If you’ve spent any time around me lately—at ALL—you know that I can’t get enough of SoulCycle. It’s a gym where you ride a stationary bike, but it also strangely feels like the perfect mix between both a club and a church. It’s also an incredible workout and, right now, I am SoulCycle’s biggest fanboy.
Last month, in the middle of a class, climbing a hill, I did what I normally do when things are most difficult. I started to look around the studio, gauging how others were doing. Are people struggling as much as I am? Are they on-beat to the music? Is anyone else losing their form?
Just then, our instructor, Lexi, said something that I haven’t stopped thinking about ever since. She just said, “If you’re looking to your left and right to see how others are doing, stop. Just focus on you.”
Just focus on you.
As soon as she said it, I felt a sense of release as I let go of my self-imposed pressure. I relaxed and I returned to a focus on my own form and how I was doing—not how I was doing in comparison to everyone else.
Maybe it’s a silly analogy, but you know it extends beyond our gym sessions. Our comparisons to others “in the game” with us, (i.e., our “competitors”) creates all kinds of negative impacts, all the time, both personally and professionally.
What Comparison Does to You
Your performance actually falters.
While cycling, when I start looking at others in the room, I stop looking at myself. I stop paying attention to my form and I lose the beat. What’s so interesting about this is that looking at others actually makes me worse. My performance drops lower than if I’d just minded my own business. The same happens with our companies. When we take our eyes off our own businesses, we begin to care more about how everyone else is performing, and how we stack up, rather than staying on task with what we want to accomplish, what’s important to us, and what we might or might not need to work on.
You build your business model on what’s right for someone else.
When we’re looking at how someone else is running their business, we have a tendency to build our business model off of it. Going back to SoulCycle, when I see others moving faster or slower than I am, simply by maintaining forms that are different than mine, I start to mold myself to their form instead of what works for me. In some cases, it can work. But most of the time, it’s actually not what’s best for me. For instance, if I’m trying to work on my cardio more than building muscle, then going more slowly and burning my legs out—even if everyone else is doing it—might not work as well for me as doubling my pace and really racing to the end. The same is true in business. If we care so much about another business’…business…we’ll start to think that model is the right one for us. When, in reality, there’s a chance it might not even be the right model for either of us.
You lose energy.
Think about what happens when we spend a lot of time thinking about our competitors. It usually leads us to be defensive, worried, and anxious. We’re wasting unnecessary energy on what other people are up to when we could be pouring that mental awareness into our own work. Sometimes feelings of jealousy or envy can be useful; they can give us data that helps us know where and who we want to be in the future. But they have to be contained in small doses, because letting them overwhelm us or control anything more than that (inspiring us to grow) stops being healthy and can instead begin to corrode our passion and drive toward our own goals and what’s important to us in the long-term.
How to Avoid Comparison
Here’s the foundational problem that seems to lead to an over-emphasis on comparison:
Not having a plan, for yourself, that you feel confident in.
Every single startup I’ve spoken with that struggles with comparison actually just doesn’t have a solid plan for themselves. Not having a plan they believe in, then, leads them to pay attention to what everyone else is doing. They think that, in looking at others, they’ll be able to find some magic answer that tells them the best thing to do for their own business. But, in reality, everyone is figuring it out. No one has a silver bullet, and believing they do will only trap us into thinking that we’re never doing the “right thing.” The truth is, there is no “right thing.” There is only doing something that feels true to and most important for you and seeing if it works.
But training your mind to stop focusing on those on our “left and right” takes effort. And there’s a distinct difference between taking note of your competitors in order to stay privy to potential threats and building your entire business around what they’re up to. So you only need to know if there’s a real threat to your own business. After that, most anything else is moot. The best way I do this (when I see a threat) is to write it down and then move on. I stop thinking about it. Then, every month, I go back to that list and review it to determine legitimate threats and make a gameplan for what to do about them from there. That way, I’m not constantly focused on everyone else and what they’re up to.
Finally, I’m getting increasingly better at acknowledging that there’s only so much I can control, at this particular moment. I can’t change everything today. Whatever happens in the future is out of my immediate control and what has happened in the past can’t be changed. It gives me the freedom to ask myself, “What is most important—and realistic—for the business, for us, right now?” Because, just like with SoulCycle, I can’t immediately become as good as someone who has been cycling three times a week for five years. Comparing myself to them isn’t helpful. What is much more useful is focusing on what I can control and improving myself at this very moment.
Right now, that means at least trying to stay on-beat 80% of the time. Now that would be personal progress.