Compare and Despair and Instagram is My Self-Help Tool

Compare and despair. This is one of the more annoying phrases with which I was ever inculcated while in therapy, but I find myself unable to dismiss it on grounds of it smelling of overzealous positivity–it holds truth. I both follow and actively compete in powerlifting, and both the following and the competitive engagement are difficult to pull off without a social component. Indeed, it is the communal aspect of powerlifting that in part buoys my passion for it. I am generally a loner, and certainly an introvert, but powerlifting gives me the opportunity to have social exchange while still being able to train exactly as I want and compete in my own little self-defined bubble of progress.

Unfortunately, the latter, my “self-defined bubble of progress”, is a bubble that rarely gets through the day without my managing to pop it by comparing my progress to someone else’s via the vast social blanket that is the online lifting world. I am relatively certain this is not an issue isolated to my own experience. On the internet, the ability to an identity with a liberal sense of editing makes for an easy delivery of the best version of oneself. Shit, I do it. Do you see a lot of images of me showcasing how short and thick my torso is? Do you see images of me sitting in my chair, right now, with fuzzy “puffy princess hair,” no makeup, feeling bloated as possible, stubble on my legs, haven’t brushed my teeth yet and it’s 12:45 PM, not really accomplishing anything with my life after acquiring an MFA (hi Dad, I know you’re reading this, and I’d be concerned too. What am I supposed to do with an MFA? Huge mistake, that one. I mean, not as huge as a DUI, in my opinion, so you can’t fault me for at least getting the drugs and alcohol thing right, right?), indolence-inspired slumping shoulders. How much do I go online and write about how absolutely petulant I felt and acted during particular training sessions? If you follow my log in the two places I currently log, which, chances are, you don’t–although you can by clicking here–sometimes I make mention of the poor mindset accompanying certain training dates. I don’t usually go into much detail.


And I am sure as hell not getting on Facebook and trumpeting “I am a freaking baby! My volume squatting sessions aren’t even that damned difficult and I still pout like a four-year-old during at least two thirds of my work sets!” Instead, on my good days, I get on Facebook and post this:

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 12.51.14 PM

Granted, I didn’t go as self-congratulatory as I could here and note that I squatted 175 x 5 during this session, which, for me, is a pretty significant rep PR. I’m trying to keep this self-aggrandizing crap to a minimum on Facebook, I swear. But even if everyone’s trying to keep their ego in check, and they’re not, and at least half of those people who are not are probably just rocking really solid levels of self-confidence, which is awesome and I don’t have remotely as good a level of it, myself–even if they’re keeping the flow of “I’m awesome” posts down, if you’re friends with, say, 200 lifting-related individuals, you’re probably seeing a sizable amount of stuff in your Facebook feed about stuff those 200 people have managed to do well. And if you’re not among that percentage of people who have figured their shit out and have a pretty solid level of self-confidence, you’re probably doing the comparison thing.

Stop it. There is no greater threat to your lifting than your own mind, and when you’re consciously highlighting ways in which you perceive yourself to be falling short, you are spreading negativity through your psyche. In a sense, you’re poisoning yourself. So you’re probably going to say to me “yeah, but _____ is better than me. That’s truth. You can’t deny it, you hyper-positive freaking cheerleader” and I’ll respond with “yeah, you’re right. I think this way all the time. And then I realize I’m thinking about it, which is exactly what’s doing the poisoning. Only YOU can look at someone else’s lifts, body, manicure, beard, 5000-watt ring, dog, test score, whatever the hell, and rule that they are better than you for their given attribute or acquisition or achievement.” In other words, you take in the information “x just squatted my max for a set of seven” and you can either stop there or you can poison yourself.

It is that easy. And if your default is to poison yourself, then you are responsible for doing the work to make that stop. The easier thing–the self-toxicity–is not the best thing. Here’s a shot of part of my Instagram feed.

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 1.07.59 PM
notice there are two bicep flex poses going on here as well as a Frenchie. O, beautiful collection of beauteous beauty. 

This is a pretty typical scan of the content in my feed, and for a while, I considered just getting the hell off Instagram because I’d be going in there and being all “oh hell no, I’m like an elephant with no lean mass compared to that” and “why do you get to eat that? Do you get to eat that often? FML and weight classes” and “I just want a French Bulldog, why doesn’t anyone understand this and just give one to me and also have my landlord be okay with it?” And then I realized that I didn’t need to get off Instagram because I am in charge of how I feel in encountering its offerings. And now, I basically use Instagram as a way to work on feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and the gentle, cloying fear that I have basically turned into a bum post-graduation. Instagram is my self-help tool; lifting is my therapist.

As an end note, I guess I tend to focus on my flaws in this blog quite often. I feel like I do. This is perhaps another small rebellion, aside from bulking, I try to execute: I’m not going to present a fabricated self to the world as much as I’m capable of not doing so. I mean, seriously, no one wants me to document how gross my body actually is, or how my hair looks like the “before” stages in the Disney transformation movies unless I make an effort at it. Because if I documented that, it would just take up pages and I wouldn’t probably get solid lifting in. But I promise to continue to try not to be the “fuck yeah I’m awesome” girl unless I manage to do something truly awesome, which for me is generally breaking lift PRs. If I do that, damn straight I’m going to put it out there.


6 thoughts on “Compare and Despair and Instagram is My Self-Help Tool

  1. I’m not THAT concerned! You are in a transition year after completing the MFA and teaching others to find their artistic selves. I believe you did a fine job in both categories. And working for certification is no small matter. Funny, we often rate lives based upon one’s job and what they make. How really absurd. You will probably do art/sales and teach in time. Your path makes sense. Conversely, think of the millions of Americans out of 155,000,000, working, proudly (or so they say) at what? Some of them meaningless jobs, boring, and even worse, making (awfully) little money! Focus on the doing – you’re absolutely correct – and far less on the comparing. My words for the moment on this painful tooth laden day.

  2. Loved this post! I was guilty of comparing myself to you once. Your deadlift is amazing for your body weight. I hope to pull over 300 for the first time at my meet next weekend but I’m 140lbs. If I compared myself and let the negative ‘I suck’ get to me there’d be no use in trying. It’s good to know you deal with those energy draining thoughts too.

    1. oh my lord, I compare my horrendous squat to everyone else’s. That said, now that I’m putting on weight, it’s shooting up! So there’s definitely ways to improve and this just goes to show that it’s a very individual game. Your lifting is fantastic! I’m kind of a one-trick pony.

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