Looking within not between

For ten years I’ve worked in the field of neuropsychology research. During that time, I’ve had experience running tests of how reliable (consistent) two sets of scores are. We either do “inter-” or “intra-” rater reliability. Inter-rater reliability compares the scores of two different raters (so my score and your score). Intra-rater reliability compares my own score the first time to my own score a second time. So “inter” is between people and “intra” is within one person.

What does all this have to do with eating disorders or body image issues? Well, this morning at the gym, I was looking around at others and comparing my body shape to theirs. My body is thinner than some, heavier than others. I’ve got more muscle than some and a lot less than others. After a while, my head was spinning with this “between person” comparison. What does it all mean if I just compare myself to someone else?

So, I started looking within. Knowing how far I’ve come just in terms of cardiovascular stamina in the two years I’ve been working out made me feel really good. Remembering that when I started, I did not have palpable abdominal muscles and now I do made me smile. So, looking within suddenly seemed far more valuable than looking between.

Comparing your past thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and measurable outcomes with your current ones is a far more healthy and helpful way to gauge progress than to compare yourself to someone else. One way to begin to chart your progress is to start a journal. Try keeping track (once a day or once a week) of your emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health. Review your entries once in a while and take note of any progress (no matter how small it seems). I’d bet that you, too, will see the value in looking within instead of between.

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