Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Self-Handicap and Comparison Trap

I've been giving a lot of thought to this topic lately, and am posting for two reasons, 1) because if I put this promise to myself in writing, maybe I will stick to it and 2) because it's something I see all the time among my peers (in all contexts, athletic, work, love life, etc.) and maybe reading about it will help someone dig themselves out of this negative cycle as well!

The Self-Handicap Trap

A few weeks back, I read an excellent article on Ditching the Psychological Safety Net from Life With No Limits Coaching.  The jist is that often athletes "self-handicap" in order to create an opportunity to excuse future failure by neglecting to prepare.  That allows the athlete to use the excuse of circumstances rather than lack of ability when the outcome of an event is negative.  This behaviour often stems from a fear of failure.  We do sneaky things and make "rationalized" excuses all the time when we self-handicap.  I'm hugely guilty of this.  

Now, I'm not saying that we aren't allowed to listen to our bodies or that we have to hit every single prescribed workout.  I'm just saying that we have to put ourselves out of our comfort zone if we want to reach our goals.  That doesn't mean going hard every workout.  That just means patience, dedication, hard work, owning our mistakes, and revising our goals if we get off track.  It means recognizing when something is a legitimate reason not to train and when our mind is playing tricks on us to open up room for excuses when our later performances don't go as hoped.

The Comparison Trap

I'm surrounded by amazing, high-performing, happy, fit, athletes all the time. Whether it is my two lovely, talented roommates or the friends that I have made through OTC, Team Coeur or through social media, I am constantly at awe at how dedicated everyone around me seems to be. Now, I've come to learn that 1) appearances can be deceiving (especially in social media life, but also in real life), 2) I probably seem dedicated, over-achieving, etc. to someone else, and 3) where someone else is in their training / life experience / etc. has ZERO effect on my personal performance and abilities.  There is no reason to compare myself to others!  And there is no reason for me to not believe in my own abilities.  I know my own story and I know that I should believe in myself and only compare myself to who I was yesterday.  BUT, somehow it is still really easy to fall into the comparison game.

When you add the comparison trap to the self-handicap trap, you have a perfect storm of lack of confidence, feelings of being not good enough, and lack of motivation.

The Perfect Storm and What I'm Doing About It...

So, how did this post come about? Well, as we know, I've been avoiding the pool like the plague.  I don't really know why, but I've been using my old, "I don't like swimming" excuse.  Yes, I used to swim so much that I got burnt out and actually got to the point where I dreaded going to the pool.  But that was a long time ago!  I ended up having some fantastic swims last season, so I don't really know why I've been dreading the pool again so much. I've accepted my coach's determination that I shouldn't swim until I feel ready and actually WANT to swim.  But while he is certainly right to an extent (training should be fun)... realistically, I need to get my butt back in the pool. It won't be surprising if my swims don't go the way I want them to this season if I keep not swimming.  I need to stop the self-handicapping.

In general lately though, I've been really enjoying my non-triathlon-specific life. I've loved learning to cross-country ski (even though I fall into the comparison trap there too sometimes) and I've also enjoyed having free time and not being tired all the time.  I've been having a lot of FUN! And I think part of me is worried that I will lose that fun if I dive too hardcore back into training.

But as much fun as I've been having, I've also felt guilty for not being super motivated to train and for not being hardcore in my training when it seems like everyone else is.  I keep saying to myself, "it's only February," but deep down, I am comparing myself and worrying that I won't be ready when race season comes around in May.  The comparison trap is in full force.

It hit me on the head the other night when I returned home from a run.  It was the first run in ages where I had clear sidewalks, no work back-pack to carry, good nutrition pre-run, etc. and it showed.  I felt great!  I tested my MAF pace and it had improved so much.  I was happy and feeling really good about how the run went.  But then I walked in the house and one of the roomies asked how the run went.  "Fine, I guess."  That was my response. What!?!? Where did that come from? Then I started making excuses. It was weird.  I went up and showered, and while I washed my hair, I said to myself, "What the hell, Kels? That run was great! You had fun. It went really well."  I realized that I was worried that my run wasn't good enough and I was comparing myself and self-handicapping myself all at the same time.  If I said the run wasn't great and my performance later sucked, then I had an excuse.  After my shower, I went down and retracted my "fine" and replaced it with "really great," and then had a good, though rather emotional chat with the roomie about how I've been feeling guilty about not wanting to train and comparing myself.  It was a good, cathartic episode.

So now, I'm committing to stop the comparing and the self-handicapping! I'm committing to stop saying things like, "oh, well that was so slow for me," or "it was only x pace," or "well, it was snowy, so I couldn't x, y, z," or "I don't feel like swimming." I know when I say these things they help no one.  They don't make me feel better, and sometimes they don't make others feel very good either.  I'm going to own my training, whether it's actually getting out to run or whether it's deciding that going for a ski sounds more fun.  I'm going to celebrate my progress and focus on the things that are going really well, instead of what might be going wrong.  And I'll continue to smile through all of it!

Do you self-handicap? Have you fallen into the comparison trap? How did you get out of it?

1 comment:

  1. Fighting the urge to compare myself to others is a huge challenge for me. I even have Mark Twain's quote hanging above my side door so I see it and remind myself of it daily. "Comparison is the thief of joy" But I don't have a solution to offer other than just remembering to try to not do it. Love your blog. Just found it today!