Can Comparison Be Good?

We’re halfway through the week, but it feels like the start of the week for me. I’ve been finding this awful respiratory infection that has completely knocked me out since Sunday. I am very rarely sick (typically once per year), so being out of work for 2 days straight is unheard of for me! As I write this on Tuesday night, I am determined that I will be healthy enough to head back to the office on Wednesday. And hopefully following that with a visit to the gym by Thursday. I appreciate rest, but this much inactivity is driving me crazy!

Today I want to tackle a topic that I know has a lot of different opinions. A few weeks ago, my friend Paige wrote a thoughtful post about the pursuit of lean and comparison to others. The thing is, I have a different perspective and I think it’s a great topic for discussion.


This is one of those topics that I don’t believe there is a right answer to. I think you need to consider what makes sense for you and takes into account your history.

As you see in the definition above, comparison is looking at something to see how it’s similar or different. If I apply that to running a race, it might be looking at the winner of the race to see how they compare to me. How was their time different than mine? Are they older, younger, or in my age group? Do I know anything about their training history or what their current training schedule looks like? What can I learn from their success?

Comparison in Running

Comparing yourself to another athlete in this way can be a very helpful in reaching that next level. I WANT to run faster next time and I aspire to improve myself. My background and journey is likely very different than the athlete I’m comparing myself to, but there’s something I can learn from understanding the differences. And it helps motivate me to be more dedicated to my training leading up to my next race. Things can go badly here if you make unsafe changes in your training program to compensate. This is where a good coach can be helpful (shameless plug).

I find this holds true even as I’ve shifted to a more strength-focused sport.

Comparison in Bikini Competition

In my first bikini competition, the goal of the competition is to present your best physique to be compared with other competitors. Is this bad? As I looked around at the competition, I saw girls that were leaner (some in a good way, some a bit too lean for my personal taste) and who had more defined glutes or abs than I did. Seeing their results helped me frame goals on what I wanted to work on before my next competition. It doesn’t mean I felt bad about my own body, but it showed me something to aspire to and work to achieve. Things can go badly here if you let the comparison spur you to make unhealthy changes. Balance is needed!

I know that this attitude is not something that everyone has when comparing to others, but attitudes can be changed!

I encourage you to use comparison as a positive motivator and a way to appreciate & celebrate the accomplishments of those around you. Find role models that are positive examples of the goal you want to reach. Or even compare yourself to yourself. Watch your race times get faster compared to where you were last year. The weight you curl get heavier than last month. Measuring your progress is a great way to shift that comparison to yourself, if that’s something you’re most comfortable with.

Measure Your Progress

You are NOT less, because you are not the best.

Comparison should not be about demeaning yourself. If you find that it makes you feel less, than comparison is not something that may work for you. I don’t want scary movies because it turns me into a basket case for week or months. Know your limits and just avoid the situations that negatively impact you. If comparison becomes a negative where it is directed on you being less, as opposed to inspiration, then it’s time to step back.


Questions for you:

  • What does comparison mean to you?
  • If you see it as a bad thing, would you think about shifting your perspective?

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  1. Stacey s says

    This is a great perspective – we naturally lean towards comparisons, so taking that and channeling it in a positive manner can be very inspiring :) we tend to try and undo so many habits or actions that sometimes we forget that we have the ability to simply shift perspective and gain something positive we were missing!

    • says

      I think it’s good that you recognize where this might be a challenge for you. We are not superwoman, no matter how much we sometimes pretend to be. The progress I have seen in you is HUGE – if you ever need a reminder, just let me know! :)

  2. says

    I definitely think comparisons can be good and bad. Some personality types can get obsessive and if you couple that with insecurities that person might be in for a world of hurt.

    BUT I totally agree with needing some type of evaluation of fellow competitors. How else would you get ideas to improve your training?

    Great topic for discussion!!
    Amanda @ Diary of a Semi-Health Nut recently posted…Semi-Healthy Foodspiration EatsMy Profile

    • says

      It’s good to hear you can see both sides and I agree that some personalities find this easier than others. We need that benchmark sometimes and working on how to use it for positive reinforcement is a big help!

  3. says

    For me, comparison is a healthy form of competition or a way to congratulate others on their successes. That being said, I’m really quite comfortable with who I am and my physical appearance so I don’t stress or put myself down in comparison to others. I’m not sure the same can be said for everyone though. Happy Wednesday.

    • says

      That’s really awesome to hear – I’m glad this resonates with you and is how you approach comparison. You’re right that it’s not easy for others, but I hope to encourage people to think about how they could reframe it in their own minds. :)

  4. says

    I think this is a fantastic post. I do think that comparison can be positive as long as WE are positive about it. Perspective basically. Comparing in order to set healthy, positive goals. Not to BE someone else or look like someone else. I think it can be detrimental when we start comparing ourselves to others and then beating ourselves up about it.
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted…Is that Nutrition Advice For Real?My Profile

  5. says

    I like to do self comparison. You don’t know anyone else’s story, but your own. Although, I am competitive. I think comparison motivates me towards self improvement. At least when it comes to speed.

  6. says

    Thank you for writing this post. I spent so much of 2013 rejecting the diet and exercise to be skinny/fit/hot mentality that I am completely on the other end of the spectrum. I’m motivated by competition, and a little bit of comparison is good (for me at least). I’m at the point where comparing myself to others doesn’t trigger bad feelings anymore. I see what I *could* achieve because I recognize what I cannot achieve (at the moment especially because I’m still working out of injuries).

    Leave it to you to speak up with a different opinion. :) Looking forward to seeing what your next competition brings for you!
    Calee Himes recently posted…May I have your attention please?My Profile

      • says

        You make a fine pot-stirrer. “Ummm, is there a reason you charged 20% for gratuity?” I will never forget the look on that waitress’s face. Ha.

        PS If you are interested in a follow-up post on this, I could write one this weekend? I didn’t read through the comments, but if you want another take (from somebody who rejected comparison SO HARD last year) I would gladly write something this weekend (because I’d rather write a blog post than a research paper). 😉
        Calee recently posted…Only one.My Profile

  7. says

    I don’t think you’ll be surprised to know that I like comparison. I can see how some think it’s bad… but issue it seems to me that your perspective on the issue is directly related to personality type. I am competitive, so it’s just another way to fuel the fire and motivate.
    Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table recently posted…Eating All My Food + WIAWMy Profile

    • says

      I knew you would agree with this one and I think it is a LOT about your perspective. I think it can be positive for most people, but it can take more work and shifting the mindset for some. It’s an easy one for me. :)

    • says

      I love that – it helps us know how high we want to reach – and I love to reach for the stars! You’re right that it can be taken too far, that’s up to us to regulate and recognize within ourselves, too. :)

  8. says

    “You are NOT less, because you are not the best.” What an amazing quote!! I just love it. I too often use comparison as a way to demean myself, not encourage. I have to be very careful when I compete/compare because it can come from a place meant to make me feel small. It takes a lot of practice to consciously shift motivation to compare from harmful to helpful.
    Caitlin recently posted…WIAW: Cheddar Chicken-Veggie-Potato ChowderMy Profile

    • says

      I was on a roll when typing and that one just came out – LOVE when that happens. :) I think if you recognize where you struggle, it’s something you can work on and reshape in your mind to a more positive spot. Although there is also a point in recognizing it’s not something you need to worry about right now and back away completely. You are your own worst enemy in these situations sometimes, so being honest is a big part!

  9. says

    i agree with this – it’s a slippery slope for some people to compare themselves against others but in reality, as humans, that’s what we do! for job interviews, we’re compared against the other candidates. for races (like you say), we compare our times against previous times, we compare our training to other peoples.

    i think the issue comes when people stop objectively comparing and start taking it personally and feeling bad because they’re not the same as someone or something else. but i’m with you – i don’t think comparison is inherently wrong; it’s a fact of life! it’s how you choose to react to it that makes the difference.
    lynne @ lgsmash recently posted…Preparing for Winter Camping: What Do I Bring?! EditionMy Profile

    • says

      It’s human nature – so making it a positive experience is important. Yes! Learning how we react is so important, because it allows us to grow and how to use comparison for our benefit in the future. :)

  10. says

    While I SEE both sides of the comparison conversation, I know myself and I know the way my brain looks at comparison and it’s not always in the best way. I’m ALWAYS up for improvement and learning from others, but I can’t compare or that’s when i’m susceptible to spiraling down a line of not feeling good enough. It’s an interesting conversation though for sure!
    Katie @ Talk Less, Say More recently posted…How To: Get Over Being Sick FasterMy Profile

    • says

      I think this is a great thing to know about yourself, because you can catch those thoughts and redirect them into a more positive place. When we learn how to deal with those situations, I think we can get even better. And I don’t know about you, but I always have room to grow and improve. :)

  11. says

    What an awesome post, Heather! I actually see the value in both perspectives. For me personally, I use comparison to motivate me to improve myself, and 99% of the time it’s a positive thing that doesn’t bring me down. But I also completely understand (and have been through similar experiences) people who instinctively degrade themselves every time they compare, and for those people it can be a dangerous spiral. Knowing yourself is sometimes so hard, but in this case I think knowing yourself enough to know whether or not you can use comparison as a motivational tool is crucial!
    Megan (The Lyons’ Share) recently posted…Greasing Your GrooveMy Profile

    • says

      From this conversation I’m hearing that knowing yourself is a big theme and I completely agree! That’s key in so much and I think just taking the time to understand how you react in these situations is so important. :)

  12. says

    I cannot and will not compare myself to others. This tends to always be negative in my mind, so I avoid it at all costs. We are all different and unique in our own ways so we need to focus on the good that we all hold, not how we differ from others – People tend to always compare themselves in negative ways! If only people could compare themselves to others like you describe, then it would definitely be constructive and helpful!!
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted…Banish Your Kryptonite!My Profile

    • says

      I think it’s good that you know this is a trigger for you. My feeling is that knowing that allows you to reframe those thoughts when you catch them and flip them around – the mind is a really powerful thing! Looking for what you admire about that person and just appreciating them for being them!

  13. says

    I love the thought that comparison can be used a positive motivator rather than in a negative way, and I would love to see it used that way more and more in the healthy living world!

  14. says

    I think it’s a fine line between comparison and admiration. There are so many people in life who I admire and love to learn from. I think remembering that your own success does not depend on others failure is important in not getting lost in the comparison trap but it can be a slippery slope. I do believe that comparison can be good sometimes though!
    Davida @ The Healthy Maven recently posted…Random Ramblings #7My Profile


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