Jessica Stratton: Tips On How To Manage The Comparison Game

* Runners prepare for the start of Team Nationals in 2018

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Jessica Stratton - Old Saybrook (CT) High School, Class of 2019

University of Delaware, sophomore

    As athletes and competitors, comparison is something that you are inevitably going to face throughout your athletic career. Recognizing when comparison to teammates, competitors, or your past is tearing you down and impeding on your success is extremely important.

    Here are some ways to manage comparison and gain confidence.

    Comparing yourself to other people's bodies, training and diet are some of the most difficult but common stressors for runners. We want everything to be perfect. So if someone else looks or does something different than you, it's easy to start questioning yourself. The way to manage this comes down to knowing what is best for you. It's trusting that you will reach your potential without needing to look like your teammates to do it. Here's another way: Believing in training in a way that meets your needs is more effective than training exactly like one of your teammates. And knowing how to fuel your body in a way that meets your needs, not your teammates or what you see on social media.

    While role models and inspirational figures are a great guide and source of motivation, you must recognize that the path to success is different for everyone. What works for them may not work for you.

    All of these things come with trust, belief and confidence in yourself, which you can't get from doing what somebody else does. So why compare?

    Comparison typically stems from a lack of confidence in yourself or the need for reassurance. If you can take a step back and recognize this, it will make it easier for you to recognize that comparison is an indication that you lack trust in yourself and the journey you need to take to become your best.

    As runners, the quest to become the best can sometimes drive us to want to do exactly what we see other people do, those who we identify as being better than us. While role models and inspirational figures are a great guide and source of motivation, you must recognize that the path to success is different for everyone. What works for them may not work for you.

    If you are someone who struggles with comparison to your teammates, here are a few things that have helped me not to compare myself to anybody else around me.

    1. Remembering that they are there to help you, not hurt you. Healthy competition is important, but at the end of the day your teammates are there to push you and make you better. Remember that you are lucky to have people better than you to help you become the best you can be. 
    2. Celebrating my teammates' success because I genuinely care about them, even if it is better than what I did.
    3. Trusting my process. Learning to trust in my own journey and know that it is different from my teammates is key. I have had a hard time with this one, but I know that focusing on what somebody else is doing only gets in the way of what I need to do to be my best, and it's okay for it to look different. There are many paths to success.
    4. Finally, comparison to your own past self can be one of the most difficult things to cope with. Whether you are coming back from injury and aren't the same runner, whether your body has changed, or your season is off to a worse start then the previous one, or you just simply aren't running as fast as your past self in this very moment, you are not alone in this feeling.

    Here are some things I try to remind myself when I am struggling with this.

    1. Accept where you are right now. Worrying about who you used to be does not progress the person you are now. There is no other direction to go from where you are right now than forward. 
    2. In most cases, you don't want to be that past self. I struggle with envying my past self before injuries because I was faster. But then I remember that I do not want to be that person anymore because I was under fueled and not healthy. I'd rather work from a healthy place and eventually surpass where I used to be because I am doing it in a sustainable manner.
    3. Keep showing up. It's so normal to ebb and flow, in running and in life. Keep showing up and believing in where you are headed. It will pay off. Believe it will.

    Jessica is a 2019 graduate of Old Saybrook (CT) High School and a sophomore at the University of Delaware. She was a multiple-time CIAC State Open and CIAC Class Class S Championship qualifier and placer, and held PRs of 2:22.78 in the 800m and 5:07.42 in the 1,600m. This is the beginning of a monthly series where Jessica writes about important and wide-ranging subjects involving young and developing runners. 

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