Monday, November 26, 2007

A Downward Trend

You will notice I removed the “People & Places” link on the right side of my page. It’s not because I have sworn off blogs. Instead I just wanted to mix things up and maximize space (and eventually I will bring it back).

But on the subject of other blogs, I will admit that I do read other blogs from time to time. I am also guilty of spending an entire Saturday night laying on my living room clicking from one link to the next to find new blogs. Call me crazy, lame, boring, or any other name. But I know – I KNOW - you’ve done the same.

Of all the books, magazines, websites, information out there – why blogs? Admit it, you have found yourself blog reading rather than reading the daily news. Who cares what’s going on in the world, I need to know what _________(insert favorite blog name) is thinking and I need to know NOW. You have found yourself keeping up with the pro’s and amateur’s of the world by way of blog. They are in your kitchen every morning perhaps even at your desk. You feel like they are one of your best friends but you’ve never even met them. So what gives?

I’m not sure I have the answer. But I did spend some time the other day thinking about why we do this, why we read blogs. So I reached far back into the annals of my days as a psychology major (occasionally it comes in handy) and I found this…

Downward Social Comparison

Definition, please?

Downward social comparison is a defensive tendency to compare oneself with someone whose troubles are more serious than one's own.

In other words, I might be bad, crazy, nuts, obsessed, addicted, overspending, hurting, bonkers, gone hog wild but at least at least I’m not as bad as…..


(where “that” would be the person who writes the said blog)

Case in point – the other night. I was surfing from one blog to the next when I found….a new blog. Ooohhh, new blog, new opportunity to see what someone else is doing, new opportunity to say to myself I may be crazy but at least I did not do an 80 mile ride on nothing but a saltine.

(not exactly what I read but darn close)

And so, I felt better about myself. Like the definition says, this is a defense. Not that any of us are defensive, but admit that the decisions you have made in the past year have raised an eye from someone else requiring a bit of defense on your part. Signed up for Ironman? Woke up at 4:55 am to make it to masters swim? Left the bar early because you had to ride 100 miles the next day?

Guilty, guilty, guilty.

And it’s not that we feel bad about our decisions or that we are unsure of ourselves – it’s just that other people get in the way. They make us feel like we have made a bad decision for our self. Naturally, we look for a defense. A reason why we are right for making that decision. And that defense is often downward social comparison.

I may have signed up for an Ironman (again) against my warning last year that I would never do another one (but here I go again) but at least I didn’t sign up for the 10 ironmans in 10 days event. (speaking of which, did you read about that?)


I may be leaving this bar early but at least by the time you wake up from your hangover I will be through with my 100 miles.

When you start to think about it – the fact that we’ve been reading blogs all year long, the more you realize that blogs are the best medicine around. Because there is always someone out there worse off than we are. There is always somebody out there doing something 10 times dumber or harder on 10 times less or in 10 times more pain.

So I started to think to myself that holy crap what if I am someone else’s downward social comparison. What if you are all reading this to compare yourself to a level of crazy that you could never touch. I search back through the past year for the certifiably crazy decisions I have made. For example (listed in order of potential craziness):

1 – Kona
2 – Quit my job
3 – Bought a dog

Oh no. That’s it. That explains the loyalty and readership of this site. You have downwardly compared your decisions to my dog, my career, and my Ironman. You find yourself purchasing a new $2000 set of wheels and think to yourself yes that’s bad but I bet Fedofsky is up to something much worse. And then you visit my site, see that I have purchased a small fortune of a dog and think to yourself – there it is, I’m off the hook.

After feeling bad about myself for a short while, I realized the panacea was to just read someone else’s blog. So I found a new one and read it. Sure enough I immediately found proof that I wasn’t so crazy anymore because I was reading about someone that competed in a very important race with a very bad injury. I sat back and said to myself I may have just purchased a dog but I did not do anything as dumb as that.

So why do we do this? Because it makes us feel good. It alleviates our doubt. Justifies our actions and keeps us sane. There is considerable evidence to support that we use downward social comparison as a mechanism to cope with stress, feel better about ourselves, and protect our self-esteem. And, simply put, it works.

So, I know what you’re up to. Not only by reading your blog but also by using my super social psychological powers to understand why you come here and read. And I promise to keep providing much craziness for you to compare your decisions against. Chances are I will do something crazy in the next few weeks. So stay tuned. Because if you’re feeling unsure of yourself, you have come to the right place.


Ness said...

I don't think it's the downward social comparison. I hope you're wrong, anyway (especially because I have a blog entry not unlike your saltine 80-mile ride example and if anyone ever stumbled upon it there would definitely be an opportunity for some downward social comparison). I think it's more about knowing that there are other people out there with jobs and partners and kids and dogs who are finding time to fit training into their real life. It's good to know that other people are struggling and succeeding - something that carries the implication that in spite of our own less-than-prudent choices, we still have the potential to succeed.
And for someone like me who lives in the middle of nowhere where the only triathlons involve tractors, it functions like a pseudo-community. You know: "oh yeah, my triathlete friend Elizabeth and her husband Chris, they just got a dog. But Elizabeth still makes Chris wear a leash in the pool. And just like me, Fedofsky loves coffee".

Jessi said...

I read blogs for upward social comparison...
Just when I think I'm hard-core because I ride in 31 degree weather, I find out you and Jen H are cruising around in 27 degree weather. Damn you both! :)

Brenda O said...

Um, YOU ARE RIGHT! I do it for both downward and upward. For example: I think you are crazy for buying such a SMALL dog (he he he) but I can really no longer stop myself from doing a workout for some silly menstrual cramps when I read about your workouts.

Mallie said...

I've been reading for a while, mostly because you manage to make me laugh out loud while still being incredibly inspiring. This post sealed the deal. You nailed it on the head.

And be glad about the Boss. My dog is that insane, is not 5 years old with no sign of slowing down, and he weighs 65 pounds. YIKES!

Andra Sue said...

Yes, please. Keep the craziness coming. ;)

Stef said...

In reading this I was thinking the same thing that Brenda O said. I read blogs for both upward and downward comparison, plus I like to know what is going on with the folks whose blogs I read regularly.

I read your blog for inspiration and humor and to see what craziness is currently going on. Lol. For the record though, on your top 3 list, only #1 rang the slightest bit crazy and more along the lines of inspirational.

The other two, well, I did both of those things in one year and questioned myself many times. Not so much about the dog purchase but about quitting the job. Turns out it was one of the scariest and best things I ever did. :)

E. L. F. said...

I love the comments today - keep them coming. Yup, I read blogs for many reasons (inspire me, make me laugh, keep me conntected) but downward comparison seemed like the one to talk about.

My next post will be The Best Dumbest Decisions I've Ever Made. Ditto to what Stef says - quitting my job, going to Kona twice, buying a dog - on paper not the "best" decisions but the three best decisions I have EVER made (other than marrying Chris which for the record was not a dumb decision but was one of the best).

BreeWee said...

You are crazy!(crazy in a good-fun way) That is why I read you... I also find your strong sense of confidence very encouraging.

Being that I graduated with a teaching and Spanish degree (not psychology) the term "downward comparison" was a bit over my head... I think I just read other blogs for fun.

I can only imagine what your "something crazy" will be in the next few weeks... that is why I will keep reading for the next few weeks... you got me curious.

Curly Su said...

10 IRONMAN RACES IN 10 DAYS??!!! what the hell is wrong with people?


moonpie said...

Reading blogs is similar to people watching at the mall, and we all know why we do that...

$Bill said...

Another really good reason is for the race reports. Especially if you are thinking of doing a race you have never done before and/or travelling to a location that you have never been too. Some people can get really detailed about the race, the location, where to eat, where not to eat, etc

Train-This said...

I read to keep me connected, to make me laugh out loud, to know that when I am out on a negative 10 degree day that you and many others are doing the same. When my neighbors call me freak there is a place where I can come to where we all share the same passion.

Blogs... they are my CHEERS!

:-) Mary!

Pam said...

Yay, there's a name for it! Seriously though, social comparison is fun but lets face it not all blogs are created equal. You are a fabulous writer, beside being a hard-core athlete.

Anonymous said...

i must agree with many of the posts here. and i think everyone has a bit of craziness. what kind of girl would travel to the middleeast all by herself. then i meet several women there traveling by themselves and realize i am not the only 'crazy'. we all like to compare ourselves to whos 'up' or 'down' but in the end, we must all realize that we are just human and humans all have different mindsets. one man's crazy is another man's normal.

SBR said...

I enjoy blogs because I favor non-fiction over fiction. That said, I've come across a few blogs that nearly seem contrived, but overall I think most are straightforward.

For me, a thoughtfully written blog opens a window to the author's soul in an exciting way. It's the immediacy of the web that provides a day to day, or even a moment to moment delivery that can not be duplicated by books.

The problem I have is that the majority of blogs are not very well written. Most offer little in the way of insight, humor, or originality.

Now I don't expect blogs to read like Tolstoy, but I expect the author to give me something more than a tedious hour by hour account of his or her life, or to just simply regurgitate the day's news headlines. And nothing disrespects the reader more than typos, bad grammar, and spelling errors.

I am selective about which blogs get my eyes and you should be too.

Keep up the good work Liz.


Alicia Parr said...

Holy crap. This post is literary genius. I about laughed my @$$ off reading it and nearly fell off my crazy branch.