My favorite segment on ESPN's NFL Countdown is when Coach Mike Ditka (a Pittsburgh native might I add) goes through a litany of things that drive him crazy and then promptly yells “stop it.”
Comparing yourself to the woman next to you at the gym who is going 6.5 on the treadmill while you're punching along at 4.5?
Bending over, straining to touch your feet (or ankles at least) before your hamstring pops, comparing yourself to the 17 year old next to you bends herself in half; touching the floor behind her feet.
Compare, compare, compare.
Stop, stop, stop.
We all do it, and we all do it often. I took myself to a bikram yoga class a few years back, and spent the bulk of the 90 minute class in child's pose, (curled up in a ball on the floor), trying not to throw up or pass out. Occasionally, I'd sneak a glance at my fellow classmates to discover that I was the only one who not participating. When the class was over, I filed the experience under "things I suck at" and never went back.
I felt inadequate because I couldn't keep up with everyone else. Never mind that it was my first class and everyone else had likely been attending longer than me. Compared to everyone else in the class I felt like I was less than, and so I never went back.
Comparison is human behavior and human behavior doesn't change overnight.
Here are a few things that you can focus on for your next trip to the gym that might help shift your focus from everyone else, back to yourself, which is where the real focus belongs.
1. Turn the music up
Find some noise-cancelling headphones, build a Spotify list you like, no that you love, and settle in to your rhythm. Sometimes putting on some tunes and getting into your head can help keep you focused on your own performance in the gym. And you better believe that I have Gloria Estefan on my list. And Pat Benetar (to anyone under 30, that’s a she, not a he).
2. Track your workouts
For women, it's our nature to compare our performance and appearance with the person next to us - but if you get in the habit of tracking your own workouts and your own performance, you can start to shift the focus away from the woman with amazing genetics who comes in with arms like Serena Williams, and towards your own accomplishments.
If you like technology, there are plenty of apps out there to help you track (weighttraining.com has a good app), or you can track it with a workout sheet. If you performed three sets of 10 squats last week and this week you've done three sets of 12, that's progress. If you added five pounds to your deadlift, that is progress. Compare you to you.
3. Find clothes that you feel good in
Seems trite and superficial I know. But it's so true. There's a reason that when people first sign up for a boot camp class they head off to the outlets in search of new shoes that match the new outfit. We all have outfits that make us feel a little more confident. Find those outfits for your first few trips to the gym.
4. Choose a down time at the gym
Time your workouts around classes and personal training sessions as much as possible. I know, it seems trite, but I picked up a class schedule at my gym so that I could know when not to show up. Aside from the gym having limited space, I didn't really want to work out during a crossfit class, because the competitor in me would start comparing my workout to theirs. I also chose a more secluded area of a gym, especially when I trying out a new exercise. I create my own space in the gym where I can get comfortable and feel focused on my own workout - not everyone else's.
5. Set a goal
Set you're own goal. Whether it's lifting a certain amount of weight, running your first 10k, or completing an entire strength training routine, set a goal for yourself and focus on that. Put your goal on your phone's lock screen if you have a smart phone. Put it on your desk at work or your mirror at home. Wherever you'll see it to continually remind yourself that it's about you. Your goals and your performance.
And stop comparing yourself to everyone else.