Comparison, Performance & The Philosophy of Contentment

Comparison. You know the feeling. You walk into the climbing gym after a few days of rest, feeling great and ready to give the route you’ve been working on a go. And then you see them, the local gym crusher, flying up the wall like it’s a ladder. You should feel excited – it’s motivating to see someone else trying hard, right? But instead, you compare yourself to them. Their strength, weight, looks …whatever it is, it’s making you feel bad about yourself.

 

Our immediate reactions when we compare ourselves to others are varied. Some of us get angry or frustrated, “Why is it so easy for that person, and so hard for me?” Others internalize these thoughts as a reflection of their self-worth, “ I can’t do that, so I’m not strong/brave/hard-working.” If we stop and rationalize, we know it doesn’t make sense to compare ourselves to someone else that we (usually) know nothing about. But we often don’t think this through.

 

So when it’s time to perform, those negative thoughts and self-doubt materialize into lessened performance. Falling off of moves you know you can do, saying no to challenges you’d usually say yes to, the list goes on. Physically, there’s nothing truly affecting you, but mentally, your game is off.

Comparison’s Root Cause

Making a physical or mental adjustment first requires the root cause to be uncovered. Otherwise, how would you know where to start? Understanding the reasons that we compare ourselves to others goes a long way toward stopping this unhealthy habit.

One of the main aspects of yogic philosophy, Ahimsa, can shed some light on this. Ahimsa means non-violence, and it’s one of 10 principles that yogis use to guide their treatment of others and themselves. “Violence” typically conjures up images of fighting or physical acts of harm. But what about the internal acts of violence we inflict on ourselves?

 

Negative self-talk, comparing ourselves to others, and even hurrying are all considered acts of self-violence in yogic philosophy. Tracing these acts back leads to the same root-fear and powerlessness. Fear that we’ll never be able to achieve a big goal. Feeling powerless in the face of physical setbacks or injuries. Seeing someone achieve something we want to achieve, whether it be a certain type of body or an athletic achievement, can be a trigger for these feelings. But they do not have to be.

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Self-Worth And the Philosophy of Gratitude

What if instead of feeling powerless and fearful of what we don’t know or haven’t yet achieved, we felt excited about the possibility of what we have to learn, and we were happy with where we’re at?

Photo: Sav Cummins of Gnarly Athlete Kyra Condie

Enter another yogic principle – Santosha, commonly known as contentment. Contentment is grounded in the practice of gratitude and being in the present moment. A fantastic quote about Santosha by Deborah Adele says this; “Discontentment is the illusion that there can be something else in the present moment.” When you compare yourself to others, for any reason, you’re feeling a disconnect between where you actually are and where you want to be. By grounding yourself in the present moment, it becomes easier to push back against the urge to compare. 

 

Easier said than done, right? It might be a long shot to assume you’ll be perfectly zen and content at all times, starting tomorrow. But mastery starts with baby steps.

Two grounding, gratitude building practices you can do in 5 minutes

Spending a few minutes each day focused on grounding yourself in the present moment and practicing gratitude is well worth your time. You might not see results overnight, but with consistent practice, these tools can help you refocus when comparison is getting the best of you.

Three-Part Breath: Dirga Pranayama

This simple breathing exercise doesn’t take long to get the hang of. It’s commonly used at the beginning of a yoga class to help bring the group into the present moment, but you can practice it any time you’re starting to feel out of touch. All inhales and exhales should be taken in and out through the nose.

  1. Find a comfortable position. This could be laying on your back, sitting cross-legged, or even simply sitting with good posture in your office chair.
  2. Begin by focusing your attention on your breath. Don’t change your breathing, just pay attention to how it flows in and out of your body. Take 5 breaths like this.
  3. Next, focus your inhales on filling up your belly completely when you breathe in. Feel your belly expand like a balloon on your inhale and feel your belly button pull back toward your spine when you exhale completely. Take 5 breaths like this.
  4. On your next inhale, fill your belly with air as you have been. Then, take an extra sip of air to fill your ribcage as well. Feel your ribcage expand. On your exhale, release the air from your ribcage first, then release air from your belly until your exhale is complete. Take 5 breaths like this.
  5. Finally, fill your belly with air, and then your ribcage. Then take in just a bit more air and fill your chest.  You’ll feel the area around your heart and collarbones expand. On your exhale, first release the air from your chest, letting it sink back into your body. Then release the air from your ribcage, feeling the ribs fall back in toward your side. Finally, let the belly fully release the air it’s holding. Practice 5 rounds of full three-part breath before returning to your normal breathing pattern.
Photo: Derrick Lytle
Gratitude Journaling

The research-backed benefits of a gratitude practice range from getting better sleep, having fewer aches and pains, and of course, having a more positive outlook on life. And teachings about Santosha point to the practice of gratitude as the most effective way to remain focused on personal contentment, rather than comparison with others.

 

If you’re new to practicing gratitude, you’re in luck. It’s not hard to get started. First, find a time each day that works best for you (first thing in the morning when you’re sipping that morning Gnarly protein shake or right before bed are great options). Consistency is key when it comes to reaping the rewards of gratitude practices, so do your best to make this a daily habit. Once you’ve got a time that works, it’s as simple as jotting down a few things that you’re honestly grateful for. Use a notebook, sticky-note, or even the Notes app on your phone. If you’re a list-maker, aim to find five things each day that make you grateful. Otherwise, let your mind flow with what comes each day. The important thing is to take a little time each day to truly appreciate what’s in front of you.

Karen Williams

Karen Williams

Karen Williams is a freelance writer and outdoor food blogger based in Colorado. After being introduced to climbing during her 200 HR yoga teacher training in 2017, she's been obsessed with how the mind-body connection affects athletic performance. When she's not climbing splitters in the Utah desert, you can find her whipping up new plant-based recipes for her blog, Gritty Gourmet.

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