“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
If you ride your bike on a regular basis, you probably think of it as something that has a positive impact on your mental health and helps keep stress levels at bay. Unfortunately, some of the bad habits we struggle with in other aspects of our lives can also make their way into our cycling routine. What is one of the quickest ways to obliterate the positive feelings that should accompany cycling? Succumbing to the temptation to compare yourself to other cyclists. Although there’s definitely nothing wrong with looking to others for inspiration or keeping track of your progress to see how far you’ve come, as the above quote from Theodore Roosevelt underscores, joy can be hard to find when you’re constantly stacking yourself up against those around you. If you suspect that this tendency might be starting to cloud your feel-good vibes, read on to be reminded why comparing yourself to others is never the road to success.
It has a negative impact on performance
When we’re continuously searching for external validation, it ends up serving as a distraction and can even result in diminished performance. By letting those around us, whom we aspire to be better than (or at least as good as), loom too large in our minds, there isn’t enough room left to focus on what really matters. Rather than looking to others as a means of comparison, we should observe what they’re doing successfully and try to apply it to ourselves.
You’re more likely to hurt yourself
In the same way that constant comparison can be consuming, it can also have a negative impact on the body-mind connection that helps keep us safe on our bikes. When your goal is no longer to do your personal best but is geared primarily towards outperforming someone else, you stop listening to your internal warnings and signals. Judgement leaves you distracted, and you’ll forget to monitor things like your physiology and cadence. There’s nothing wrong with having a competitive streak but even when the stakes are high—the top athletes know that to focus too much on anyone but themselves can have crippling consequences.
Being aware of what is happening around you is different than comparing yourself
Just as it is important to be cognizant of what is going on around you during a race or group ride in order to stay safe and ride strategically, it is equally necessary to distinguish between awareness and comparison. In a race, for example, having insight into what others may or may not do allows you to prepare yourself accordingly to counteract tactics or utilise them to your own advantage. But again, it is necessary to think of this insight as information that can be helpful to you and your performance, not as a means of appraisal.
People are not on equal footing to begin with
One of the most problematic aspects of comparison is that it only accounts for a tiny piece of the puzzle that ultimately makes up who each of us are. Not to mention just because someone makes something appear effortless—it doesn’t mean that it actually is. Whether you’re talking about cycling or some other skill or talent, there are always going to be multiple factors that are completely outside of your control and that have a significant impact on success. Of course, it is important not to go to the other extreme and be defeatist simply because you feel someone has a natural advantage. Set goals while remaining realistic about what’s actually achievable and what’s not.
Comparison zaps motivation
The drive to outperform or impress someone else might keep you going in the short-term but it doesn’t provide the kind of lasting incentive that you need to progress over time. The key to letting those around us lift us up rather than drag us down is to look for motivation rather than comparison. It’s great to have people who inspire you and there’s no doubt that positive examples can make us better athletes. It’s about looking at the situation from the right perspective.
Data is only one part of the story
Strava is a great tool for many reasons but there is a fine line between its function as a motivation booster and an obsessive preoccupation. When you get all wrapped up in the numbers or completely consumed by someone’s segment time, you forget to have fun and will ultimately end up getting burned out. On top of that, no one will like riding with you if you set off in blind pursuit of an invisible rival every time. If you find yourself fixating on numbers, try ditching the data for a while in order to rebalance your focus. Once you’ve had a chance to clear your head, you can return and start using those numbers and Strava segments constructively.
The only person you should try to be better than is who you were yesterday
When you’re searching for motivation to pedal faster or push through when you feel like quitting, it is important to remember that you’re always reliant solely on yourself and that you’re the only one who is going to benefit from the progress you make. A preoccupation with others just sets you up for disappointment, bitterness, and is a slippery slope towards jealousy. In cycling, there’s always going to be someone faster and stronger than you, and you can’t do anything about that. Rather than focusing on others, monitor your own performance and be mindful of the areas where you thrive and where you struggle. Remember that every minute you spend comparing yourself to or envying someone else is a minute of your life you miss out on.