I was chatting with a friend recently about comparison and life satisfaction. If you’ve been following my writing for a while, you know how I feel about comparison.
There are no winners in the comparison game.
In this age of social media, it almost seems inevitable that we will be mired in a cycle of comparing ourselves to others. Furthermore, when others are predominantly sharing their highlight reel instead of their fumbles, it also seems inevitable that we will begin to feel worse about ourselves and our lives. When we compare our insides with other people’s outsides, we will never win.
Upon reflection, however, there IS one way I can see that we can become winners in the comparison game. So, I am modifying my former statement ever-so-slightly.
We win at comparison when we learn how to use it as a tool and not a weapon.
What do I mean by that?
When we compare ourselves to others and feel worse about our lives, it’s like we are using comparison as a weapon against ourselves. No armor could withstand it.
However, if we can use comparison as a tool to gather information then we are gifting ourselves with the means by which we can change our lives.
We mine the data. If we raise our awareness to our thoughts of comparison, and instead of holding them to be true we question them and mine the data, we end up with a cache of information we didn’t have before. A cache of information that can help us create meaningful change in our lives. The key element to this process is remaining emotionally neutral and becoming a witness to your thoughts.
What does this look like? Let me give you a concrete example:
The other day I saw a friend’s Facebook post about her spring vacation, complete with amazing pictures of family and friends in a beautiful locale. Whereas my spring break was non-existent. I don’t have one. Even if I had one, I don’t currently have the funds to take the sort of vacation she took. I started to compare my life to hers, and it felt bad.
The natural inclination (which is a much bigger topic for another day) is to feel lesser-than. When we compare, we’re typically looking “up” at those who have it “better” than us, rather than looking “down” at those who have it “worse” than us. This is actually a good thing, in some ways, because it allows us to pinpoint much more easily the areas in which we desire change.
So, back to the Spring Break story. After I took a pause to redirect myself, I deliberately asked myself why I was reacting to her pictures on Facebook. The answer was simple: I wanted what she had.
Which leads to question #2: What do I believe she has? (Notice the use of the word “believe” in there.)
In that moment I opened up the doors to neutrality. I went from feeling lesser-than to engaging my analytical mind from a neutral place. I could identify the story I made up about my friend’s life and how “amazing” it is, and I could identify my own inner desire to obtain what she was showing. But… I didn’t tell myself that my own life wasn’t “amazing.” And that’s the key difference.
Once I was able to become neutral, it wasn’t about being “less than” what I desired, it was about adding something I desired to my goals and dreams, without deflating myself in the process.
This is what I mean about mining the data from comparison. If you use it as a tool, it can help you identify areas that you wish to change. From there, it’s up to you to make a plan and get to work.
So much of this comes back to self-love and acceptance. But, self-love is not an easily obtained construct. It’s too theoretical for too many people. Self-love requires us to find deliberate, action-oriented beliefs and behaviors in order to become manifest in our lives.
Furthermore, self-love does not mean you can’t want to change something about yourself. It means you love who you are at every step along the path of change, and accept your “as is” in addition to your desire to create change, as well as your process of change. Loving yourself along the way is comprised of those actions and beliefs that you choose in each moment.
For me, going back to the example, I chose to question my thoughts and the story I was telling myself. That simple act of choosing something different is what opened me up to the possibility of something different… and it allowed me to choose a loving response instead of a shaming reaction. Self-love in action, as a result of comparison.