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Why Comparisons Can Cause Crash and Burn Syndrome

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Moving into my new home several years ago, I was concerned about the stairs going up to the second story. Before we’d even moved in, I worried about hurting myself (or others) on this large focal point of the house.

Here’s why:

  • The staircase is curved; each step is a long, irregular wedge shape (so the width of the step varies depending on where you walk).
  • The staircase is steep, with about 20 steps.
  • The steps themselves are slab stone (translation: literally hard as a rock).
  • Uncarpeted, the stairs are slick, cold, and very unforgiving to knees, elbows, shins, chins, ribs, and all body parts other than feet.

Going up and down the stairs proved a challenge. Right away, I made this decision. I CHOSE to view the staircase as an opportunity for fitness benefits. People pay lots of money to work out on Stairmasters, right?

While I accepted this fact, I still worried about falling. Wouldn’t you? Anyone can have a clumsy moment, but as a not-terribly-graceful-fibro-person, I pictured myself flopping down the stairs like Blanche Hudson in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

To prevent this outcome, I focused on NOT falling down the stairs. To date, I’ve been successful. I’ve never fallen down them. I have, however, fallen UP them. In fact, I’ve done it several times. Running with slippers on, carrying too many things, being distracted on the phone, etc. have all been proven to be effective ways for me to lose my balance. I’m lucky to still have my teeth intact.

It took a few spills for me to decide to change my focus. I had to decide that getting to the top or bottom safely was important. I had to consciously remove the distractions that could be problematic. No more running in slippers. No more carrying armloads of stuff up or down. Better to make more trips than to actually, a-hem, trip.

This is what’s sometimes referred to as the “eyes on the prize” scenario.

When you lose focus (on your main goal or intention),
you’re more likely to stumble or fall off course.

Falling off course brings to mind the dangers of being a race car driver. Veering off the track is a common fear (and reality) for this vocation.

How could a driver ever get back on course after a tragic crash?

I’ve read interviews about the psychology of this very subject and it always makes me think of fibromyalgia. There are many similarities in how to deal with the setbacks that can arise from chronic illness symptoms. Let me explain.

When a race car driver first re-experiences the racetrack after a crash, he can’t help but also re-experience the accident in his mind. He sees the wall around the course coming closer and closer at every turn. He sees the other cars as dangerous obstacles. It takes the repeated sage advice of others who’ve gone before to break through this distorted view.

He is advised (over and over) to ONLY look where he wants to go rather than where he doesn’t want to go. That means, when he’s focused on the road ahead, he can steer out of skids, avoid the obstacles, and keep on track (literally). It’s all a matter of focus. Keeping his “eyes on the prize” of the course ahead keeps him from the crash and burn scenario.

The same goes for those of us dealing with symptom management. When we sharpen our focus on taking the needed steps to keep us healthy, we can better manage the intermittent flares, setbacks, and obstacles.

Here are a few other examples of keeping your “eyes on the prize” thinking:

  • A distance relay runner places her hand out in anticipation of feeling the SLAP! of the baton in her outstretched palm. She doesn’t turn away from her focus to see IF it’s coming. She simply knows that it IS coming.
  • In Indiana Jones movies, the protagonist isn’t supposed to look down while crossing a termite-ridden bridge over an insanely deep gorge. He’s supposed to focus on the end of the bridge and keep moving forward. (Hollywood Movie Hint: Looking straight ahead equals success. Looking down cues the ominous music signaling disaster.)
  • And what about Scarlett O’Hara? She displayed the ultimate in single-minded focus when she strategized to impress Rhett with her new green gown. In what could be called a Drapes of Wrath scenario, she didn’t let the drawbacks of war-torn Atlanta impact her goals. She couldn’t procure Parisian fabrics, notions, or trims so she improvised. We all know the results. You could say she didn’t spare the rod to achieve her goal.

These are examples of single-minded focus. For those of us dealing with health challenges (i.e. fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, arthritis, lupus, etc.), we know that focus is a big part of looking for personal health solutions. We search for needed support and do our best to implement healthy lifestyle changes. We try to stay on track, but what happens when we take our eyes off the prize?

We all veer off course now and then due to various circumstances such as symptom flares or family/relationship issues. Our focus may waver a bit due to any number of reasons, but there’s one BIG reason that may surprise you. This is the MOST common and destructive way to derail your focus.

* Compare yourself to others *

By comparing yourself, you’ve taken your eyes off of your own goals. You’re no longer practicing single-minded focus. You’re choosing to judge yourself and those around you based on your own inner critic (which may or may not be at a conscious level). Comparisons create innumerable stumbling blocks inhibiting your forward progress.

When you get to the nitty-gritty of comparisons, there are really only two likely outcomes. Here’s what they are, for Better or Worse:

  1. You’ll feel you’re doing better than someone else. Superiority is never good position from which to plan. You may subconsciously sabotage your progress in order to re-align yourself with this person, or in some way compromise your own goals.
  2. You’ll feel you’re worse off than someone else. As weighed down as you may already feel, measuring your success against someone else’s – and coming up short – creates a no win situation. This can lead to unrealistic expectations followed by a downward spiral of anxiety, despair, or frustration.

Looking for a way to sharpen your focus and avoid the Crash and Burn Syndrome? Begin by immersing yourself in the success of others.

This process differs greatly from comparisons – there’s no judgment involved. Approach this exercise for the sole purpose of supporting your dreams and goals through the stories of others. Immersing yourself in true stories of those who’ve achieved success despite great odds, can help you to feel empowered and encouraged, too.

Successful people often credit their achievements to particular mentors, role models, teachers, and advisors who had a great influence over them. It’s not necessary to know them in person.

Did you know that inspiration is “catchy”?

You can feel inspired by learning more about role models who epitomize the personality and character traits that you most admire. Inspirational biographies and memoirs can be particularly empowering. Look for books on the famous and not famous. Read books on bold politicians, inventors, innovators, and sports legends who have succeeded in some way.

Reading about their success puts you in their shoes. In the words of Tony Robbins, “The power of reading a great book is that you start thinking like the author. You start to think like they think, feel like they feel, and use imagination as they would. Their references become your own, and you carry these with you long after you’ve turned the last page.”

Keep in mind that you needn’t read only about health-related successes. Learning about others who’ve made notable achievements can help you to feel encouraged, emboldened, educated, and enlightened. When it comes to inspirational biographies, Unbroken tops my list. While it’s far from light-hearted, the undeniable triumph of humankind shines through on every page.

Not a reader? Watch inspirational documentaries, TV programs, and movies on topics of interest. Attend motivational seminars, lectures, or classes. Pressed for time? Watch short inspirational video clips on YouTube. Viewing the indomitable power of the human spirit to achieve, heal, and persevere is always uplifting.

By discovering what influences and inspires you the most, you can learn to avoid comparisons and focus on your own success!


Sue Ingebretson ( is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.

Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.

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