Category Archives: comparative thinking

Comparison and Self-Love

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.

How?

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.

The Two C’s That Make the Holidays Stressful

One of the reasons we have so many arguments and disagreements with family during the holidays is because we engage in the practice of Competing and Comparing. Here’s what I’m talking about…

There’s a difference between saying,

“I make my potatoes differently,” and “I make my potatoes differently.”

See?…. No?

Yeah, it’s not obvious is it, not without tone and inflection – which is to say, not without intention. It’s the exact same phrase, nothing more than an observation perhaps, but the intention changes everything. But…

A passing observation is rarely passing if it’s speckled with comparison and competition.

If an external value system is placed on the item in question (potatoes), then comparison is immediately included in the intention (“different” becomes “better”). Comparison is better or worse. Once we have attached a value to it, it opens the door for competition, which internalizes the comparison. (aka: I’m better because my potatoes are better.) Whoa! And therein lies the problem, because it can be said or received either way. We don’t control how others receive our statements, of course, but we can certainly control how we say them.

So, how do you navigate the holiday season with less stress, arguing and disagreement? Raise your awareness to Comparison and Competition, and choose something different.

Sub-text, second-level dialogue, and assumptions are all fodder for Comparison and Competition. Once we engage in either we create opportunity for disagreement and argument, hurt feelings and frustration. So, it’s easy to see why the holidays can be fraught with strife for so many as families gather together to celebrate. Keeping the two C’s in check can lead to more enjoyable holidays together now and in the future.

Finally, when in doubt, it’s best to choose gratitude. Regardless of how the potatoes are made, a simple “Thank you for making the potatoes” goes a lot further than any passing observation ever could (even if Aunt Bernie’s potato recipe is awesome). There’s little room for disagreement when gratitude is shared.

Where the Grass is Greener

This week I struggled with something to write about. Call it Mercury Retrograde, or call it fatigue, either way I came up with nothing. It happens. Then I saw this quote on a friend’s FB page:

The grass is greener where you water it.

It wasn’t attributed to any one person directly, and I feel like I’ve heard it before, though I’m not sure where. Then I was reminded of something I read from an interview with Isla Fisher in the American Way magazine. She said:

“…I’m super happy with my life the way it is. The grass doesn’t look greener.”
(I have loved that idea ever since I first read it.)

So, what is this obsession we have with “the grass is greener” concept? Is it greener? Ever? Or is it that we have learned to live life from a basis of comparison? Which, in turn means, we will never be satisfied?

I’ve explored this idea of “never enough” off and on for years, both formally and informally. The bottom line truth that I know for certain is that nobody ever wins in the comparison game.

Whether you are comparing misery (ie: my loss is greater than yours) or wealth and acquisitions (there is ALWAYS somebody who has more than you, or something you don’t have) or bodies (body satisfaction underlies many of our self-esteem challenges and issues of self-worth), nobody wins in the comparison game. Nobody.

In fact, the only way to WIN the game is to choose to not play at all. So, what does that look like?

Well, in some ways, it looks like the two quotes I shared above. Many thought leaders and spiritual teachers talk about acceptance, gratitude, and mindfulness. (Heck, I’m one of them!) But those words can be idealistic and amorphous, and can also create opportunities for the comparison habit to edge it’s way back in (ie: I must not be grateful enough, because s/he looks so much happier than I am). So, even though they are helpful to understand, they’re not always active or directive behaviors you can engage in and put into practice. So, what can you actually do?

Here’s one idea:

When the words should, could, would, enough, more, better, and/or worse (as well as “when” and “if”) enter your thoughts or statements – take pause. Take pause long enough to assess whether you are making a statement of comparison. Are you comparing yourself or your situation to someone else’s or some societal standard? Are you comparing someone else’s behavior to your own? If so, stop. Stop right there, because you won’t win. Not winning looks like: frustration, anger, jealousy, envy, sadness, despair, and desperation, to name a few. And nobody wants that.

Stopping is the first step. The second step is engaging in a positive practice to replace the habit of comparison. This involves identifying what brings you joy, such as: I love my house. Or if that’s too big: I love my bed. Or my garden. Or my feet. Or my nose. Or my dog. Or my brain. Or my….life. You get the idea.

So, the next time you think the ‘grass is greener’ somewhere else, take pause, double-check your words, and then look around you. Then perhaps you can see whether or not the grass you’re standing on is green, because it probably is. Green is green, and comparison is a game of shades that turns something lovely into something invisible, and sometimes harmful.

Insides and Outsides – Part 2 of 3

Last week we learned about how comparative thinking took root in our minds and developed into thought patterns and behaviors as children and teenagers – now we learn how it has played out in our decisions as young adults.

The story continues: Even though I was now seeing myself through another’s (more loving) eyes, instead of my own, it allowed me to get enough distance from the self-judgment. I started to realize that I really did have a lot more to offer. I started experimenting with my talents and gifts. I found that I had a gift for being a good friend, and listening to others. However, in order to please others and “be better” (judgment was still there), I carried it so far that I ended up sick. I still wasn’t listening to myself. I was seeing myself as others saw me, and I wanted to be what they saw. I wanted to embody what they needed or wanted. Again, I was living my life based on somebody else. This time, I was living my outsides, based on somebody else’s insides.

I think it’s at this point that we start to realize there’s something not quite right. Even though we can’t really pinpoint it – we know something is amiss. It’s also at this point where we start to experiment with who we are. Am I an actress? A businesswoman? A girlfriend? A friend? A daughter? A writer? A lawyer? Who am I? The identity questioning only gets compounded by the comparative thinking – but remember, this time, the roles have reversed. We are behaving more and more the way we think others want us to behave. So – naturally, our insides and outsides don’t sync up, and we slowly lose touch with our internal compass. Although we may no longer seem to have the low self-esteem we experienced in high school, we have a false self-esteem, generated by others’ perception of us, as we become what we think they want.

We spend much of our young adult life in this dance of becoming, reinventing, and becoming once more. Madonna mastered it. Nobody has reinvented herself more. The difference is, she was getting paid to do it – we’re not (well, most of us aren’t). So, where does that leave us? As young adults, on the heels of everything we’ve learned, we now spend our time walking through the revolving door of comparative thinking. Either we’re stuck in our old patterns of looking at others and comparing what we feel to what we see, or we’re stuck looking at others and comparing what they feel to what they see (or what we present). Did you follow that? Read it again. Now — can someone just stop the revolving door, for a minute?!?

Ahh. And that’s when it happens. We pause. We stop long enough to realize that this isn’t who we are, or what we are – it’s all based on forces beyond our control. It’s either based on somebody else, or something else. Sometimes awareness comes in the shape of illness, or tragedy. Other times it comes in the form of blessings and love. Either one is a gift – because both have given us enough time and space to become aware of our patterns of behavior and beliefs. And once we’re aware, we now have the ability to make changes. We’ll discuss those changes next week. For now:

THree THings

Body – Have you dressed a certain way, in order to please somebody else? Or kept your hair a certain way, or your body? Is it how YOU want to look? What changes would you make? Would you make any?

Mind – Using the above example, if you’re maintaining an image for someone other than yourself, what is that doing to your mind and your self-esteem? Are you being authentic and honoring who you are, by trying to be somebody you’re not?

Spirit – We can only do our best, every day. There is nothing more, and nothing less. When we are living authentically, we are doing our best – if we can be strong enough to honor that truth within us, we will stop the revolving door, and eventually remove it from our life. Can you imagine what that would be like? Just for a moment?

In Love and Light,

Martina

Insides and Outsides – Part 1 of 3

Years ago, when I was being especially judgmental toward myself, my husband taught me a phrase:

“Don’t compare your insides, to other people’s outsides.” It was really simple, and yet at the time I didn’t entirely grasp its depth. However, I can’t begin to tell you how much this phrase has influenced me, my decisions and my beliefs as it has stayed with me for almost a decade. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up…

As children, for whatever reason (remember: we’re not playing the blame game here), we are taught to “compare” ourselves to what we see around us. So, from a very early age, we start learning the words: better, worse, enough, etc. We learn that everything has significance or value in our lives, and that some things are worth more than others. Unfortunately, we eventually apply this system to people, including ourselves. To be blunt, we learn how to judge. This isn’t something we’ve picked up overnight, mind you – it’s years and years of subliminal and sometimes not-so-subliminal messaging. Either way, in the end, by the time we reach pre-teen years, we are set up for disappointment, angst, frustration and fear. We are also set up for challenges, opportunities, and growth – but the other emotions tend to take over more often than not, as we learn to exert and test our independence little by little.

With that said, our teenage years are then spent fine-tuning this mode of living: comparing what we see to how we feel. For some reason, it’s ok that we do this with ourselves. So, we spend the better part of our childhood and teenage years thinking and feeling that we might not be “enough” and that we possibly aren’t “worthy” – when compared to everything, and everyone else, around us.

I can’t tell you how many times I looked at the more “popular” girls in high school and felt envy or worse: self-disgust. I wanted to look more like them, be more like them, and have what they had. And yet, I now know there were other people who looked at me and probably thought the same things I was thinking. I just didn’t realize it at the time. Why would I? All my energy was being spent thinking about everything that I wasn’t, not thinking about anything that I was. Add the value-system created by comparative thinking, and it’s a recipe for disaster: poor self-esteem and a roller coaster of emotions. It was difficult and challenging, and I think many of us may have experienced it that way.

Seeing the “grass as always greener” can wreak havoc on your mind. So, “it was the best of times and the worst of times.” Drama played a large role in my life, and why not? When you spend the better part of every day looking around you and judging others, and looking in the mirror and judging yourself – drama is a natural result. So – what happened next? I survived. In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad, even though at the time it was quite challenging. I have some of the best friends in the world – still today – and most all from high school. From there I went on to college, where I started (for the first time) to believe in myself, despite what I saw all around me. This time, however, it was based on others’ perception of me – namely, my boyfriends. I saw through their eyes what and who I was, not my own. Everything was still judgment based, but it was better. Next week, we’ll continue the story. For now, however:

THree THings

Body – What do your outsides really look like? Stop looking at magazines of airbrushed models and actresses wearing $5,000 outfits – just look at yourself. Yes, we live in a society that values appearance, but what do YOU value? Health? Wellness? The ability to have free will and make your own decisions about what you wear? Eat? Do?

Mind – Our mind, if we allow it, will always play a ping-pong game with us. Too much stimulus, especially in light of the comparative value-system we’ve created, will always cause havoc in our judgments and self-esteem. Can you take a break from the things that cause you to sit in judgment of yourself? Can you even identify the causes?

Spirit – Here’s the best one: you already know who you are, and how beautiful/smart/kind/loving/etc. you are. It’s deep down, in your soul. Kept there for always and forever. If you can tap into this knowledge, think of how all the judgment of yourself and others will fall away. What can you do to access this wisdom? Is it enough for someone to simply remind you that you already have it?

In love and light,

Martina