I think I spend a lot of time looking around--at Cross-Fit, on the bike or out running, swimming, or just walking around town--staring at other people and comparing myself to them. I think about a swimmer who has the perfect stroke or the girl who can lift twice as much as I can. I think about how light on her feet that runner looks. Or how put together that woman looks even when she is just at the grocery store.
Here is the thing, sport is about being inside yourself. Yes, I know people will try to tell you that if you want to win, you have to really care about beating the other guy. You have to want to win badly enough that you'll do anything to push yourself a little bit farther to cross the finish line first or get the last goal. Maybe this is true in some arenas in sport but maybe it isn't. Maybe the only thing the other person is there for is to remind you to get back inside yourself, where you can do something that matters.
Thinking back on my terrible career as a swimmer in high school, I think one of my biggest mistakes was that I was constantly comparing myself to the other swimmers--and feeling like I wasn't enough. I couldn't just get in the water, swim my heart out and be happy with myself. It didn't help that other people were telling me that I had to work harder for the team, that I needed to hurt myself more. It's only as an adult that I have learned how to let go of what the voices outside of me are saying and listen to the voice within.
When I do my best at a race now, it isn't because of what anyone else is doing. It's because I am pushing myself against my own goals. And it is because I believe in myself. If I'm going to be able to make a new jump height at Cross-Fit, I have to visualize myself doing it. I have to tell myself that it is possible. Then I have to close my eyes and go inside myself and just push to make it happen.
Watching other people do things that I can't do might or might not be inspiring in the long-term but it doesn't help me with the day to day. Day to day I have to go back inside myself, look for the small changes, accept myself and believe that I am doing my best. And this works in other parts of my life, too.
As a writer, I can spend a lot of time worrying over what other authors are doing, how much money they are making, the promotional budgets they get from their publisher, on and on. And it doesn't matter. That doesn't help me do my writing. It doesn't help me write the work I was meant to write. It often interferes with me sitting down and listening to my inner voice, going inside myself and believing that I can do it.
So my advice today: Stop looking around. Start looking inside.