The Social Comparison Trap

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running-woman I was speaking with a reader a while back and we were talking about bloggers and running. As you probably know, running is everywhere on the blogs and it seems like everyone is running out the door for their next 8 miler.

She was telling me that she felt a tremendous amount of pressure to not only run, but to keep increasing her mileage.

I asked her why she felt this way and she said she felt like bloggers set the bar so high. If they were running 7 miles, she felt like she had to as well.

She also saw that some were increasing their workouts more and more and she questioned whether they were doing it for the sake of training or whether it was purely because they felt pressure to do more.

She said that she was pushing herself too hard and she wasn’t happy with her workouts anymore. Each workout became more of a scheduled chore than something fun and healthy for her body. And eventually something has to give. She got quite sick because her body was begging for rest.

For me it was an injury. Sometimes the only way our bodies can get us to rest is if we incur pain and physically cannot keep the same routine. My injury was very difficult and I realized that I too, felt pressure to maintain my previous activity levels.

I actually felt so much pressure that I had to stop reading running blogs for a while. When I couldn’t exercise, it was painful for me to read about others going on long runs or hitting new PR’s for a 5k. I felt low and I had to distract myself from the desire to run.

Being injured made me realize how much pressure I actually put on myself. I wondered what my readers would find interest in without my daily workouts. This is a health blog primarily, I thought, so certainly they will find their healthy activities elsewhere.

But what it made me realize is that the pressure we sometimes feel to ‘keep up with the Jones’’ is not put on us by anyone else but ourselves.

What I realized is that no one really cared whether I was still logging my planned 6 mile run or my Tuesday speed run. From what I saw, my readers didn’t up and leave. Actually, what I noticed is that readers showed an increased interest in my experience.

Injuries happen to everyone at some point and showing that I was vulnerable too made others feel like they could relate to me. I wasn’t some superhuman that could run and run and run.

I think when we feel any sort of pressure with respect to exercise or healthy eating we need to ask ourselves why we feel this way. I think it is easy to say ‘well so-and-so runs 19 miles a week and so should I’ and that is why I feel pressure.

But I think it is deeper than that.

I always think about the saying ‘no one can make you feel inferior without your consent’.

Ultimately we chose whether we are putting pressure on ourselves or whether we feel negativity surrounding our health.

The social comparison game is a dangerous trap that we all fall into now and then.

It is important to listen to our bodies and decide for ourselves what a healthy lifestyle will be for us.

And running might never be a part of it.

What works for me or what works for someone else, may not be a good fit for your life. And that is ok.

The key is to do what you love and what makes you happy. You will know it when you find it because you will look forward to doing that activity each week!

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Do you ever feel pressure when reading other blogs to maintain a certain activity level? Do you ever feel like you can’t keep up and aren’t doing enough? Why do you think this is? Or on the other hand, are you able to not feel pressure from others and decide what is right for you? Do you have any suggestions for those who are falling into the social comparison trap?

Have you ever had to re-evaluate your exercise goals in the past because of over-training, injury, or loss of motivation?

As always, I look forward to your thought provoking comments.

Angela_Signature

I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn’t my fault that I’m not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?

    ~Yogi Berra

PS- Sun and highs of 26C/78F today…what crazy spring weather we are having!

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Ilana July 24, 2010

I wish I’d read this eight months ago. Last year I was really struggling with disordered eating habits (I won’t call it an eating disorder because, well, it wasn’t, by medical standards), and I was OBSESSED with reading healthy living blogs and food blogs and everything was so confusing to me because there was so much conflicting information out there but regardless of what I was reading, it was always coming from someone who was so much “better” and “healthier” than I was and I really felt frustrated for a while, like I would never live up. I have literally never compared myself to people in real life but somehow I was really hung up on comparisons to these random people on the internet that I’ll probably never meet – strange, right?? I had to stop reading a lot of blogs for a while and stop focusing on what OTHER people were doing and start focusing on what *I* could do. I’ll probably never be a runner (shin splints ouch) but trust me in my early blog reading days I tried on that damn treadmill and was so miserable! I had to stop thinking of myself in comparison to these people and start thinking of myself, in comparison to myself! And it works – now when I look back at myself a year, or even six months, ago, I see how much real progress I’ve made. Blogs are great and can be awesome learning tools but if you don’t know how to filter the information properly, it can get so overwhelming. Anyway, again, great read, great post. Thank you!!

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Michelle April 28, 2009

…..oh and…I think some people feel that running is the end all and be all of fitness. Life is to be enjoyed and just like any addiction…..people should never feel like their day is ruined because they couldnt fit in their run. Pressure equals stress and exercise is supposed to releive stress.

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Michelle April 28, 2009

I dont think Ive ever felt pressure from reading running blogs or health blogs. As a matter of fact this is pretty much the only blog I read on a regular basis. I do run, however it is mainly a way to mix up my workouts and add some variety. I have tried so many times to “get into” running….but there are so many other things I enjoy doing (especially now that we can get outside)….biking, yoga kickboxing, hiking….So I guess Ive never wanted to spend the time going on a long run when I could do 30 minutes of cardio and go hikning or better yet, hit the beach. I love to work out and I love to feel healthy. I try to challenge myself and not try to compare my fitness to others, Some people have a passion for running…..while I DO enjoy running….I dont have the passion it takes to commit totally to it. I love reading your blog and have a nice day:)

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Melissa April 27, 2009

Honestly after reading blogs I suddenly decided every once else was jogging so I needed to jog to. Truth is, while I LOVE walking, I HATE jogging. And I started to experience certain leg pain with jogging that I never felt with walking. I had to question myself as to why I was pushing myself to so something I hated when I already had an exercise I loved. So now while I might through in little jogging spurts to bump up the intensity of my walk there’s not jogging for me in the future. I’ve gone back to my first love, walking and I will not feel inferior because I hate jogging and am not good at it!!! :)

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Lara April 27, 2009

very interesting post and by the looks of it you really hit the nail on the head–that people do feel compelled to run more/faster to “keep up with the joneses”. I have often wondered why so many bloggers seem so obsesed wtih running and/or cardio in general. And very few do any real strength training which is just as (or even more) important and beneficial for our bodies and health.

there also seems to be trends of food avoidances or eating habits. I read many food/health/fitness related blogs and many seem to be quite on the verge of disordered eating or eating disordered territory (coming from that background myself I am hyper-aware to some of the signs and signals)

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Liz & In The Skinny April 27, 2009

I have found the running blogs to be very motivating. I have never been a fast runner, but I don’t think I have really pushed myself to the limits yet. I’ve been inspired to attempt to run faster. I enjoy looking at other blogs where people have started where I am now and seen what they have accomplished.

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Lindsey (Mrs. LC) April 27, 2009

Angela, this is a wonderful post. I know I have sometimes read about a blogger doing a “short” 4 or 5 mile run, and I think “that is a LONG run for me!”. We’re all different, but I do think that some bloggers who have wildly popular running blogs need to be careful how they can carelessly brush off their 9-minute pace 4 mile run as a “light, easy” run for an “off” day.

A while back I reached a point where I had to ask myself I was running and such. I really did not like it. Truth be told, most days I hated it. I dreaded going for a run, and I disliked it so much while I was running that it made me not want to go running again even more than before. So I’ve started turning to alternative measures. Even walking – sometimes I get embarrassed to say on my blog that I’ll walk for miles every day, because it’s not running. But it’s still exercise since I keep a good pace, and most importantly I enjoy it!!

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sarah (ghost world) April 27, 2009

wonderful WONDERFUL post. very insightful. i often do sometimes feel like these blogs can seem like a competition: who can do the most and eat the healthiest? a lot of us are very type A to start with, and it’s so easy to get sucked in! however, you are so right that each person should have the confidence to believe in what is right for themselves.

i am never going to effortlessly churn out 7 minute miles.
i am never going to eat a green smoothie :)

but i’m okay with it! thank you angela!

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Krista April 27, 2009

Great post Angela! I read all these blogs about these girls running super fast, and honestly sometimes I feel inadequate because I can’t. It’s so refreshing to know someone else feels the same way. I hate comparing myself to others but it’s inevitable when someone else is accomplishing all these goals, you want that same feeling too.

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Rachel April 27, 2009

This is such a great post. I feel the same way about running. I’m not a natural runner and honestly don’t enjoy it like other people do but felt the need to get out there and run even though I was cussing it after ever step.

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Shelby April 27, 2009

I have experienced this too! I thought it was just me…phew!

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polly April 27, 2009

girl I love ya!! Wonderful post. I think we are on the same page, cause I posted about comparing our food to others today! It was on my heart last night and just wanted to share. You are a sunny spot, sweet girl.

Hey, I had some sprouted spelt bread today with my beloved almond butter, have you tried sprouted spelt bread? YUMMERS. Love to you!

oh! and YEAH for doing what you LOVE. Used to be running… TOO much running… now well, you know what I love. ;) It’s yummy!

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Danielle April 27, 2009

This is such a great post, so obvious, but never mentioned.

I have definitely felt this comparison, not only in my physical activity, but also in what I eat. I find many food bloggers are vegan/vegetarian, and felt alot of pressure to change my eating habits as to not only not offend anyone, but to become more healthy. I just had to drain it in my head, I am healthy, I enjoy the way I eat and what I eat, and began to use these blogs to make new friends, and have them influence me with new meal and work out ideas, rather than feel I had to meet all of these different standards.

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Hallie April 27, 2009

Great post…and I love reading all the comments too. I go through phases (like now) where I wish so bad that I were a “real” runner, like the bloggers I read, and it’s hard to realize that I don’t have to live up to or compete with those standards. The fact that I do run 3-4 miles a few times a week, slow as I might be, walk breaks and all, is something I never thought I could do a year ago.

I feel the same way with my eating, too. I know I eat more, and less healthy, that a lot of other bloggers…and I weigh more than them too which I guess goes hand-in-hand. But I’m trying to look to these girls now as insprirations, but realize that the way I live my life has to work for me any not anyone else.

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megan April 27, 2009

Michelle Gay – I also am obsessed with the pioneer woman! I love it! :)

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Rachel April 27, 2009

Brilliant post – couldn’t have been timed better for me today! I just had to change my upcoming race from a half to a 10k due to a foot problem I’ve always had that’s causing me pain… and I’m pretty upset about it. Though I’m upset for myself and my goals, I’m also worried about how others will view me “quitting” from the half. I know I COULD do it, but the pain that would result would mean that I couldn’t run for possibly weeks afterwards which just isn’t worth it to me. I realised that I’m happier running that distance anyway – so why am I pushing myself to run further? Because others are.

I work in an incredibly active environment – there’s always someone doing more reps, longer runs, faster sprints. The comptetion, though good for my goals, isn’t good for my well-being. I need to get back to running for me… and if that’s “only” a 10k, that’s more than good enough for me.

Great post as usual!

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Sarah April 27, 2009

I love reading all the health and fitness blogs out there, but I could never be a blogger myself because of this “can’t live up mentality!” So many bloggers seem so perfect, and I am just so far from perfect.

I run 10 minute miles. I only trained 3 times a week when I did a half marathon earlier this year. I drink diet coke when I’m stressed at work. I love yoga and spinning, but I only go to classes a couple times a week. If I put in a 12 hour workday, I skip the gym. I take walking breaks on any distance over 3 miles. I eat dessert A LOT! This is turning into a crazy confessional. Lol.

My point is, I do feel like the standards are set very high in the food blogging world. I think this is kind of natural because there are so many food bloggers that are fantastic athletes and many that work in health related fields. If you compare yourself to a marathoner/dietician/combon of both! the average person is not going to live up. I think we need to remember, these bloggers are good for inspiration but you don’t need to be perfect to be healthy.

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