understanding that at the end of the day, we’re all unique pieces of fruit.

[…and I just set the record for “longest fruit metaphor about health and wellness” ever! Thank you, thank you.]

Take a look at all of these “level 50” Olympic athletes: people at the peak of their particular sport, all completely different from one another.  

Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes.   So find those that have your body type or who are dealing with similar life situations (married? kids? single? crazy job?). Don’t “compare and envy,” but rather “learn from and get inspired.”

  • If you are a single mom with three kids, don’t take your workout tips from 25 year-old actresses – learn from other moms (like Bronwyn!) that are a few steps ahead of where you want to be.
  • If you work 60 hours a week, trying to look like an actor who can train for 4 hours a day is a fast track to disappointment.  Instead, ask the guy at your work, who you admire, how he trains and eats, and see what you can learn from him.
  • If you’re naturally overweight, following the routine of a skinny guy that bulked up will leave you frustrated.  Find a formerly overweight dude who found success, and ask him how he did it.

So, if you’re just LEARNING from these people who have succeeded, who CAN I compare myself to?

You vs. You

be yourself

There’s only one person you can truly compare yourself to:  yesterday’s version of you.

The tagline for Nerd Fitness has always been “Level up your life, every single day.” Translated out of nerd-speak, it comes down to one key phrase:

Can you be better today than you were yesterday?

Don’t worry what other people are doing, or how much weight they’ve lost, or how perfect their life may seem.  That’s a distorted image – a false,  unobtainable standard that you cannot hold yourself to. Your life is different from theirs.

Instead, look in the mirror and ask yourself: “What’s one thing I can do today to be healthier and happier than I was yesterday?  What’s one thing today that I am grateful for?”  Seriously. Go talk to yourself in the mirror right now. Preferably in a crowded public bathroom.

Stop focusing on what you don’t have and start focusing on things you can change. Take personal responsibility and be the master of your own destiny.

This isn’t always easy; EVERYONE struggles with their own body image, including me. I’ve recently added meditation into my life (thanks Leo), and on the advice of Eric Barker, I have started writing down three things I am grateful for that happened that day.

Don’t worry, be happy

happy monster

In the incredibly thought-provoking book, Predictably Irrational, we learn that we tend to base our self-worth and happiness using relativity.  Regardless  of how happy we are, when we see somebody happier or more successful than us, suddenly we become less happy or wonder why we’re not more successful.

As Mr. Altucher stated above, it’s really easy to get caught up in more, better, and bigger –  never being satisfied with enough.   

Don’t forget the flip side to that coin: we also need to be careful not to use these comparisons to find people less successful or way more unhealthy than us as an excuse to slack and be unhealthy because, “hey, at least I’m not as bad as that guy!”  We call this “good enough” syndrome, and we don’t like it.

Instead, focus on you:

1) Don’t believe the hype: Stop comparing yourself to others and complaining that you don’t look like them, especially if that person is a public figure, athlete, or appears too good to be true.  It’s okay to have (super)heroes, but LEARN from people who ARE like you, instead of just comparing yourself to others that aren’t in your same situation.

2) Remove the temptation for unhealthy comparison.  Stop reading stupid magazines, stop idolizing celebrities, and stop putting yourself in situations where your only option is to feel inferior.  Look at your particular situation as unique; focus on making YOU better.

3) Adjust your happiness equation by celebrating the reality you DO have, rather than lamenting the one you don’t.  Be grateful.  At the end of every day, write down three things that were awesome that day and why.  This has been proven to make you happier.

4) Compare yourself to YOU from yesterday.  Identify one thing you can do today to be a little bit healthier or happier, and celebrate when you do that thing.

We never know the true story about and how some people got to where they are, so stop comparing yourself to them.

I’d love to hear from you – leave a comment and tell me one thing that went well yesterday for you, and why it went well!



photo source: army dudes, apples, be yourself, happy sad, happy monster, blue lego

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151 thoughts on “The ONE Comparison You Should Make Today

  1. I struggle with comparison all.the.time. From body image to super-stay-at-home- mom syndrome. I’ll be making a sign for my bedroom door and a background for my phone. You vs. You, that’s all I need to worry about. Thank you!

  2. This is an article that really hit home for me. I’m 24 and went from the best shape of my life (135lbs fresh out of basic) to the absolute worst (I peaked out at 222 during my pregnancy) in less than 2 years. Now I’m at a standstill. I’m 5’6 and 194lbs and COMPLETELY uncomfortable with myself. I find myself looking at others and being resentful of how small and fit they are. It’s an amazing thing to see your posts of real people who have turned their life around and are now comfortable in their skin. It’s taken me a long time to realize that I’m probably never going to be a size 4 again, and thanks to you, your posts, and the awesome people you feature, I’ve been able to set the goal of just getting to a place where I’m comfortable with the way I look and feel, and ignoring what the scale says. I have a long road ahead of me but I’m looking forward to reading your blogs and getting tips and tricks to keep myself motivated on my journey.

  3. I love this article. My roommates and I have been working hard on becoming healthier and sometimes we get quite frustrated. This definitely puts a lot things into perspective.

  4. A thing that went good for me yesterday is I got up made myself some juice and ate healthy. I loved the fruit analog. It was funny and brought the message home.

  5. This article reminds me of this awesome quote I read recently- “Look in the mirror- That’s your competition.”

  6. This article reminds me of this awesome quote I read recently- “Look in the mirror- That’s your competition.”

  7. well written, i am proud of myself as exercised for the last 3 days, loved the fruit analogy so true. think you should be going round school.

  8. Without comparison how can there be improvement? If we were satisfied with ourselves, why seek change? If we seek to get better, better implies that the former state was worse, no? In short, these statements are wholly contradictory. In fact, how do we know if we have good genes or not?
    An empirical approach would be to experiment, but our ability to do so is compromised by our own biases. Few get to be tested and trained independantly in a clinical setting. So, we look to those that have what we want and seek to emulate them. Yet, the mere act of emulation is fraught with problems. If we find a skinny guy or a fat guy as you said, how do we know that our genetics are similar at all? If we fail, what would we say then?
    In short, the generalities presented here are not helpful. Not everyone can do this. “Everyone” is an absolute, and absolutes are actually quite tricky. And, what exactly is “this?” If we define fitness goals very broadly, then they become meaningless. if we define them too strictly, they become exclusionary. the solution is not become murky, but rather to become precise, and discuss specifics.
    Another note on the “excuses” phenomenon. There is a difference between an excuse that is psychological or a coping mechanism and those that are valid. Simply calling them all excuses is silly. A person who observes that they cannot dunk a basketball is not making an excuse, they are stating a fact. If they blame that on their inability to make it in the NBA, it may or may not be true, but the situation needs investigation before we can call it an invalid excuse.
    Also, you and so many other fitness bloggers rarely, if ever, address the phenomenon of survivorship bias.

  9. Am I the only one having problems viewing the Happiness Equation video on YouTube? It seems I didn’t read this post soon enough to get to see it. 🙁

  10. This is an old article I know, but I almost cried reading it. Something about it really spoke to me. THANKS!

  11. An attitude of gratitude! As folks in the 12-step circles would say.

    What went well for me today?

    I joined a better gym with my sister, so we can help eachother get fit and spend more time together.

    I worked out to the best of my ability, working around an injury that normally would have had me at home, moping and eating.

    I completed all the things on my todo list today!

  12. I’ve heard so many time to not compare yourself to other people but this was what I needed to hear “There’s only one person you can truly compare yourself to: Yesterday’s version of you.” I’ve started to write a daily journal for myself about little things I learn during the day and what to work on. For example I felt like I was eating too many peanuts everyday as a snack so I looked up what a day’s portion should be and put them in a bag. Now it’s easier to eat them because I can see what my daily limit is in the bag.
    I appreciate your site and your articles.

  13. People say that things come when they are meant to. I found this post when I needed it the most! Thank you a lot for your inspiring words.

  14. Thank you for this. Maybe because I hit 32 this year, I’ve been feeling crappy and super critical of the way I look. I look at models and wonder why I cant look like that. I feel like 5 days at the gym per week isn’t enough anymore, because they look more toned, etc. It’s really shallow thinking, and I’m ashamed of it, but it plagues me nonetheless. Thank you for putting some fresh, more realistic thoughts into my mind!

  15. I love the article, great read. I however want to know how to get someone to except “THEIR CURRENT SITUATION” eg. Person has put on 15 kgs in 3 months gone up 3 dress sizes and rather than just snapping out of it and “Eating well and exercising” they spiral down a hate relationship with themselves which causes them to self sabotage (Binging and purging). Say that person has seen countless clinical professionals to help with over-coming the current Eating Disorder but all their efforts are short lived. So how do you get someone to except their current situation if they have gone through countless professionals with-out any one of them actually fixing the disorder and self sabotaging traits??

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