To be clear, I’m no positive thinking guru. Actually, I find them annoying as hell with their endless sunny-side-up banter and all those crowded, smiling big teeth. They make me want to yell, “For once, put your pom poms away and admit sometimes you feel so shitty you can’t even get out of bed and eat three large pizzas and watch 16 and Pregnant all day just to keep from blowing your brains out!”
That aside, I do think I can help you with this comparison thing.
What qualifies me? I’m guilty of comparing myself to others, too, but I’ve learned to manage it well. But I used to do it like, ALL the time. When someone passed me on the street, a voice popped up in my head, speculating how they must have their shit together compared to my screwy life. When I saw someone at the gym, I instantly thought about how they were in such better shape than me.
It went on and on – others had better jobs, rosy family lives, and always did wonderful outdoorsy things on the weekends that I only found out about on Monday morning. Their love lives were something out of a movie (a romantic comedy, not a horror movie like mine) and their friends all made over $100,000 a year and looked great in trendy little hats. Hell, even their pets looked happier than mine!
“Perk up, you God damn mizzy goldfish, or someone’s getting flushed!”
Maybe this sounds familiar, or perhaps you only compare yourself when it comes to certain things in your life – like your body image, your role as a parent, or your job. It’s unhealthy on many levels - but then again, so is drinking 9 pints of Pabst Blue Ribbon at the local dive bar every night and giving your cell phone number to toothless strangers, but we can all agree that’s not a good enough reason to shun it. But trust me on this; comparing yourself to others isn’t the fun kind of “unhealthy,” and will only lead to disappointment and even bitterness.
Granted, it will motivate you – to do more and achieve more and scramble to measure up, instilling a reptilian-brain panic in your subconscious to be more like those shiny, happy masses. But it’s all empty – you’ll never really enjoy that journey, nor feel fulfilled by anything you accomplish. Once you reach a goal there will just be the next person to compare yourself to, who you perceive as “better.” You’ll end up competing with every single person in the world, including fictional ones on TV and quite a few on Facebook.
Think of it like this – do you remember when Tiger Woods was dominating golf and winning every tournament? The announcers had no choice but to speculate on the odds of Tiger taking home another trophy versus the chances of the “field” winning. He was being measured up against someone, anyone, and everyone in the pack. You’re volunteering for the same treatment when you judge yourself against the field. It’s an impossible proposition, and not at all fair, to measure your self-image against everyone else in the world.
Furthermore, when we take a quick glance at someone and use them as a model of comparison, we only see what’s outside. Everything looks better through a storefront window. Take my word for it, everyone is flawed and full of shit and has their ups and downs – it’s just part of being human. But from the outside, we’re not privy to the demons behind their perfect façade. Sometimes, the more people work to perpetuate that perfect image on the outside, the more they’re scared of someone pulling back the curtain and exposing the reality. For instance, how many times have we seen that nauseatingly-perfect couple fall apart in scandal when it comes out that she made questionable choices with Enrique, the Salvadorian janitor, after too many Petron shots at the company Christmas party and he lost his job 14 months ago so the bank is repossessing their wakeboarding boat, Kiss My Wake 69, rendering them instantly friendless (or something like that.)
By constantly comparing yourself, you also disable any control you have in your life. Of course you can’t control what everyone else does and how everyone else looks and where you are in the spectrum of 7 billion people. It’s just too big, so stop rendering yourself powerless on purpose, and it’s not what you’re looking for, anyway. You don’t want the THING you envy in others, but the FEELING you think it will provide you. If you keep setting yourself up to lose or feel bad, you’re not giving yourself a real shot to feel that, and therefore self-sabotaging your happiness.
Most importantly, just by the act of comparing yourself to others, you devalue your natural gifts. What are you blessed with? I am a firm believer that everyone is bestowed with a unique gift, and it’s their calling in life to figure out what that gift is, nurture it, and give it to the world. I’m fairly certain your gift has nothing to do with an expensive foreign car you’re scared to park at Costco or having a hot boyfriend with good hair. Just a shot in the dark here, but our reason for existence probably has more to do with being of service, helping others, and making the world a better place. That has nothing to do with your self-image, and comparisons can only derail you from that spiritual journey. Basically, being a humble, good human being is incomparable.
Now, drum roll please…here’s the good part – the stuff that’s actually going to HELP you. Because the words I wrote are swell but we already know we should be more positive and take out the pom poms and stop comparing ourselves to others, but actually DOING it is the hard part - the small (HUGE) detail that self-help screwballs leave out.
So how do we stop comparing ourselves to others as much? Forget about just waking up tomorrow and changing your ways – it’s not going to happen. And the only New Year’s resolution you should make is to stop making out with those toothless strangers at that dive bar. But here are some ways to actually implement small, tangible changes so the unhealthy tendency to compare yourself to others will gradually fade away:
1. Be conscious.
First, realize when you are comparing yourself to others. To whom? How so? What thoughts popped up? On a scale of 1-10, how bad did it make you feel? Even write it down if that helps you, but hide it well because if anyone finds your list you’ll be instantly labeled a weirdo and kicked off the Wednesday night bowling team. The point is, if you don’t clearly know what you’re up against, I guarantee you’ll never be able to make changes. By being conscious of comparisons it won’t be an amorphous fog that blankets everything in your life anymore. You’ll understand which nails need hammering, and empower yourself to get started.
2. Refocus on you.
The only person you should compare yourself to is you. It’s the only person you can ever know, control, and who can bring you happiness. So if you want to make a change in your life, think small – are you doing better today than yesterday? That’s all the victory you need for now. Forget about finished products or grand goals or where you want to be a year from now because it’s impossible to achieve those right now. Instead, ask yourself if there are tiny, marginal improvements in the right direction, today? That’s all you need to refocus on the moment and feel positive about your progress, which will self-perpetuate and fuel the marathon of life, not burn out in a fruitless sprint.
3. Practice empathy.
Train yourself to be happy when others are happy, and there will never be a shortage of joy in your life. To get started, envision yourself connected to all other human beings, not in competition. When someone else is doing well or is happy, feel like you benefit, too. In fact, the area of the brain that delivers those endorphins knows no difference between “me” and the outside world, so the concept of “giving is better than receiving” is actually a physiological reality. Instead of fostering comparisons, feel great about others doing well and you’ll get a nice tan in the universal glow. Take credit for all victories but don’t suffer other’s defeats.
Please notice that I said “practice,” because it takes a lot of honest work to develop this sentiment, but if you put empathy in your thoughts, even if you’re faking it at first, you’ll be amazed how it grows, and the need to compare yourself to others disappears.