I was watching breakfast TV and a story came up of three Youtubers who had just set a world record for the worlds highest basketball shot. They made the shot from 200 metres up, from the top of cliff in Maletsunyane Falls in Semonkong, Lesotho in South Africa.
It seems a bit meaningless, but pretty cool that someone can make this shot. I could notice my mind going ‘how amazing, those guys are awesome, how great would it be to travel the world and make trick basketball shots, what great lives they must have’. I began to notice what we can call comparative mind. Social media is a cesspit of triggers for comparative mind. Everybody’s life looks awesome, no one takes a bad photo – everybody’s life is better than yours, right? Wrong. Let’s think about the trick basketball shot. If this was a video of these guys in ‘real life’, you would see them trekking up the mountain every day for 6 days. You would see them trying to shoot that one basket for 6 hours every day for those eight days. That footage would be pretty boring. But it would be how it was. Much easier to just show the one shot that worked out.
The take away point is to be aware of how comparative mind always makes us feel bad. We are programmed by evolution to pay attention to threats to survive. Nowadays, these threats are mostly what we call ego-threats, threats to our self esteem. So, we pay attention to people that have what we want, people who are more successful than us, people that are thinner and fitter than us. Without being aware of this process of comparative mind we can get locked into a pattern of self comparison that can only make us feel bad. This is especially true for body comparison.
Some ideas to manage body comparison
(notice I didn’t say stop body comparison – we need to set realistic goals)
- Become aware of the process and when you are doing it. When you catch yourself comparing, compassionately note that you are doing it and redirect your attention to something more useful (or just back to your breath).
- Look at the bigger picture. Learn when you are more likely to compare – is it when your mood is good, or is it when you feel more anxious. Is it on days when you feel fat? (Which is such a set up – feel fat and then scan the environment for thinner people to compare yourself with – ouch!)
- Remember that body comparison will only make you feel bad because you will only compare to what you want. An important step in recovery is to stop doing the stuff that makes you feel bad and doesn’t move you in a direction of health.
- Be aware your own body image is likely to be distorted, so instead of comparing apples to apples you may be comparing their apple to what you see as your watermelon (even if it is really an apple).
- Try to overcome any bias you might have in terms of who you are making comparison with, in order to make sure you are at least comparing evenly. Sometimes I will go for a walk with patients and we will compare to every third body we pass. Although I don’t like encouraging comparisons, it is sometimes informative to see if a more systematic system of comparison is less unhelpful.
- Remember that whatever the result of the comparison you are comparing only bodies. There is much more to you (and to the other person) than this body. What is that person like? What makes them tick, what drives them? What are they suffering from? Like social media, comparisons only give you a snapshot (the one perfect basketball toss) and not the whole picture (6 hours a day for 6 days for that one shot).
- Always remember to be compassionate to yourself, both when it comes to your body and to your self (which are different things).